Happy chilly Houston Monday! Cozy up with some tea and read the newest installment of Diane’s MFA Monday arc!
M.F.A. Life vs. Real Life
Part II: An Ounce of Preparation…
Benjamin Franklin once said, “ An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I think this quote applicably describes the idea of preparing for a full-time teaching position after grad school. While transitioning into teaching full-time might seem like a natural process, there are many speed bumps along the way. But, when I have hit some of these speed bumps, I have silently thanked myself for putting in the extra time and preparation in grad school I did not necessarily have to do. What are these speed bumps and how do you prepare? First, you must begin with all those classes that have very little to do with dance-making…
One of the best classes I took in grad school was Dance History Pedagogy. Now before your eyes start drooping at the word History, here’s a little factoid to wake you up. Many colleges and universities expect you to be proficient in something else besides teaching and making dance. These areas would namely be History and World Cultures, Dance Science, and Technology. Translation: if all you can do well is teach some traditional dance forms and choreography, you’re going to find yourself at the bottom of everyone’s “wanted” list. With a competitive job market, that is a place you cannot afford to be listed.
Ok, so now that you’re alert again, let us return to Dance History Pedagogy. The main purpose of this course was to design a syllabus and some course materials to teach either Dance Appreciation, 20th Century Dance, or Dance in World Cultures. Without getting into the nitty gritty details, I will say this: do more than is required in these types of classes. Did I have to research and document every reading I would use if I taught the class? No. But I decided to put in the extra preparation, and I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Why? Because when I got the opportunity to teach the class in my last semester of grad school, I was more prepared to do so and could spend more hours of my time preparing lectures, grading, and generally teaching the class. How did I get this awesome opportunity? I asked my Department Chair if I could teach the class because I wanted to gain the experience. As my mother always told me, asking is free. You may not get what you want, but you’ll never know unless you ask for it. I highly recommend practicing this technique in grad school and beyond.
So when I began applying for jobs, I was even more aware that my extra preparation gave me a leg up. In fact, I’m fairly certain that part of the reason I landed my first full-time teaching gig was due to my experience in teaching Dance Appreciation. Better yet, when I had to re-vamp the class in five days (that’s right 5 days) due to a standard issue text my college requires, I was able to tweak what I had already prepared rather than having a heart-attack at the age of 29.
Now I know you may be asking why I only had five days to prepare, so I’m going to explain the main speed bump you will probably hit in a nutshell. You will have much less time and possibly resources to prepare yourself for your classes than you think. Much less. For example, I received my new textbooks for all the classes I was required to teach just five days before classes began. You may be required to teach six different classes or more in one semester along with committees and other extra duties for your job. Mix up and stir in all your extra time for creating dance and rehearsals and you have yourself a recipe for a panic attack. But, if you already have resources, planned classes, and other material you spent extra time preparing in grad school, you might be able to breathe a little easier.
Now while my advice is to concentrate on non-dancing courses, this is of course applicable to any of your grad school classes and experiences. While it may seem that you don’t have the extra time in grad school to write out lessons plans, or favorite combinations your instructors gave, or finish those extra Pilates certification hours, you will inevitably not have more time once you are working either. The number of times I have reached for some of those extra materials far outweighs the stress I felt when gathering them up in grad school. And, since I was already knee deep in the process of learning and preparing, it was much easier to do the extra work being in the moment. As they say in yoga, “be present,” so you can concentrate on the task at hand. So, while I may not go as far as Benjamin Franklin in saying my preparation was a cure for the stress of my job, I will certainly agree that it alleviates a great deal of the jolting effect that the bumpy road of teaching induces.