Oberlin Blogs

Ode to Team-Teaching

January 6, 2009

Prof. Sebastiaan Faber

January is supposed to be a quiet month, but as usual I've got too many things going at the same time. (The longer I'm here, the more I realize that the students and faculty are equally pathological in their tendency to overcommit themselves.) I should be doing less and focusing more on fewer things--but it's just all so exciting! (Well, okay, most of it is: after three years of chairing my department, preparing the catalog copy is still a drag.)

Still, I'm a bit sad. This is the first Winter Term in three years that I am not getting ready for the course that I've been teaching together with my colleague Veljko Vujačić in Sociology, on twentieth-century Spain and Yugoslavia: Veljko is on a much-deserved leave this year. Happily, we're planning on another round for the spring of 2010.

In the course we deal with culture and nationalism: contested nationhood, civil wars, dictatorships, and their aftermaths (dismal in Yugoslavia, relatively positive in Spain). We cover a tremendous amount of ground; one of our perpetual challenges is to keep the reading load to a manageable level.

Team-teaching is a wonderful thing, and I think it should be done much more--especially if the teachers are from different academic disciplines. It's far from easy: rather than half the work, in my experience it's almost double. You're not just trying to impress the students, but your colleague as well. You're constantly forced out of your intellectual comfort zone. More important is that the dynamics of the class are much more lively. Having two professors with different fields of expertise, different backgrounds, and different teaching styles mixes things up, adding a whole new dimension to the discussions.

Truth be told, we're a kind of unusual team. My colleague is a sociologist who was born and raised in Yugoslavia--a country that no longer exists--and who specializes in Eastern Europe. (And yes, he's Sasha's cousin.) I am a literary critic born and raised in the Netherlands who specializes in Spain and Latin America. My colleague is used to teaching lecture classes (and he is a terrific lecturer); I am much more used to discussion classes and hardly ever lecture (let alone in English, my third language). But then again, teams probably work best when they embody opposites (Laurel & Hardy, Simon & Garfunkel, Don Quijote & Sancho Panza).

The fun thing about teaching together is that we each get to perform, even exaggerate, our disciplinary and cultural identity. When we read Andric's beautiful novel The Bridge on the Drina, I get to show the class the importance of the book's narrative voice. When we read Max Aub's tragic short story "El cojo," my colleague helps me think about the protagonist in sociological terms. The students, meanwhile, constantly get a double perspective, while they get to see what academic disciplines are all about. Of course it doesn't always pan out perfectly--but there is very little room for boredom or routine.

In this way, we are both very evidently learning while teaching--and that's the best kind of teaching I know.

Similar Blog Entries