"The Course was the Superstar on my CV:" Teaching Scholars Share Their Experiences

February 22, 2020
Marc Hannaford

The GSAS Teaching Scholars Program, begun in 2012, is a professional and academic development initiative that allows advanced PhD students the opportunity to design and teach an undergraduate course in their area of expertise. In doing so, they sharpen their teaching skills, enhance the curriculum, and prepare for the job market. To date, more than 200 GSAS Teaching Scholars from 22 departments have participated in this program.

In this three-part series, Teaching Scholars in the Department of Music share their experiences.

Marc Hannaford ’19PhD, Music Theory

Marc Hannaford is Lecturer in Discipline (Music Theory) at Columbia University.

I taught “Beyond Boundaries: Radical Black Experimental Music” in Spring 2019, and it was one of the most enjoyable teaching experiences I’ve ever had. I had eight students, all undergraduates. They all had some interest in music, though they were not all music majors.

I had come into the PhD program with a great deal of teaching experience in my home country of Australia. As a musician, teaching was always something that I have done alongside my creative practice. So I’ve had a number of hours standing in front of the classroom, and I feel comfortable there. But conceiving a syllabus and designing it from scratch was something that I had not done before. With all of my previous teaching, even at the university level, I had been given a template or guidelines. I had mostly taught Core courses. This was the first time in which I designed the curriculum all the way through, and it was an invaluable process. I had to think about the structure of the course from the ground up and create a schedule that scaffolded skills and knowledge. I did not want each class to be a snapshot; rather, I wanted the students in each class to build on what we had learned previously to hone our understanding of music.

Teaching this course was very helpful when I was on the job market. I interviewed for multiple positions, and I felt confident when the inevitable question was asked about teaching experience. A lot of graduate students have taught Core courses, but being able to say, “I taught a course that I designed from scratch, and I did everything – I designed the assessments, there was no TA, nobody was directing me” was so helpful.

I first became aware of the Teaching Scholars program through another student around four years ago. He generously invited me to come sit in on his class, and I remember thinking, “I would like to do something like this.” And then I saw that other senior graduate students in the Music Department were also teaching courses on their dissertation topics, so that encouraged me. When I talked with students at other schools, I saw that they did not have such a program. That was a big thing – to hear them say, “Wow, you get to do that? What an opportunity! I wish I could do that.” That also made me realize how important the program is.

Doing the program was a great opportunity to work closely with my dissertation adviser, Ellie Hisama. I also participated in Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) workshops, and I am grateful for the help and guidance that I received there in developing my skills as a pedagogue.

The two times a week that I taught the course were the parts of the week I looked forward to the most. After each class, I felt ready to go and do more dissertation work. Teaching can get the reputation of being an interruption of scholarly work, but I found it to be an energizing experience.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this three-part series.