Teaching and Learning Philosophy

While participating in Maggie O’Rourke’s recent “Designing Experiences” faculty academy at the UB Center for Educational Innovation, we were asked to dig out our teaching statements and transform them into “teaching and learning philosophies.” Mine still sounds a bit stuffy, but here’s what I came up with:

My purpose as a teacher is to expose my students not only to the content of a course but also to the skills necessary to think and write as scholars.

When teaching the history of music, I first introduce my students to the people who helped make it happen. The styles, ideas, and events of music history can only have developed through the active participation of not just composers but also performers, critics, patrons, publishers, and many others. One of my favorite strategies for promoting this approach to music history is simply to encourage my students to cast people—not works or concepts—as the subjects of their sentences. For example, I ask them to consider the Piano Concerto in A Major, ᴋ. 488, not as the inevitable consequence of an evolving concerto genre but rather as Mozart’s response to the expectations and demands of the culture in which he lived.

Of equal importance to my students’ understanding of music history is their understanding of the musicological lens through which we now interpret it. I frequently draw connections between the topic at hand and the broader themes of the course, inviting my students to develop opinions about why music is important, what it can communicate, and even how it can effect social change. For example, I recently developed a new course entitled “Music and Money” in which I ask students to analyze an accusation of plagiarism brought against pop singer Robin Thicke in order to challenge their musicological assumptions about the often messy process by which we create music.

I am further committed to helping my students build important skills such as the ability to evaluate sources, to navigate bias, and—above all—to write with clarity and precision. To help students develop as writers, I regularly provide feedback on research proposals and preliminary drafts of major assignments. This practice also helps to level the playing field for students who may not possess as much experience with academic writing and research. Another means by which I strive to create an inclusive classroom is, whenever possible, to encourage my students to write about music that already interests them. This approach enables me to learn something from the students as well.