Balancing Teaching and Scholarship: Making the Case for Two-Year Faculty to Attend the AHA Annual Meeting
By Sarah Shurts
I am always surprised that so many of my colleagues at two-year colleges don’t go to the AHA annual meeting. They all have high regard for the AHA itself and for its publications such as the American Historical Review. Many are even AHA members. But for various reasons they don’t think about attending the meeting or submitting a proposal. Some say it is because of the cost associated with travel, particularly if they have other conferences to attend. And it is true that two-year college professors, especially those who are part time, get very little if any financial support for academic conferences. However, the AHA has made the cost of registration and hotel accommodations so reasonable that it is truly a shame that more faculty don’t take advantage of the many opportunities at the annual meeting, especially when it’s in a city nearby. Others are more to the point: regardless of the cost, it “isn’t worth it.” They don’t attend the meeting because they are not on a panel and don’t see the value of going if they are not speaking. It is these colleagues, and the question of the value of the annual meeting for two-year college instructors, that I would like to address.
As two-year college instructors, we tend to talk about what we do in one of two ways. We either explain that we focus more on our teaching and our students since teaching is prized at the institutions where we work, or we argue that two-year colleges are really no different from other non-R1 colleges in their commitment to research and publication. Teaching and scholarship, however, are not mutually exclusive. As two-year faculty, we usually carry a 5-5 teaching load and necessarily focus much of our attention on issues related to undergraduate-level teaching and pedagogy. Yet, we are also interested in the scholarship of our specific fields and have a research and publishing agenda of our own. I’ve found that I can explore teaching and learning through workshops offered by my institution or conferences designed for educators. I can also engage as a scholar in my field through discipline specific conferences. It is only at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, however, that I have found a true blend and a really valuable exchange between the two halves—teacher and scholar—of the two-year college instructor’s identity and role.
The AHA annual meeting offers a space for exchanging ideas and socio-professional networking that, in my view, cannot be rivaled by any other learned society for historians. In Denver, to inspire the teacher in us, there is a preconference workshop that will focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning, an assignments charrette workshop that will help us peer review and collaborate on course assignments, a networking opportunity for those interested in teaching, and a variety of panels and roundtables on teaching and pedagogy. For the scholar and researcher in us, there are ample opportunities to attend panels on topics both inside and outside of our fields that might inspire new avenues for our own research. While our discipline-specific societies are of great value for staying abreast of the recent trends in our field, the kind of intellectual cross-pollination that comes from seeing scholarship in other fields at the AHA annual meeting is equally advantageous. This balance between teaching and scholarship in the 2017 program makes it clear that the AHA respects, values, and promotes both traditional areas of scholarship and scholarship on teaching and learning. It is this ability to nurture both halves of our identity—that of educator and researcher—that most attracts me to the AHA annual meeting.
The AHA’s size also allows it to have a huge array of traditional research panels. This is of great value to community college instructors who mainly teach survey level introductory courses like US History, Western Civilizations, and World History. We are not experts in all of these areas and our discipline-specific societies cannot help with the breadth of topics in the survey. The AHA, on the other hand, hosts panels on every region, period, and theme imaginable. The meeting program is a veritable smorgasbord of the latest historical research that we can take home to improve our classes. Meanwhile, the teaching panels and workshops approach issues of history education not only from practitioners’ point of view but also from the perspective of the scholarship on teaching and learning. Rather than separate our scholarly agendas and interests from our teaching interests, both the traditional research panels and the pedagogy panels encourage us to see these as two halves of the same coin. One without the other leaves us incomplete, and both are respected and encouraged by the AHA.
It is, therefore, not surprising that it is at the AHA annual meeting that I have also found the truest sense of equity and exchange between four-year and two-year colleagues. I have often heard my two-year peers lament their perceived alienation from their four-year counterparts. But the range of institutions represented at the AHA leads to inclusivity rather than isolation. The AHA’s promotion of interaction and exchange between different types of institutions is evident in the many panels where scholars from high schools, two-year, and four-year schools present together. This is yet another important benefit of attending the meeting. Meeting new colleagues from different institutions provides a valuable opportunity to build relationships that can result in future collaborations and even panel submissions. The chance to engage colleagues, from both two- and four-year schools, while attending these panels, workshops, roundtables, networking sessions, receptions, lunches, and tours, opens new opportunities for exchange and collaboration beyond the confines of the conference.
Clearly, there is great value in attending the conference, even if we aren’t presenting a paper. So, to my two-year colleagues who have decided that it “isn’t worth it” to go to the annual meeting if they aren’t presenting this year, I encourage you to reconsider what really gives the annual meeting worth.
Sarah Shurts is associate professor of history at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. She is the author of the forthcoming Resentment and the Right: French Intellectual Identity Reimagined, 1898–2000 in addition to several articles on French intellectual engagement and on pedagogy and the AHA Tuning project.
This post first appeared on AHA Today.
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