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How to be a good host for guest speakers in your class

Instructors need to acknowledge that introducing students to a broader range of expertise requires care, preparation and active facilitation.

BY DANIELLE TASCHEREAU MAMERS | JUN 24 2021

As a white settler instructor, inviting guest speakers into my classroom is an important strategy for dispersing my authority, amplifying the expertise of other scholars and giving students in my diverse classroom the chance to see themselves reflected in sources of expertise.

Being a good host begins before a guest enters the room. I have developed a set of best practices for hosting guests, informed by my experiences of inviting scholars, writers and community organizers into my university classroom and being asked to lecture for free as a graduate student. At the heart of these practices is valuing guests’ labour and building reciprocal relationships.

Value guest labour

Guest lecturing involves a significant amount of intellectual and emotional labour. Valuing labour is particularly important for guests who are emerging scholars or artists, and for guests from racialized, queer, disabled or otherwise minoritized communities. Too often, experts from these communities are asked to share their knowledge in ways that are undervalued as “good experience.” Guests should receive tangible benefits from visiting your classroom, including an appropriate honorarium, meaningful mentorship or a labour exchange.

Honoraria: Typical honoraria amounts do not adequately value labour. One guide for appropriately valuing the guest’s work before and in class is the CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation) minimum recommended fee schedule for presentations and consultations. When departmental budgets do not provide adequate honoraria, coordinate with other instructors or campus groups to combine funds and increase the impact of your guest’s visit. Creating a larger event — perhaps one open to the public — may open opportunities to apply for small grants within your institution.

Mentorship: In addition to an honorarium, guest lecturing might be a professional development experience for graduate students. However, the labour of planning and preparing a lecture is not in and of itself a reward. As appropriate, hosts can provide meaningful mentorship by consulting the guest’s teaching plans, providing feedback and offering a formal letter of observation that can be included in teaching dossiers.

Labour exchange: When honoraria fall short, hosts might value guest labour by offering in-kind services. What skills do you have that might be of tangible value to your guest? This might include providing a reciprocal lecture, editorial services, workshopping a manuscript, filming and editing their lecture or performance, etc. Consult with your guest to ensure any in-kind service is of substantive value.

Plan together

Ask your guests which aspect of their work they would like to speak to. Some guests will want to present work that is already in circulation. Others may wish to share new projects. Share appropriate readings to prepare students for their visit. Your guests don’t know your students as well as you do. Your students’ existing knowledge/experience, the size of the class and how their visit fits into the arc of your course are important contexts.

Avoid tokenism

Guest lecturers often represent ideas, materials and contexts beyond their own work. This is particularly true when guests are members of racialized, queer, disabled and other minoritized communities. Avoiding tokenism begins with course design. One tactic is offering a diverse reading list. If your guest is the only Black or Indigenous scholar on your syllabus, it is much more likely students will see them as standing in for a whole community.

Prepare students

While silences are part of teaching, nothing is more awkward than a long silence after a guest has finished speaking. To help students feel confident to engage a guest, do some pre-thinking together. This may include reading and discussing the guest’s work prior to their visit or giving a lecture that situates their work in the context of the course and the broader field or genre in which your guest works. Create a thinking space for your guest to enter, which will grow with their visit.

Facilitate the discussion

Though a more intimate engagement than a public talk, the class visit still needs active facilitation. Good hospitality creates a context where your guest and your students feel comfortable speaking. Drawing on Eve Tuck’s Indigenous feminist approach to facilitating Q&A sessions, I have students prepare questions after reading our guest’s work. Students then meet in small groups before the guest arrives to discuss their questions. After our guest’s presentation, students revisit and revise their questions with a partner. This form of peer-review gives students a structure for connecting pre-thinking to presentation and helps them feel more confident in asking questions while giving our guest a small break after their lecture or performance.

Share hosting duties

Hospitality is a shared project. To cultivate collective responsibility for the classroom environment, invite students to assist with hosting guests. Simple acts like having students prepare a guest bio or introduce visiting speakers can further decenter the instructor and build shared investment in hospitality.

Guests help ideas come to life and expand the world of a classroom. As instructors, we tend to view a guest lecture as a week off from teaching prep. However, we need to acknowledge that building relationships and introducing students to a broader range of expertise requires care, preparation and active facilitation.

This article reflects research funded by McMaster University as part of the IDEAS Grant provided by the Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation & Excellence in Teaching and the Equity and Inclusion Office.

Danielle Taschereau Mamers is a SSHRC postdoctoral scholar at McMaster University. Check out her website

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