Friday, September 28, 2007

You Can't Teach Me a Goddamn Thing

So most of my senior profs' don't know a single thing about teaching portfolios. But there's a more general point about how my department preps candidates for the market.

None of the profs in my department have a feel for what goes on in job searches for teaching positions. Not even the junior profs have any real idea. After all, for them to get jobs in my department, down here in the middle of the rankings, they all pretty much had to come from top-10 departments. They never had to worry about clawing their way into 4-4 teaching loads at rural branch campuses in banjo country.

But that's them. It's not us. People coming out of my department typically get teaching jobs, when they jobs at all. So last year, a big part of our prep was getting ready for all the ultra-high-powered interviews most of us will never have. There was absolutely no time spent talking about the kinds of APA interviews that actually turn into jobs for most of us.

Here's an example. Sometime in late October or early November, the department has a placement meeting where we get told all kinds of stuff about what to expect in interviews. For the most part, we get told, the interview's going to open with some fairly non-specific question about your dissertation or your research or something like that. You'll probably talk about your work for about a half-hour to 40 minutes, and then you'll get some questions about teaching. Those questions will mostly be about the material you'd do in various courses, and you need to be ready to talk about who you'd read and why you'd read them. That'll take about ten to fifteen minutes. Then they'll ask if you've got any questions for them, and you should have one or two ready to go.

Okay, fine. Except this interview formula was exactly wrong for most of the interviews people in my department get. When I interviewed last year for a teaching job, the interview went nothing like that. They didn't give a flying fuck about my work. The entire interview was about my teaching. And not just about what I'd read in what courses, but what my basic views were about the "role of a teacher in a learning community." The first questions they asked me were about "how teachers should relate to students, both in and out of classroom". I was totally fucking blindsided. I had no idea what those questions were about, and I don't think I ever got an idea as the pedagogy questions just kept coming. (Yeah, no fly-back for me.)

It was an interview totally unlike any my senior profs had any experience with. Even the junior profs' experiences are probably pretty thin with interviews like this. So how are they supposed to prep us for them? Last year, they just didn't.


Duck said...

I had an interview where they started with what was basically a sales pitch – it isn't so bad here, you get $300 per year to buy books (seriously, they actually named a figure), etc. For ten minutes. *Then* they started in with the questions about the role of a teacher in a learning community.

At the end (no questions at all about my research, let alone my *views*) they added that they hate doing this (i.e. interviewing; and indeed, one of the three of them had already punted and was checking out the book displays) and that whoever they hired would be "expected to stay and get tenure" (rather than flee after a year or two).

I thought I did okay, actually, but no fly-back for me either. Too bad, because then I would have been able to say something about *philosophy*.

By the way, I "enjoy" your blog. Good luck!

Dave M.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

The biggest lie that most graduate programs tell is that everyone gets placed into research positions. The fact of the matter is that this is a matter of ego and not a look at the actual job market.

You could easily be writing from my grad program, in which you'd be better off doing a lap dance during a seminar than saying you wanted to teach...

Departments do themselves no favors this way -- the last two tenure track people we hired at our CC are making good money, have stable jobs and happy lives -- and they were the ones that could actually talk about teaching instead of research.

The thing is, having a teaching job isn't all that bad -- sure, there are more annoying undergrads than I'd like -- but, if you are smart about how you teach and prep, then you can have time to write as well. I've put out three decent papers in the past school year, along with a 5/5 load and 2 summer classes. This year I'm department chair and plan to have at least three more papers done by this time next year.

The fact of the matter is that if you are from a medium-ranked department, you won't even be considered for the less teaching focused jobs... so, get together to learn how to talk about teaching.

I can tell you how to prepare for a teaching interview... Figure out how to answer questions about learning styles and active learning techiniques. Decide how you want to answer questions about use of technology in teaching, Formulate answers to questions about under-performing students and huge differences in academic preparation in your classroom. Finally, decide how to slant your professional development toward learning how to teach/teaching techniques. Go to your school's Center for Teaching and Learning seminars (even if you have to sneak off to do it... don't tell your department for God's sakes) -- and make sure you have ideas about assessment and other hot teaching topics.

For gooness sakes, don't be like most of the "people" (insert insult here) I've interviewed for the past three springs -- they are looking for a predictable paycheck and can't connect with me or with my students. Don't look at a teaching position as a fall-back, because plenty of people want them as a first choice -- so if your dream is of doing philosophical research all day, figure out how to hide that during the interview.

Anonymous said...

I, too, remember being blind-sided during an interview by non-research questions. One of them was "What's your ideal colleague?" Another was "School X is effectively an open university: pretty much everyone in the region with a high school diploma can enroll. How would you teach given what the bottom third of the class would be like?" And I had *no* idea that X was effectively an open university.

At my current institution, we have no idea how to prepare students for teaching interviews. But at least we know we have no idea. So we get a former student who is now in a teaching job to come back and do mock teaching interviews for us.

-- A Guy with Tenure

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that these teaching questions can be vague and so open-ended that I'm not sure where to begin. Specific questions about specific courses--I can handle those. But questions like the one you mention, "how teachers should relate to students, both in and out of classroom"--what is that even asking? Could it be that those in a position to hire someone in a teaching role aren't quite sure how to interview for them? Perhaps it's not so much the answer given as the attitude toward teaching conveyed in those answers. I really don't know. I've tried to practice for all sorts of different kinds of questions, but I sound to myself like I'm mumbling cliches and platitudes that any experienced interviewer would see right through. Same goes for the "teaching statement".

Lord Goon said...

Yeah, I have a 4/4 load (at a four year institution - yes, really) and I got half a book written this year. And I'm happy, well paid, and have acquired a taste for banjo music. All the advice put down here so far is good - the one other thing I can add from personal experience is, DON'T snub one-year replacement positions at these sorts of schools. Even if the pay is crap.

See, the people who do hires at schools like mine work on the devil-you-know principle. The year I was working here as a tenure replacement for $30,000, their philosophy of mind guy up and quit, and they gave me his job for no other reason than that they thought I was a nice feller and didn't have money to fly people in for a national search. Providential, to be sure, but if I hadn't gritted my teeth and dragged my ass here in the first place, some other no-doubt undeserving SOB would have been the beneficiary of my golden good fortune.