Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hey Man, Whats the Plan, What Was That You Said?

Adam Potthast's started an interesting discussion over at In Socrates' Wake. He's talking about how it could be useful for the job market for grad students to work more on our teaching, as opposed to our research. Roughly, his thinking is, since way more departments have teaching as their primary focus and those departments look for real teaching ability when they're hiring, it might not be the worst strategy to spend time making yourself a better teacher.

Yeah, maybe, I guess. But the thing I'm suspicious of here is Teaching! Experience!. It's all fine and good for departments to talk about developing their grad students' teaching skills, but in a lot of places that ends up looking like indentured labor in the hot, dirty mines of "Contemporary Moral Issues" and baby logic. And that way lies an extra year or two in grad school and a very short CV when you finally hit the market.

I'm not really sure I'm disagreeing with Potthast here. We all want to be the best teachers we can. (Um, with the exception of a few people who really don't give a fuck.) But it's sort of hard to evaluate his suggestion without a better sense of what he thinks grad student should be doing, and how much time they should spend doing it.


Patrick said...

Well, one thing I think Adam means (and I am pretty sure about this because he used to tell me this in grad school) is to create some diversity in your teaching portfolio. So if you are doing intro ethics every semester, change the content eery semester. Once as bioethics, once as enviromental ethics, once as medical ethics, etc. Also try to get other courses when you can. That makes you a verastile generalist, which is good for many teaching jobs. The another thing is just really working hard to be a good teacher.

Of course, this will take a tremendous amount of time and energy. So your CV will be short on the research side. But that maybe a trade-off worth making. Whether this is a good strategy will depend on all sorts of factors. One major one is which program you come from. Adam and I went to UConn. From there it seems that people who put more time into teaching did better on the market. I very much doubt that extends to top 20 programs.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Since about 50% of the undergraduate population is at 2-year schools and since those schools don't have TAs doing any teaching, a much larger number of jobs are at the 2-year level.

In order to get hired at all, you must have teaching experience -- at least 3-4 semesters part-time or a year full-time. Until you have that experience, you can't even honestly answer the interview questions... much-less know that you want the job you are applying for.

At a minimum, make every effort to TA or teach all of the basic courses in your department. As junior faculty you'll have lowest schedule preference anyway, so you might as well know what you are doing there...

Also -- it is simply a myth that teaching has to take a lot out of your schedule... most years I have a 5/5 load, do a lot of service and I've started and finished 3 major papers since January.... It is a matter of planning and being a fast grader.

Finally, teaching skills are the only way you'll be productive enough to get tenure -- so practice on your grad-school's undergrads. Figure out what works, develop a basic syllabus and then use it wherever you end up.