Thursday, November 29, 2007

Help Me Suzanne, I've Got to Set My Sights On the Bright Sunshiny Day

Well, if PGOAT's and Still Pounding's dreams are any indication, I'm not alone in thinking I could be focusing my anxiety in more productive directions. So let's get to that interview prep, shall we?

I've talked about how last year the Old World Septuagenarian and Evil Columbo were precisely no help at all in prepping us for interviews with teaching schools. The problem is, faculty in a department like mine are pretty much totally out of touch with what rural branch campuses or even some liberal arts colleges are looking for in a philosopher. The junior faculty are better on this stuff only in the sense that they're dimly aware there might be something here they don't know about. After all, it's not like most of them even applied to the kinds of jobs me and office mates might actually get interviews for.

So last year I got killed in the interview I had with a teaching school. (Tune in next week for a grisly account of the bloody carnage.) I don't want to killed again this year. I want to be prepped for those interviews. I want to be starting my prep for those interviews now. But how the hell am I going to do that?

Well, right now my plan is this: abjectly begging for help. If anyone with experience on a teaching school's search committee wants to tell us in comments what sorts of teaching questions you like to ask, please, please do. If anyone remembers getting hard teaching questions as a candidate, leave those too. And if we ask nicely, maybe we could get Inside the Philosophy Factory to put her grading down long enough to weigh in over at her place?

One more thing. I'm especially interested in questions that aren't "How would you teach such-and-such a course?" questions. Those are the teaching questions that research schools ask, so they're the ones even my faculty knows about. What I don't know is, well, anything else about any other kind of teaching question. Little help please? Please?

34 comments:

undetached rabbit part said...

Great topic. I need help on these teaching questions too (especialy because I'd prefer a job at a good liberal arts school over many jobs at research schools etc). I'm actually a pretty good teacher (at least my students think so), and I take it seriously, but I never know what to say in response to teaching questions. I have no "teaching philosophy." And those hopelessly vague questions, e.g., "what are the liberal arts to you," just make my mind go blank.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a SLAC with a 3-2 course load and pretty heavy research expectations, therefore half the interview is usually devoted to research plans. When we get down to asking about teaching we do ask the question about "How would you teach X & Y (X & Y being what we want to hire you for). We also always ask about how you would structure an intro course and why. A good idea to prep for answering this specific question is to look at course syllabi and at departmental descriptions: if the department emphasizes the history of philosophy you don't want to tell them that you use one textbook that addresses contemporary topics in philosophy and summarizes famous arguments! One question that we throw out to get to know a candidate's depth and "liberal artsiness" is to ask what she would teach if she could design her own course which integrates materials from other disciplines. This one often kills the student who has sacrificed broader interests in grad school in order to focus on, say, Bayesian confirmation theory. Such a person would not work out at a SLAC. Just to cover all ground, though, we might also ask how your research informs your teaching. Depending on the school and its requirements (think catholic institution), one is often asked how to engage students that are required to take philosophy courses but who otherwise would not have. This is by no means a complete list of what teaching oriented SLAC's ask, but I hope it helps.

TT AssProf said...

First, my qualifications: I was on the job market for four years before landing a tt gig with an MA program at a primarily teaching institution.

During these four years, I have had 20 tt interviews altogether, around 30 if you count one year gigs.

The vast majority of these interviews were for teaching positions, so from me you should at least get a good sampling of what to expect and what the tricks are.

As expected, research places may start off with some cursory questions about teaching, but then buckle down right away to your research agenda. The ones I've had were totally brutal, sometimes surprisingly so; but, perhaps ironically, you folks right now are better prepared for these kinds of interviews than the teaching kind.

Most teaching places, in contrast, may start off with some cursory questions about your research, but not always. The better teaching institutions want you to maintain something of a research profile and sometimes, esp. if the interviewers are relatively young, they want some research juice out of you too--just for their amusement, seems like.

Standard questions are: how would you teach the advertised areas? What other areas could you handle? Have you ever had experience teaching Critical Thinking courses? Etc.

Here's the Trick. What you want to communicate very clearly and persuasively is some novel technique you have employed with, of course, great success.

You want to, first, frame the introduction of this technique by making it clear to them that you understand the institutional expectations of that particular department. For example:

"Of course an expectation is that I take charge of a number of introductory and general education courses. Now, in my experience [use this phrase a lot], most of these students are there because they have to be and not because they particularly want to.

"In addition to piquing their interests, perhaps in spite of themselves, I want to at least impart to them some basic and advanced college skills, in textual analysis and writing, which should be useful to them in upper level humanities courses in general."

Then you tell them what your original and novel technique for doing this may be. To my original and novel technique, I've had interviewers tell me things like: "Wow, I've got to try that myself" or "What a great way of doing that--esp. with the larger classes;" or at least vigorously enthusiastic nodding.

Above all, you want to leave the impression that you know what you're getting into, what to expect, that you have thought about it, and you have experimented with various pedagogical techniques. That should set you a part as a teacher. And that's the sort of impression you want to leave, rather than an impression having to do with how shiny your shoes are. Referring to another topic on this blog, nobody gives a shit about how you're dressed so long as you don't look ridiculous one way or the other.

Needless to add, if you have not done so already, then once you get an interview, look up the website, look at what the other people in the dept. do, and look at their course descriptions. Try to figure out if there are any gaps in their curriculum. Since teaching dept.'s tend to be small, they may have a number of gaps even in core areas. Assuming plausibility, mention things like, "I notice you don't have a regular offering in this particular area. I have some expertise in it, and would not only be able but willing to teach a course like that."

Once I had an interview with a very small dept., which for whatever reason, did not offer epistemology on a regular basis. I had some background in it, and told the Chair that I would be really into developing a course like that. Before I left the job talk, he told me they would be expecting me to teach epistemology on a regular basis--something that he had never mentioned prior to my mentioning it.

They key is to communicate to them, without saying so explicitly, that you have researched them and that you are very very interested in their position. Especially with weaker places, they find that especially flattering.

Finally, know the syllabus of the courses you have in mind cold. When they ask, for example, how you would teach early modern, what they want to hear is that you have the syllabus inside your head from week to week. Saying something like, "Oh I thought we'd read some Hume, maybe a little Locke," will leave a very bad impression. Talk about which books, which chapters, in addition to the chronology of figures, etc. etc., being able to justify each selection even if not asked.

For those of you lucky enough to get an on-campus, some additional advice about the kind of attitude you should have. Of course it isa nerve wracking experience. But, on the other hand, to relax yourself, look at it this way: on that particular day an entire dept. of philosophers will spend that whole day, thinking about you, measuring your views, asking you questions, wine you and dine you. The only other category of people in our business treated this way are the stars of our discipline. On that day, you should try to feel like a princess. After all, you are there because they want you almost as much as you want their job.

Of course you should take my advice at least in conjunction with the advices of others and with no small amount of salt. After all, I had thirty interviews over four years and just got my first tt job; so, in a sense, I'm more of an abject failure than anything else.

Best of luck to all of you!

"Anonymouse" said...

Here's one that I got, although I fell asleep (Ok, that's hyperbole) during my boring, stupid and pointless answer, but given the context, the question was boring, stupid, and pointless, too:

"How would you incorporate diversity perspectives into this course?"

There might be appropriate contexts for such a question, and those you can anticipate quickly and easily, with little background effort. Given the topic of conversation, it was ridiculous. Given the vagueness of the question, it was even moreso. It's frustrating that vague but obviously loaded questions are asked in interviews in which you don't really have time to evaluate the psychological background of the question in order to know how to respond without pissing someone off. And when it's vague, you also have to worry about giving your answer some content. Doing both simultaneously was not within my powers.

So you have to be ready for seemingly pointless questions that merely externalize some ax-grinding need on the part of the questioner. If you can figure out, in advance, what axes your interviewers like to grind, that helps. If you don't know who is on your interview panel, you can think about what sorts of concerns tend to play a role in that department's life, probably by looking at their web site. Look at dominant faculty interests, look at who they invite for colloquia, look at upper-division courses that are not the "standard" ones, etc. Then think - "OK, if I am in a shitty mood from interviewing people all day long, what kinds of questions, would I ask, if I shared that person's philosophical outlook?" or "What are some of the stereotypes someone would take from my race/gender/appearance?" If you're a white male being interviewed at a school with lots of racial/ethnic diversity, expect diversity questions. If you're a woman being interviewed by an older male, expect a question about how you will maintain classroom order. (Yes, I'm serious - it happens, despite the dominance of women in middle school and high school teaching where discipline is much more difficult to maintain.)

Of course, you can always get a question from left field, that seemingly doesn't fit at all. But I suspect such legwork will cover a great deal of the questions that don't have mere philosophical content as their obvious target. I know much of this isn't all that specific, but it has helped me in the past when I've done it, and hurt me when I haven't. I didn't much care about the interview with the diversity question above, so I got surprised by the question. With hindsight, I easily could have anticipated it.

Anonymous said...

Some teaching questions I've been asked in interviews:

1. What was your worst/best moment as a philosophy teacher and why? How did you react/respond?

2. What is your strength/weakness as a teacher? What is special about your classes? What do you feel you need to work on?

3. How would you get students at our school interested in your class X? Why would our students want to take it? (I've been asked this about courses in both my AOS and AOC's.)

4. From a religious school: How would you get along with our students?

5. What can you teach outside of your AOS? (I know, your cv lists your AOC's, but you'll likely be asked anyway. It's one way to see if you've actually thought much at all about how you'd teach these other classes.)

6. What do you cover in Intro and why? Do you give a historical or problems course? Do you emphasize methods or content? Primary sources or textbook?

7. You say you can teach Hist of Early Modern. Who/what would you cover? What texts would you use? Why do you use book X and not book Y?

8. Have you designed your own courses?

9. A cautionary tale: I was asked how I'd teach X (in my AOS). I described several courses in X that I'd like to teach. They said, "whoa, we each teach one course in our AOS per year; the rest of the time it's Intro and Applied Ethics." So: suppose there is one course (maybe two) on the books at SLAC in your AOS. What would you cover in it and why? (You might want to do some homework here. How many courses does SLAC have in its catalog that are in your AOS?)

10. Suppose someone (perhaps a community member, and not necessarily a student) came to you and asked how to resolve moral problem X. What would you tell them to do?

Anonymous said...

Anonymouse,

My understanding is that on some campuses this is a very important issue. I've heard chairs talk about how difficult it is to find philosophers who take it seriously. So I hope you prepare a good answer this time around.

Anonymous said...

The two most important questions you need to be prepared to answer are the following:

1. So tells us why we ought to expect you, a person with no formal training in teaching, to have a detailed pedagogical style and an insightful teaching philosophy?

2. Could you please use your best bullshit to fool us into thinking that 1) you regard teaching as helpful to your research, 2) interest in teaching is even remotely on par with your interest in research, and 3) you are looking forward to teaching intro (without a TA) to 50 or more mouth-breathing knuckleheads?

That should do it.

Anonymous said...

Two MORE jobs set up APA interviews -- including the University of Memphis job, which I *really* wanted -- but no one called me ... ARGH!

Anonymous said...

This last anonymous poster with the "two most important questions" clearly has (1) an incredibly awesome and nuanced view of education and (2) [eliminating sarcasm] no idea how to be creative in a classroom. Your research could likely be influenced by your teaching if you can bring your students into the fold. If you say that your specialty is too technical (or too advanced) for your feeble undergrads, this just testifies that specialization has significantly decreased the quality and potential of philosophy. And at that point - what exactly are you doing anyhow?

juniorperson said...

"3) you are looking forward to teaching intro (without a TA) to 50or more mouth-breathing knuckleheads?"

Another good piece of advice: Don't go into the interview despising the students you'll be teaching without even having met any of them!

starin at the walls...waitin to die said...

Anonymous 3:09 said "If you say that your specialty is too technical (or too advanced) for your feeble undergrads, this just testifies that specialization has significantly decreased the quality and potential of philosophy."

This is an absolutely beautiful sentiment. Although I've only taught classes to students who have never taken a philosophy class and are likely never to take one again, i have learned so much about how to address the questions that really worry me in philosophy by working with these purported "mouth-breathing knuckleheads".

It's funny how having to be clear and having to present your ideas in a way that is accessible to non-specialists really can improve the quality of your arguments!

"anonymouse" said...

While I already knew that diversity perspectives were important, and that this particular school might care about it (not because of the makeup of the student body, by any stretch of the imagination, however), what befuddled me was the particular point of the conversation/interview at which the question was asked, and how it was asked, and the vagueness with which it was asked. Was it focused on historical or religious or ethnic or gender diversity, or some other unknown factor? To focus on gender: was the intent to see how I would incorporate the work of women or whether I would incorporate feminist perspectives on the material, or to discuss gender role - including beyond the traditional two - in the material.

Again, given the context, it was totally unclear, and the question was, in my view, completely irrelevant and inappropriate at that point of the conversation. That's why it pays to do your homework; if you know the kinds of questions you might get asked, and have a sense of why it was asked, it helps in cases in which the timing, etc. of the question makes absolutely no sense. That way you can shift gears without having to multitask more than is necessary.

Part of what I was trying to get at in my post was that there are oftentimes lenses through which certain faculty members view all philosophical work - feminist, postmodern, etc. You might have a clear sense of how feminist perspectives have contributed to your field, and communicate that, but how do you know that the questioner doesn't read all texts through the lens of sexual identity, perhaps with an eye toward understanding how the text bears on norms related to homosexuality, for example. (This happens a LOT when your work deals with philosophical questions about natural kinds, for example.)

There is a great deal more pluralism of perspectives at smaller colleges and so-called branch campuses than there is at Leiter-rated schools.

unknown other said...

There's some good advice here, and I don't have much to add. But I would think it's a good idea to preface any thoughts on how you would teach this or that with more general remarks about what approach you would take to the subject and why. So instead of saying "I'd teach this bit of Hume and that bit of Locke," explain what you think the value of a course on Early Modern Philosophy is and what the main challenges are that you expect to have to overcome in teaching it. Then, if you're not interrupted, go into excactly what readings you would cover, what assignments you might give, and how these relate to your general thoughts on teaching the subject in question.

Secondly, you can feel like a princess, but don't act like one. The more respect you can show for your possible future colleagues, their students, and where they live, the better. You don't have to suck up, but be careful not to give the impression that you think the job is beneath you.

Anonymous said...

"If you can figure out, in advance, what axes your interviewers like to grind, that helps."

Absolutely true. I was on a campus interview last year at a small teaching college where the chair, a Merleau-Ponty guy, kept asking me how I could interest students in analytic philosophy to whom (and I paraphrase) logic has become increasingly irrelevant. I knew I had to defend my teaching methods and abilities--but I was not prepared to defend my teaching interests!

Anonymous said...

Anon. 6:03,

So how do you do it?

John Turri said...

Here's one I was asked at the SLAC that hired me.

"What techniques would you use to engage students, in the same class, of very different levels of ability and interest?"

Here's another one:

"What incentives do you build into the course to encourage your students to actually do the reading?"

Anonymous said...

Here is one I have heard asked all too many times:

"I see you have an AOC in [some area the person also has an AOC in, back when they were on the market 100 years ago]. Do you know [Famous name's] [famous paper]? What is your opinion on this paper and how would you teach it?"

Beware, this is a trick question! Just say that you know the paper, but have never taught it. If you do not, then should you have a view that is in any way at odds with the views of the question asker (who almost always has very strange and probably incoherent views), you will get kicked around for whatever your opinion is.

Trust me, know who will be interviewing you. Find out what they teach. If they teach something that is out of their main area (assuming that they ever bother to do any research at all), then this is a likely source of this kind of question.

I have seen this kind of question again and again. Each time I hear it, I want to hide under the table (and/or punch out the question asker). Otherwise excellent candidates have lost their on-campus chance, because they disagreed with the insane views of one of my co-workers. The whole point of this question is to enable the asker to go on a little power trip. This kind of question is usually asked by someone who publishes very little and thus only gets to feel powerful at APA interviews. So, you are best off to avoid engaging, as best you can. Even completely useless idiots get to vote.

Sisyphus said...

John Turri's questions get asked in English teaching-heavy interviews too.

I've also heard: "describe a time you had to deal with a problem student."

"what sorts of limitations do you see yourself working around in your research here" (ie how will you deal with our heavy teaching load and research requirements at the same time?)

"how would you teach our cross-listed courses with gen ed./the Core Curriculum/some other department/ the writing program?"

"how would you work with our students as opposed to the ones at your current institution" (ie differences in diversity, age, college prep, money, types of feeder schools, a religious mission, they are all huge b-ball fans, etc.)

Some of those are from the women's studies meeting I went to, so if you read them and prep using them, try to pay it forward by doing something helpful for the women's studies dept. at your current/future institution.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I posted my answers on my blog..

The other comments are very helpful, and more likely to be the case in the 'teaching/research' cases.

Keep in mind that what the committee wants to know, in the end, is how you plan to get the job done without making them sorry they hired you.

Your general image should be someone it is nice to chat at the copier with, someone who will be open to really engaging the students (so they don't complain), and someone they can count on to do more than their fair share of the scutt work.

One line I've used is something like, 'my class is often the only time students have the time and impetus to think about very theoretical concepts. It is my job to push them to do just that, so when they are working in their careers, they can keep thinking those thoughts even though they ended up in corporate America'...

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog tonight. Even though I've spent the last hour perusing it rather than storming through the articles I need to read, you're my hero.

Good luck.

-second year Ph.D. student

undetached rabbit parts said...

I'm working on some strategies for dealing with teaching questions (e.g., "what are the liberal arts to you") I don't know the answers to. I'm not sure how well they will work but here they are.

Strategy one:
Interviewer: "What are the liberal arts to you?"

Me: "Pass."

Strategy Two:
Interviewer: "What are the liberal arts to you?"

Me: "What are the liberal arts to *you*?" (I throw their own question back at them. Now all of the pressure is on them.)

Strategy Three:
Interviewer: "What are the liberal arts to you?"

Me: (I excuse myself from the table and set off the fire alarm.)

Strategy four:
Interviewer: "What are the liberal arts to you?"

Me: "English, philosophy, russian..." (I just list various liberal arts.)

Etc.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I think the best way to answer the 'what are the liberal arts to you' has two components...

1) you discuss how the students of this school will probably go out into the world to make lots and lots and lots of money. They will be MDs, JDs and MBAs.

2) The liberal arts are what they'll think about and support when they get those big pots of money -- AND (very important) what will guide them more toward being wonderful and philanthropic and NOT like a character in "Billionaire Boys Club", indited in the next Enron-scandal or fired from their CEO job for sexual harassment...

Michael Cholbi said...

First, over at In Socrates' Wake, we had a discussion a while back on how departments evaluate candidates' teaching credentials. (In the archive, September 23, '07, "Evaluating teaching credentials.") A lot of individuals with hiring experience posted comments there, so it might be informative about the point of view from the other side of the table.

There's plenty of excellent advice here, so I'll only add two points:
1. Say something distinctive about teaching. A department hiring in, say, ethics, might be considering a candidate working on friendship and another working on probabilistic utilitarianism and possible worlds, making that aspect of their decision an oranges vs. apples comparison. In contrast to research, teaching is the 'common task' on the basis of which you might be hired -- an apples to apples comparison -- and almost everyone knows the boilerplate responses to give when asked general questions about teaching. So have 3-5 memorable things to say about your teaching: innovative methods or techniques, syllabi constructed in an unusual way, telling anecdotes from the classroom. This will help them remember something about you as a teacher.

2. Echoing others, don't be bitter. Don't criticize your students. It's OK to point to what your students struggle with, what they're ill-prepared for, etc. But be positive on the whole, conveying the message that students can be taught. After all, any institution considering you has to believe that you believe you can teach effectively there. Otherwise, what's the point of teaching at all?

And one last small thing: Be ready to talk about how you'd teach large courses (50+) on your own. You can talk plenty about various techniques you've used that are simply too labor intensive to be used in large courses. Saying that you have appointments with every student about term papers is great, but likely to be seen as hopelessly unrealistic for institutions that do a lot of teaching on the factory model.

Blind Teaching the Blind said...

"So have 3-5 memorable things to say about your teaching: innovative methods or techniques, syllabi constructed in an unusual way..."

Gotta love our profession. Many grad students will have at most 2 yrs of TA experience, certainly will have no degree in education, and most likely will have absolutely no actual formal education in teaching methods (how to learn the child folk real good like).

Isn't this a bit like expecting me to provide innovative military tactics when my background is playing RISK and watching war movies?

Or perhaps like expecting me to be a good mechanic because I drive a car.

(Also note that those who end up evaluating incoming faculty's teaching performance are those who also lack any formal background in teaching.)

But needs must when the devil drives (I hear he is an excellent mechanic.)

ML said...

I'd like to echo Michael's suggestion that you think of 3-5 memorable things to say about your teaching. Often the answers to the teaching questions tend to blur together. Short anecdotes, by contrast, tend to stick.

Lacanista said...

"We have students who come to school both very prepared for college-level work and very unprepared for such work. In your XXXX and XXX (lower-level courses, core course) course, how would you deal with this mix of student backgrounds?"

Sometimes this is also a way to talk about diversity .. or to have a question where diversity could be brought in by the student (showing some familiarity for the make-up of the campus, etc....)

On the TT said...

Wooster College (OH) interviewed me at the APA. At one point in the interview they handed me a sheet of paper that listed the courses they offer and asked me to put a mark next to each of the ones that I could teach. I was not expecting that, and it kind of threw me.

Here's one question a research university asked me about teaching: if you could develop a course in an area that was not in your current AOS or AOC, what would it be in?

Anonymous said...

Just a note. It seems higher level administrators all went away to some retreat a year or two ago and came back talking about the importance of 'interdisciplinarity'. As a result departments, especially in the humanities, are under a lot of pressure to play an interdisciplinarity game. Basically, you get resources if you can forward this agenda. So this year, you might expect questions on interdisciplinary courses you might be interested in developing, etc. One thing departments might be looking for is how you would enter the game: ie do you think good interdisciplinary work is grounded in the disciplines? how might you think about a team taught course? what do you know about other disciplines (literature, psychology, history, sciences? (NB Philosophy is very well positioned amongst the humanities to play this game,as the discipline is naturally interdisciplinary)

Anonymous said...

Even in smaller departments heavy on teaching, you may not be asked to teach outside your AOS and AOC. We -- who have a 3/3 load -- are very skeptical of candidates who hand us syllabus after syllabus in an interview. Often, they have taken the TOC from a popular textbook and basically reproduced it.

I'd rather see a smaller number of thoughtful, coherent syllabi that cover our advertised areas and the candidate's AOS and AOC than 20 cookie cutter superficial ones. I'd rather talk to a candidate who says,"To be honest, I haven't thought about that kind of course. Here are some ideas off the top of my head. ... I can send you a (rough) syllabus in the coming week or so if you would like."

Anonymous said...

This is all very helpful. Thanks, everyone. Now, what about "research" questions? What should one be prepared to do besides give a stump speech on one's dissertation (and to speculate about what else one might do afterwards)?

unknown other said...

I was asked what my plans for future research were and what journals I thought I might publish in.

McSean said...

One thing our small department looks for is evidence that candidates apply the Delphic maxim "know thyself" to their teaching: that they're reflective about it, that they have some sense of their strengths and weaknesses, that they've thought about their use (or non-use) of technology in the classroom, how to balance the demands of teaching and the demands of scholarship, etc. The content of the answers is important, but more important (to me, anyway) is the sense that the candidate is genuinely thoughtful of his or her teaching.
As for the liberal arts, even if you're not interviewing at a liberal arts college, having some coherent thoughts about the value of a liberal arts education -- and of the centrality of philosophy to such an education -- can't hurt. A good, brief place to start is William Cronon's "'Only Connect' -- The Goals of a Liberal Education," which was originally published in The American Scholar and available at www.williamcronon.net/ writing_downloads.htm.
I think Michael Cholbi's advice is excellent: be specific, give concrete examples. Indeed, an "I'm not sure; I've never really thought about that" is -- to me, anyway -- preferable to banal generalities.
It's important to avoid over-reaching: candidates often get into trouble by making claims they really can't back up. This happens both both pre-interview (when the CV can't back up claimed AOSs and AOCs) and during interviews (when candidates can't adequately explain how they'd teach a course they claim competence or specialization in). If you're in a hole, stop digging!
Lastly, I would strongly caution against turning the question back on the questioner. It's not an unfair move in principle, but I've only seen it hurt candidates who've tried it.

Anonymous said...

I'm hijacking the thread regarding mcsean's "backing up the AOSs and AOCs". I've seen several comments about this on the blog, and it puzzles me. I think that AOC, at least, is a notion that needs to be relativized to a given school. I'd be happy to teach a given course, in which I have some background though it's not my main area, at some schools but wouldn't consider teaching them at others. So the claim that person either does or doesn't have an AOC in a particular field is not very meaningful by itself.

I was talking to some philosophy grad students about 10 years ago at the History of Science Society meeting, and the consensus seemed to be that any competent philosophy PhD should be able to teach an introductory course in just about any subfield of the discipline. The professors who were there disagreed, but maybe that contrast is informative in its own right. In principle I think it's true that anyone should be able to teach intro to ethics, or modern philosophy, or epistemology, at least if they really have to. After all, a lot of faculty at small schools end up teaching things well outside their area, and I doubt they'd say they aren't competent to do so. Maybe you read up over the summer, maybe you ask a friend who does work in that area.

I can understand being critical of AOSs, but why be so holier than thou about AOCs, when in practice teaching fields are at least somewhat maleable at the vast majority of schools?

Jane said...

The questions here all seem relevant to me. I would say a little something about what to keep in mind when answering them. Realize that the questions are not just about your teaching, but are also aimed at discovering what sort of colleague you'll be. You want to appear astute about teaching *and* appear to be the sort of colleague others will enjoy

The trick here is to avoid bitter cynicism while not appearing Pollyanic about students. I've heard colleagues snort privately about the candidate who simply "loves" students and teaching. Your interviewers are unlikely to adore their students so don't alienate them by appearing youthfully naive or mindlessly optimistic. (The opposite is obvious - they can't hire someone who already hates students to that's to be avoided too.) One must weigh enthusiasm against a kind of worldly wisdom that will endear you to prospective colleagues. In this respect, anecdotes or techniques that illustrate your good-humored management of perennial problems with students work quite well. These show that you recognize problems, competently aim to solve them, and are generally pleasant in doing so.

In short, don't lose sight of the fact that the questions about teaching are also aimed at sussing out what sort of brother-in-arms you'll be in the teaching trenches. Will you be well-organized but stuffy and staid? Will you be bitter and legalistic? Will you be blindly hopeful and idealistic? These are ways in which the teaching questions display issues of temperament and, by extension, probable collegiality.

One last thing I'd add regarding the interviewer with some agenda to pursue or bone to pick: most if not all of her colleagues will (like you) find her tiresome and annoying. So don't let displeasing an obstreperous interviewer distress you too much.