Monday, December 3, 2007

Baby, Tonight I've Got a Question for You

Let's get back to prepping for interviews with teaching schools. First, let me say a huge thanks to everybody who left ideas in comments--John Turri, Sisyphus, Michael Cholbi, and various Anonymouses--to say nothing of Inside the Philosophy Factory, who's put up a post about this stuff.

So here it is, a big list of teaching questions to prep for, divided into my not-very-well-thought-out categories.

Course content.

1. What kind of intro do you teach and why? As Anon. 1:58 puts it, "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?"

2. Inside the Philosophy Factory's got a broader take on the same idea. She asks, what's your "vision for 'normal' philosophy courses and your methods for teaching logic? Here you'll want to explain the kinds of exercises you'll do to keep students engaged. You'll also want to explain your assessment methods for those courses."

Interdisciplinary and cross-department teaching.

3. What would you teach if you got to design your own course integrating material from other disciplines?

4. From Sisyphus, "How would you teach our cross-listed courses with gen ed./the Core Curriculum/some other department/the writing program?"

As an aside, up to this point I'm feeling okay. I think I could get through these without so much as messing up my hair. But now things take a turn for the worse.

Engaging students.

5. How would you engage students that are required to take philosophy courses but who otherwise would not have?

Uh, isn't this question asking me how to make the horse drink once I get it to the god-damned water? Because I don't know how to do that.

6. Here's a variation from Anon. 1:58: "How would you get students at our school interested in your class X? Why would our students want to take it?"

7. John Turri's talking engagement too, but he's going a different direction: "What techniques would you use to engage students, in the same class, of very different levels of ability and interest?"

Which bring us to. . . .

Diversity.

Okay, these next questions make me feel like I'm getting hit in the face with a pipe.

8. Back to Sisyphus: "How would you work with our students as opposed to the ones at your current institution" (i.e., differences in diversity, age, college prep, money, types of feeder schools, a religious mission, they are all huge b-ball fans, etc.)" To be clear, there's a lot of fucking diversity here: age, college prep, cultural background, money, religion. Holy shit, that's a hard question to answer.

In fact, that question put me on the ground, bleeding out of my mouth. Then the next one starts kicking me in the ribs.

9. Here's Inside the Philosophy Factory: What are "your methods for adjusting to different preparation levels in the classroom? Here is where you'll have to explain how you'll deal with the kid who can't read and the kid who had to come home from Princeton sitting next to one another in your freshman Ethics course."

Uh, so far my "methods" have been to teach at a school that pretty much only admits upper-middle-class white kids who mostly went to private high schools. Is that the wrong answer? Because it's the only fucking answer I've got. Moving on. . . .

Teaching practices.

10. How does your research inform your teaching?

11. From Anon. 1:58: "What is your strength/weakness as a teacher? What is special about your classes? What do you feel you need to work on?"

12. John T again: "What incentives do you build into the course to encourage your students to actually do the reading?"

Just go back to earlier themes, are you saying it doesn't work to threaten them with getting a grade as low as B+?

13. What technology do you use in teaching? Besides chalk, I guess.

14. From Inside the Philosophy Factory: How would you "deal with a few students who are doing badly in the class -- and how you would deal with a significant portion of the class that is doing badly? She recommends, "The key with the student is to offer more help and to understand what resources are available to help students who need more assistance. With the class who is doing badly, discuss how you'd do some review to reinforce some important concepts AND to do classroom assessment techniques like asking about the 'muddiest point' etc."

Workload.

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

16. And Michael Cholbi underlines the point: "Be ready to talk about how you'd teach large courses (50+) on your own."

Michael C. also recommends having a handful of memorable points to make about your teaching. Now, nothing makes a talking point go down smooth like a charming little anecdote. . . .

Anecdotes.

17. From Anon. 1:58: "What was your worst/best moment as a philosophy teacher and why? How did you react/respond?"

18. Sisyphus again: "Describe a time you had to deal with a problem student."

19. And back to Inside the Philosophy Factory: Describe "your most challenging teaching situation and your most rewarding experience. Here is where you tell the story about little Jimmy who was sure he couldn't do logic -- who had talked himself out of being able to pass the class and who finally ended up passing the class"

I'm absolutely fucked.

20. Anon. 1:58: "From a religious school: How would you get along with our students?"

True story: I totally fucked this one up at least year's APA. Totally.

21. Inside the Philosophy Factory Again: Talk about "your professional development. Here is where you'll want to talk about the teaching seminars you're attending via your grad university, how you are a member of APT etc... This is not where you give details about conference papers, publications etc -- unless there is a research element to your position. Then you make it about 50/50."

Ah, yes. The teaching seminars I attended at my grad university. So, so many teaching seminars.

22. Anon. 1:58 again, this time with a real sphincter-clencher: "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?"

I wouldn't even know how to begin this. Couldn't I just pretend I'm deaf or something?

23. Finally, here's one I got last year: "Which do you see as you primary focus--teaching or research?" If I get the chance, tomorrow I'll tell the story of the bloody carnage that ensued.

Okay, that's what I've got. If you want more, read through the comments here and go check out Inside the Philosophy factory's advice. Also, Michael C. points us to a thread at his place that gives a good look inside the heads of search committees at teaching schools.

19 comments:

Sisyphus said...

Ahhhhh! ---- Ok, # 8 was not supposed to mean _all of them at once_! They're supposed to ask it in general, and you should be able to notice one or maybe two differences between your school and their school and show that you've thought about this.

Something like, "Well I know that the students I've taught so far have generally come from top schools while a large proportion of your students are community college transfers, but I have studied/participated in/worked at a/ developed a class in/ tutored at/ X which has taught me about how to engage with students similar to yours."

12. John T again: "What incentives do you build into the course to encourage your students to actually do the reading?"

This means quizzes. Or, alternately, it means assigning reading journals, holding Jeopardy-style class sessions, group presentations, in-class response papers, pointedly questioning random students in the class and then humiliating those who hadn't read (this one doesn't work so well for me)...

basically, you've taught comp., what sorts of dog-and-pony shows do you do to keep them awake and in line? What carrots? What sticks?

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Sadly, most of the answers to those questions are things you learn the hard way -- I got mine by being an adjunct for 3 years... and teaching a 5/5 at my CC for five -- while making very slow progress on my dissertation.

I'd sure as hell trade a defended dissertation for those answers... sigh.

If you think about it hard enough, I suspect you'll come up with some answers more or less stolen from the profs and TAs you've either had or worked with.

I'll give you one of mine for free... the course is logic -- the question is how to handle very different levels of preparation... the answer is to A) get the best to be peer tutors, formally or informally and B) have an occasional "optional" day in which only those with questions about the material (or who have screwed up the previous quiz) are required to come. I've been doing this for a while and it seems to work to let the slow ones catch up while respecting the time of the quick ones -- by not requiring them to come to class. I also have had a nice string of tutors... who have reduced my workload a lot... love them.

Liberal Arts Prof said...

You guys are some serious Old 97s/Rhett Miller fans. You bring that up in an interview, you're hired on the spot. Keep those lines a comin'!

Anonymous said...

I'd be really interested in hearing if there's *any* good answer to the "What's your focus - teaching or research" question.

The only answer I can imagine is skirting the issue by saying they inform each other, or something like that. This question seems designed to encourage more-than-average disingenuousness and canned, uninformative answers. Which is saying a lot.

Anonymous said...

I sense so much anger on this blog ; the job hunt isn’t a big deal ; relax

Ok, here’s my story, graduate school, after that teaching a few years on the east coast for a big prestigious private school and then making the trek west to big anonymous state school, got tenure, not going anywhere. – Spouse also got a tenured position here.

I look back to the late 1990’s when I was job hunting, I sent out 5 CV’s and letters, had 4 interviews, and 2 offers, the spousal job hire secured the deal.

Go in, be yourself, show them what you to offer….as one who has sat on more than a few search committees, this is the best advice I can give anyone on the job track.

BTW, the truth is, that letter that you spent hours on will get about 60 seconds of my attention the night before the interview when I read it, it’s the interview that counts. I might also spend 2 minutes looking at your CV.

ProfBigK said...

Wow, to the anonymous tenured professor who said the job hunt isn't a big deal... You know what? I shall proceed to assume Anon. can't possibly be serious.

FWIW, I got my tenure-track straight out of grad school, but not because the job hunt's 'no biggie.' Also, if you're looking to avoid anger, you might want to avoid blogs!

Okay, to topic: No questions to the tune of, "Tell us a little about your research"? Or was that in another entry?

nostalgia? said...

Check out this excerpt from the intellectual autobiography given in Wolterstorff's Dewey lecture (in the latest APA proceedings):

"In the spring, while still [on fellowship in] Europe, I received a letter from Brand Blanshard, chair of the philosophy department at Yale, offering me a position as instructor in philosophy at Yale. Not inviting me to apply, but offering me a position. I accepted. Blanshard proved, when I met him, to be a courtly gentleman; and I never got up the courage to ask him how this had all gone. But I’m quite sure I know; it was not unusual in those days. He called up the chair at Harvard, asked whether they had any recent graduates Yale could hire, the chair at Harvard said, “Sure; try Wolterstorff,” and that was it. In short, the old boys’ network doing its work. I am now embarrassed that I should have been the beneficiary of this system; at the time I was unabashedly delighted."

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous 11:31,

You're an asshole.

Anonymous said...

"[H]ave an occasional "optional" day in which only those with questions about the material (or who have screwed up the previous quiz) are required to come."

That's a great idea. I might start using it. I will, of course, footnote you in my syllabus.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:43,

What makes Anonymous 11:31 an asshole?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:42:

"The job hunt is no big deal. Don't sweat it. I didn't spend a bunch of time worrying about my applications and it worked out fine for me. I as so awesome; what are you worried about? I got a job through *spousal hire.*"

Fuck that. It is a big deal. It's my career. I've been working for this for 8 years. It's hard to get a job in philosophy, and everyone here has invested a serious amount of life in hopes of getting one.

It's also bullshit to come onto a blog where people are trying to help each other prepare for APA interviews and offer such an infuriating piece of non-advice.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:42,

Or, put differently, not all of us are lucky enough to fall into a job because of who we know. His lack of experience on the market is in no way indicative of the experiences that we will have, either pragmatically or psychologically. Thus, he is an asshole. QED.

Anonymous said...

you read me wrong..my spouse got the job becuase of me..not the other way round.

and...I have been on the market..you are stressing yourselves out.

Anonymous said...

Also, what makes you think I'm a "him"?

Spousal hires go both ways.

Anonymous said...

To the no-big-deal tenure track prof,

Your comments about being on a hiring committee are precisely the reason why so many of us find this whole process frustrating. For every anonymous committee member who says that letters and CVs matter little or not at all, there is another who says that if you don't say "x, y, and z in your letter, I'm throwing your application in the trash". Of course, you probably weren't aware of the discrepency and so weren't anxious about the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

"What makes you think I'm a 'him'?"

Assumption that she got the job/he towed along is preferable to assumption he got the job/she towed along.

New TT Prof said...

The job hunt is a big deal.

Let me tell you how I tanked an interview at the APA not so long ago.

The aloof, pompous philosopher-cum-provost/dean/whatever sits across from me and says "So how would you get students involved in research with you?"

Of course, I have no idea how I would do my research with students. So, I figure, I should just be honest. I state that I really didn't know, but that it was something that I'd be willing to learn more about.

That was very much the wrong answer. He treated me like an insect for the rest of the interview. I hadn't yet wised up to the fact that people like him have their pet pedagogical projects and are desparately searching for clones. Grant money, campus initiatives, blah blah blah.

That experience has given me the resolve to go to the APA for interviews again when I don't need a job, and attempt to be exactly as obnoxious to interviewers as this guy was to me - Sit down and say something like "Dude, you are OBESE!" or "Wow, do I have gas today! You smell that?" or "just how HOT does this suit make me look? youdigit?"

That's childish, I know. But the thought of it just makes me giggle. I simply must try doing it.

Anonymous said...

Old 97's

I might be interviewing you at MLA said...

"So how would you get students involved in research with you?"


This is a legimate queestion..esp as more schools are pushing ungrad research to make their students more marketable...I can understand the dean/provost using this question as great weeding tool for more those to invite for follow up interviews..I may borrow this question my self.