For those of you who don’t know me, I am an misanthropic recluse at heart. It takes a lot to pry me from my happy nest. However, this weekend the Capitol hosted the Texas Book Festival. I spent the Saturday portion of the festival holed up at my house watching episode after episode of Arrow and drinking fruit punch Kool Aid.
Maybe it’s something in the water (or lack of since we’re in the middle of a drought), but there has been some major turnover at my college lately. Most of it is due to retirements, although a few have been people who can’t handle our isolated location. Be it the water or the isolation, we’re hiring in a big way. As an assistant to the alpha (also known as Chief, my rock star dean), I am on the hiring committee for several different disciplines. A few weeks ago I gave some tips for job interviews. Interviewing for a teaching position, at least at the college level, is slightly different. So for those would be professors hitting the interview circuit, here are a few pointers to help you on your way.
Before You Go
- Know what you believe. One of the questions you will most likely be asked will be about your teaching philosophy. Some schools even ask for a statement in writing. Even if they don’t, take the time write one out, if only for yourself. What do you value? What do you see as your actual role as an instructor? What do you want your students to take away from your classroom besides facts? Cheesy as it might sound, a teaching philosophy represents the core of who you are as an instructor. Face it, you don’t do this for the money. So why do you do it? Avoid the cliches if possible, but be honest and reflect who you really are.
- Know the school. Colleges usually have thoroughly developed websites. Look at their mission statement, history, and anything else to give you a sense of who they are and, more importantly, who they serve. Look at the schedule. What courses are offered? In Texas you can even view the CV information for the current faculty. Review these not only to get a feel for who they have, but who they don’t. If the entire department is specialized in American Lit, your background in British Lit is worth mentioning during the interview because it will bring diversity and new opportunities for their students. Knowing what the school actually is will not only help you in the interview, it will help you if you get the job to have realistic expectations. As a community college, we have a number of people interview with us who have only taught as grad students at the university. Likewise, we have public school teachers who want to move into higher education. In both cases, often the applicant has unrealistic expectations about the role of the community college, thinking it will be the same as the university. Spending time on the school’s website can help you understand its specific needs.
- Have a plan. Many colleges ask that you teach a sample lesson (about 15 minutes), either to real students or to the hiring committee. This is not the time to ‘wing it.’ When scheduling your interview, if they want you to teach a lesson, ask some questions about what they want: How long should it last? Will there be technology available? How many people will be there (figure out who, if possible)? If you are teaching to actual students, what topic will be covered? The answers to these questions lead us to . . .
- Teach to the college. Your goal when you teach a sample lesson is to allow the hiring committee to picture you in their college’s classroom. Many of the people, if not all, will be teachers themselves and they will be envisioning their own students responding to your lesson. Since you’ve taken the time to look at the course schedule, you know what classes are offered at the college. Teaching something in one of these areas will make it much easier for the committee to see you in their classrooms than if you teach something way too advanced or way too simple.
- Teach to the non-majors. Unless you know for a fact the position you are interviewing for is all upper-level courses, don’t teach a lesson designed for majors. Teach instead to those students who would be the least interested and engaged in your class. Our committees are always made up for mixed disciplines (for the Government hiring we’ve been doing, we had Biology, Chemistry, History/Government, and History/English). In a perfect world you would only teach to passionate, like-minded individuals who adore your subject. In the real world, they are few and far between. So how will you teach the rest?
- Give a a trailer for your classroom. When you plan the lesson you will teach, think about what your ideal class would look like condensed into a movie trailer. What would be the highlights? Don’t just plan on giving a lecture you happen to know. Use technology* (if available) prudently and with purpose. Engage the hiring committee in discussion or a brief activity that still showcases your teaching skills. Talk to the actual people in the room. (I once sat in on an interview where the applicant talked to imaginary students during the lesson, as opposed to us. It was strange and unnerving.) You are on an audition. Be yourself, but be your best self.
*Anytime you use technology, have a backup plan. Bring your jump drive, email it to yourself, print it out, and, if all else fails, be prepared to pick up a piece of chalk and go low tech. If you plan to bring handouts, make sure you bring extras so that everyone can have one.
- Review these Seven. In addition:
- Be specific. Questions at an academic interview can be all over the place–discipline, assessment, academic dishonesty, student engagement–these are integral elements of teaching that might come up in various forms during the interview. Essentially, the committee wants to know how you will function as an instructor. So begin by answering those questions for yourself. How will you/do you grade? How do you engage students? How do you handle discipline problems* in the classroom? How do you handle cheating? When answering these questions, be specific. Give examples of real instances and how you have dealt with them. If you don’t have a ton of experience, talk about how you think you would, or an instance you’ve observed as a student where you think the professor handled it well. When I got my current job, my teaching experience was tiny. But I had a plan for how I would run my classroom and discussed the lessons I had learned from my own professors.
- Be confident and passionate, but keep the ego in check. Students can smell weakness and they will exploit it. Likewise, on an interview, if you are uncertain or intentionally evasive, the committee will know. It is one thing to be nervous, it’s another to be vague or wishy-washy. But be careful as you tread the line between confident and egotistical. Even the best teachers still have something to learn. You may have been teaching for twenty years, but if you move to a new school, they will expect you to fit into their community. They don’t just want a good teacher; they want a good teacher who will work well within their system. Being demanding about things like offices, schedules, and titles (in general, but particularly in an interview) makes you appear high maintenance and difficult to work with. Having integrity doesn’t mean being inflexible. On several occasions I’ve seen applicants say they wouldn’t want to use our online system because they already have things set up their own way or that they won’t teach a certain type of class because they don’t like it, or even one asking why we couldn’t supply every student with a laptop so the instructor could keep teaching the way she liked. To me this is getting lost in your own ego and not considering what is best for the school or students. It will also raise red flags as to what other things you’ll be demanding about in the future.
*In one of the best answers to this question and the academic dishonesty policy, the applicant explained how he tried to handle discipline problems and preempt cheating, but then noted that as for consequences, he would begin by following school policy. The answer was great because it showed a proactive approach and a willingness to comply with campus policy.
There are many other things to consider on an academic interview, but this is a good starting point.
PS. Have questions? Post in the comments or email me at amberkellyanderson[at]gmail[dot]com.
- I’m sorry you don’t like it. Write your congressman.
- Is it broken forever or just for a minute?
- Dude, hands out of the pants. (mostly to my son, although my husband has been busted a few times)
- Is this really how you want this to go down?
- Holy cow, really?
- Stop micromanaging your brother. (to my daughter)
- When [doggie, kitty, bird, etc] goes in it’s house, it wants a time out. Respect it’s wishes.
- What is that?
- I love you so much, no one else will ever be good enough for you.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Summer is officially upon us which for many means vacation time. I have been fortunate enough to have had travel as a continued opportunity in my life. My first international trip was to Greece when I was 9-months old; the most recent to China in 2007. In college I was able to participate in study abroad in England and Spain. One thing that all this travel has instilled in me is a love travel journals. I always keep a travel journal, even on domestic trips, because I like to capture those moments in ink and paper.
Even if you are not a natural writer, travel journals are a way to remember beyond photographs what the experience felt, smelled, and tasted like. For those interested in starting to journal your travels, I highly recommend Writing Away by Livinia Spalding. It is an inspirational text that works as a wonderful guide for finding your voice. In the coming weeks I will be posting excerpts from my own travel journals.
If you find yourself taking a stay-cation and want to explore the world through other writers’ experiences, I can recommend the following travel literature (both fiction and non-fiction):
The Odyssey Homer
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
Thomas Jefferson Travels Thomas Jefferson
A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland Samuel Johnston
Empire of the Czar Marquis de Custine
Roughing It Mark Twain
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes Robert Louis Stevenson
Bitter Lemons Lawrence Durrell
Travels Michael Crichton
Under the Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes
The Motorcycle Diaries Che Guevara
Slow Boat to China Gavin Young
On the Road Jack Kerouac
And I’ll end this list with a little plug for The Best Women’s Travel Writing series. All the books in the series are wonderful; check out Vol. 8 or the forthcoming 9 for offerings from yours truly.
So you call yourself well-read? That’s okay. I do, too. Then I talk to people who write or work in academia or pretty much anyone, and I realize that I am not even close to well-read, despite the fact that I read all the time. I am a glimmer of well-read.
Part of writing is not just reading, but what you read. Books you’ve never heard of are being buzzed about in the literary journals and websites. Never mind that you can’t buy them anywhere in your West Texas town (but you can buy every celebrity book known to man). And so you track down those books online, trying to purchase them from independent book sellers so as not to feed to corporate machine. They arrive. They are wondrous. You journal about them. You makes notes. You write an entire story inspired by a single sentence.
When I follow this process, I find the reward of reading to be exceptional. Words like craft, voice, and style resonate.
That being said, sometimes I just want to a one-night stand, junk food pig-out reading experience. One that, when I reach the end, I am fine that I’m done and fine that I read it, but not much more. There is a fix for this type of craving. And his name is Dan Brown.
Yes, folks, I read Dan Brown. Or, to be more precise, I read Robert Langdon.
Whatever controversies Brown’s work may cause, whatever backlash he may get from the literary community, Dan Brown knows how to throw down his story. Sure, his characters are so flat that Flat Stanley looks well-developed, and fact-checking things about works of art and buildings isn’t always his strong point. But his pacing and ability suck the reader in to the conflicting worlds of science and religion through the lens of art is impressive. Having just finished Inferno, I can’t say that the story was my favorite (Angels and Demons still holds that honor), but it was fine and it gave me the fix I needed. See, it’s not the conspiracy theories and secret societies I come for: it’s the professor as hero fantasy of Robert Langdon.
Robert Langdon, my friends, is not just A professor. He is THE professor in an epic sense of the word. A lecturer from Harvard who famously wears tweed and loafers, he’s like a casting notice for a Harvard-set movie. He writes books on obscure topics yet still manages to have fans. His renown is, in fact, so great that not only do museum curators metaphorically drop their panties when he turns up, showering him with VIP tours and private access, freaking governments call him up because the world will end if someone doesn’t look at this painting.
If Fifty Shades of Grey is mommy porn, then Dan Brown is professor porn.
I can’t speak for people who work on the academic side of science or math, but I would guess that they have this life-saving feeling. They are experts on subjects that directly impact life. For us English folks, passionate as we are, there isn’t much of a chance the government is going to pull us in for a top secret think tank on “The Wasteland,” (we wouldn’t be able to agree on anything anyway). Robert Langdon is the fantasy that being an expert in a humanities/fine arts topic can be important in life or death situations.
Let’s look at his strengths, shall we? He’s a master on symbols in religion, history, and literature. He can recall details without notes or outlines. Most important, due to his swimming I would guess, he has the impressive ability to impart his vast array of knowledge while running for his life (or it least walking at a brisk pace). These are not super powers. No, no. These are super PROFESSOR powers. Good professors can quote without books, be specific with few notes. They can prowl the classroom or even answer in depth questions while walking to class.
Robert Langdon is our Superman.
And his weakness? Claustrophobia from a childhood accident similar to the one that left Bruce Wayne with a fear of bats. Granted, usually there is some sort of scientific thing involved in Langdon’s race to decode, but most of the time there is an attractive woman or convenient expert nearby to explain.
The fantasy of his type of knowledge saving the world is tempting. Who knows? Perhaps someday I will get a call that begins,
“Is this Professor Amber Kelly-Anderson? The president needs you to explain Beowulf using a video game boss fight analogy. But you must hurry! The fate of the world is in your hands!”
Today marks the publication of the sixth and final post on Literary Cowboys for Ploughshares . I talk Star Wars, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and much more.
In the coming months I’ll continue to write for Ploughshares on all things lovely and literary.
Also out this week is the summer 2013 issue of Brain, Child featuring my essay, “The Elephant Maker.” It’s available on some news stands and online here.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of announcing the publication of Roots: Where Food Comes From & Where It Takes Us. Today I bring you the second of my recipes from the famed Senora Valentina. This simple recipe is delicious for veg*ns and meat eaters alike. It can be served as a tapas with toothpicks for spearing or as a nice side dish.
Spanish Olive Oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 crushed garlic cloves
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Spanish Sherry (dry white wine will also work)
4 tomatoes, chopped and seeded (or 1 14 ounce can)
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp crushed dried chilis
2 tsp Spanish paprika
2 lbs. potatoes
- Heat about 1 TBS of olive oil in the pan until smoking and then add the onions, cooking roughly 5 minutes. When the onions are soft, but not browned, add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring continuously.
- Add the wine and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Then add the tomatoes, chiles, paprika, salt, and vinegar, reducing the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for roughly 10 minutes. Your sauce should have a thick consistency. OPTIONAL: Put the sauce in a food processor and pulse until smooth. (Valentina would smack you with her cane for this, but some people don’t care for a chunky texture.)
- Cut the potatoes into rough chunks. In a skillet, heat about 1 inch of olive oil. Add the potatoes and cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are a pretty golden brown. Make sure to turn the pieces several times to cook evenly.
- Remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel, blotting gently to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with a little salt.
- Warm up the sauce and combine with the potatoes.
Senora Valentina Tip: Prepare the sauce the morning before you plan to serve it (you can actually make it up to 24 hours in advance). Allow it to sit, either covered on the stove, or in the refrigerator, until you have finished the potatoes. This will give the sauce stronger, more melded flavor.
For a healthier version, check out this recipe test from Robin Robertson’s Vegan Fire and Spice.
There is something uniquely thrilling about the day a piece of your work is published. Today is such a day for me as BlogHer and Open Road Media release the ebook culinary anthology Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us. From the Open Road Media website:
A BlogHer anthology about food—and the warmth, nostalgia, and sense of belonging it inspires in all of us
Roots is a love story about food—an exploration of its rich interconnectedness with culture, memory, and discovery, penned by over forty authors and personalities from the culinary blogosphere. The anthology’s deeply personal essays serve up family history, local lore, and tantalizing stories of worlds newly discovered through food, accompanied by original photography and a collection of recipes that, no matter how far flung, taste like home.
My story, “The Saffron Rabbit” is about learning to cook in Madrid. For those interested in reading the 35 essays featured from culinary bloggers (and me), check out any of the following links:
- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Roots-Where-BlogHer-Anthology-ebook/dp/B00CSCNJXS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369421157&sr=8-1&keywords=roots+blogher
- Apple: http://www.blogher.com/frame.php?url=https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/roots/id648670885?mt=11
- Open Road: http://www.openroadmedia.com/roots
- B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roots-stacy-morrison/1115409233?ean=9781453297094
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17938134-roots
BlogHer is also featuring a mini-site where readers can further enjoy the experience. On my end, I’ll be reading along, exploring the other journeys I’m lucky enough to be featured with. Stop by this coming Thursday for another addition to Valentina’s Cocina.
In honor of summer jobs, I’m happy to repost one of my favorite pieces about what you can learn about life and thongs while working at Victoria’s Secret.
Like many people (particularly those who major in the liberal or fine arts), I have had a bevy of jobs. Not careers, mind you, but jobs where I punched clocks for cash. Along the way I have learned some odd yet important skills that find themselves useful in my everyday life.
It was the summer of 1998 and I was an 18-year old working three jobs to fund a trip to Ireland with my new college bestie. I literally drove from teaching elementary kids theatre to sell khakis and practical polos at Eddie Bauer, ending my days with a quick change in the bathroom into a skirt and black blazer to fulfill lingerie needs at Victoria’s Secret. Aside from taking away a loathing of khakis, I learned little at Eddie Bauer, except how to exploit their return policy. Victoria’s Secret was a different animal (I would later work there after college too, calling into question why I interrupted my blossoming career with all that learning). Here are six things I learned. Sadly, none of them are the actual secret.
- Most women wear the wrong bra size. Victoria’s Secret taught me not just how a bra should fit, but how to measure to ensure a proper fit. I don’t know that they even do this at VS anymore. They seem more focused on selling sweats, make up, and sometimes borderline raunchy lingerie (crotchless!). If they don’t, find a locally owned lingerie store (every town has one). There will be an older woman there who will measure you. Suck up your embarrassment and let her do her job. Don’t get hung up on the size because no one will know but you. Your clothes will hang better and your back will feel better.
- There is no reason to own a white bra or underwear. “But wait,” you say. “What about my white shirts?” Go to your closet and get out a white shirt. Now get another piece of white cloth and layer it under the shirt. Rather than blending, you just get a more intense white, which clearly shows the outline. Same for white under light colors. Unless you just have to have Carnival colors, buy nude (as near to your skin tone as you can find) and black.
- Men spend more money when they are uncomfortable or embarrassed. My favorite VS customer was the Shy Guy. This poor guy, after years of his wife claiming he never bought her anything pretty, decided to suck it up and venture into the terrifying world of lace and satin. By the end of my second week I could spot these guys from the back of the store. They would enter and then stop about two feet inside the door, glancing around, sheer horror painted on their features. That was my cue to swoop in: “What can I help you find today?” (Please note the open ended question–I was good at shilling bras.) They would stammer something about an anniversary or birthday. I would smile and ask them questions they didn’t know the answer to: size, shape, fabric. No idea. Shy Guy didn’t know anything except that his wife liked Victoria’s Secret. Some VS associates hated these kind of guys; I adored them. The more clueless the better. I’d navigate them through the store like Sacagawea, keeping them from feeling lecherous. We’d talk about what music she liked, what kind of clothes she wore, and end with the obligatory comparison of women in the store to establish size. Then things got good. Because these guys never realized they could buy just one thing–they figured they had to buy whatever was shown together. You would not believe how easy it is to talk a man into a matching robe or garter belt and stockings. The clincher was my assurance that anything that didn’t fit or she didn’t like could be brought back with the gift receipt. Sold!
- People are animals. In the summer, VS runs a Semi-Annual Sale which is code for Grown Women Pawing Through Bins Like Pigs Rooting for Truffles. Neatly sorted bins would be turned upside down, things strewn all over, unwanted items discarded in the middle of the floor. We’d try to keep it picked up, but it was a losing battle. And forget about keeping the regular price panty tables neat. At the time, VS was using a technique called size and bunch on their tables. While this technique is striking when first done, it goes to hell with one browsing customer (I don’t think they do it anymore because it was so hard to maintain). Now, no matter what store I’m in, I try to return things exactly as I found them. Yes, it’s the sales associates job to fold the jeans and size the racks. But doing it twelve times an hour–they don’t get paid enough for that.
- People are animals, part two. Customers have sex in VS dressing rooms. Seriously. Then they leave whatever lingerie they were “trying on” tossed on the floor, usually slightly warm. Seriously. (Hopefully that’s the only parting gift; I had to use a sponge one time.) That’s why most of them have attendants now. Or should. Don’t have sex in dressing rooms. It’s not cool or thrilling. It’s just nasty. And some poor college student who only wants to have Guinness in Dublin with her friend will have to clean up after you.
- Most men love their women, no matter their size. I helped a number of husbands and boyfriends (not just Shy Guy) during my tenure at VS. Sometimes the woman was present, sometimes not. I sold everything from size 32A to 38DD, XS to XXL. One thing all of these men had in common was love of their partner’s bodies. There was never a mention of wishing for more or less of anything. My favorite customer ever was a man who wanted to buy something for his wife who had undergone a double mastectomy. His reasoning? “I know her body is beautiful. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But I think I might need something to help me remind her.” I hope it worked.
What about you, Cakesters? What have you learned from your odd jobs?
In a prior life, before I entered into academia, I once spent a few months working at a temp agency. Not like they sent me out on jobs, but I actually temped at the agency as a hiring and placement specialist. My job included interviewing and testing people, matching temps with positions, and training people how to be appropriate employees. Limited as that experience was, it taught me some good basic skills about interviewing. I’ve been on a number of interviews in my life, most of which I landed (although some, thankfully, I didn’t). Since those days as a temp, I have been on the other side of interviewing for both business and academic positions. One of the things I find fascinating is some of the stumbles people make that may not be deal breakers, but don’t do them any favors. Some of these things might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.
- Know where you are interviewing. No matter the job, know the company. Someone is going to ask why you want to work for their company (not a company, but theirs) and you should have an answer to that. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize their information, but today most companies have websites with some sort of mission statement indicating their goals and values. Answering why do you to work here with, “My husband does and I want the same vacation time,” or “I need a job so the bank won’t take my house,” may seem honest to you; however, it is incredibly off-putting to potential employers.
- Know the position for which you are interviewing. Not just the title, but the actual job requirements. If you aren’t clear on what something is, ask before the interview if at all possible (probably before you apply). Companies would rather you ask for clarification early in the process than waste their time interviewing someone who clearly has no idea what the job will entail.
- Know who you are interviewing with. Most of the time when the interview is scheduled someone will tell you the name of the person(s) you will be interviewing with. If they don’t, just politely ask who you will meet with and if there will be any others present. Interviewing with an HR screener is different than interviewing with a manager. While both should be taken seriously, knowing the interviewer(s) helps you prepare. When the interview is over, within 24 hours, send thank you notes or at least emails to all the people you met with.
- Use that website to set the tone. Many companies have images on their websites. Look at those for how people dress and present themselves. One of the number one complaints I hear from managers is people showing up to interviews looking like they are going to the movies or the beach. We once interviewed a girl who claimed to be a professional administrative assistant who showed up to the interview in leather flip flips, a white blouse, and a black bra. I would go so far to say that even if the company doesn’t have a website, avoid the open-toed shoes, visible underwear, jeans, anything dirty or worn out, overly bright make up or distracting jewelry, and anything too low or too short. An interview is not a fashion show; be clean, comfortable, and professional. (Of course if you are interviewing at Vogue, that’s a different animal.)
- Be honest, but not Judd Apatow honest. Don’t lie in interviews. If you do, it more likely than not will come back to haunt you if you’re hired. That being said, keep your jokes and your self-disclosure to a minimum. If you didn’t work for a year because you were dealing with your alcoholic brother who ruined your life, rephrase that into something like, “There were some family issues with my brother that required my attention. Once those were resolved, I was ready to return to work.” This type of answer indicates that it was a personal issue (and rarely will anyone push for more information) and it is now over, so the company doesn’t need to worry about you leaving for more family issues.
- Have extra copies of your information. Many times, the interviewers will be seeing a number of candidates. They may have been emailed your information or seen it in passing, but don’t have it at a glance. Bring several copies of your current, error free resume, list of references, and any other supplemental information you were asked to provide. You don’t need a fancy briefcase or anything like that. Buy a nice, simple black portfolio (you can get one at an office supply store for about $20). Use it to bring copies of those elements. It should also include a working pen and notepad for . . .
- Your questions. Every interview I have ever been on I have been asked, “What questions do you have for us?” When asking those questions from the other side, I am shocked when people have no questions or ask something completely inappropriate like if the schedule can be adapted to their needs or what the salary will be. Avoid HR questions unless you are talking directly to HR. Instead, ask for clarification on something that was brought up in the interview (“Would you elaborate on the training program you mentioned for your networking software?”). Always, always, always have something ready to go if nothing comes up in the interview for follow up. Some of my favorites are “What qualities would your ideal applicant for this position possess,” “Why do you enjoy working here,” or “What do you find most challenging about working at this company.” These all show interest in not just the job, but the company and your potential place within it.