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.