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05/09/2015

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M. Roy

Thank you for yet another helpful "Job-Market Boot Camp" post.

I am left wondering how those with minimal teaching experience should approach the crafting of a teaching statement. I am about to enter the final year of my PhD and I will emerge from it having led weekly tutorials for introductory courses, but without having taught my own course. Some of my colleagues will have even less direct experience, graduating having done a whole lot of grading but never spending time in front of a group of students. I suppose we could simply state what kind of assignments we would hypothetically employ and to what purpose, but I worry that this sort of thing would ring quite hollow. Do you have any advice for those of us in this situation, who can't point to assignments we have crafted or courses we have designed?

Soon to be Unemployed

I wonder if you might include (perhaps in this series, or perhaps on its own) discussion of how one can try to remain competitive should the regrettable happen - you don't get a teaching job for a year. Does that necessarily mean the end of one's teaching career, or are there ways (besides spiffing up one's application in all the ways this series discusses) to remain a viable candidate for next year's market?

Marcus Arvan

M. Roy: Thanks for the great question and your kind words!

That's a tough case, and I'd be curious to hear what other people think--particularly people who have served on search committees (anyone with any experience here? Please do chime in!).

Since you asked, though, here are my thoughts. If I were in your position, I would devote the first half of my teaching statement to (1) things I've *done* in tutorials, and the second half to (2) things you might do with students as a faculty member.

By my lights, this approach 'splits the difference' effectively between being too past-focused (only focusing on past experience) and being too future-focused (talking about teaching practices you've never actually implemented). Talking about both not only shows that you have past experience, illustrating things you have in fact done in the classroom; it also shows that you have thought carefully about the future. Let me say a little bit more about how I would advise doing both halves.

First, your section describing things you've done in tutorials should (I describe in the post) be as purely descriptive and precise as possible. Don't wax poetic about how you love students. Instead, give *very* specific examples of things you have done in the classroom, and your pedagogical rationale(s) for them. If you do not have "stand-out" pedagogical practices (e.g. if you just wing it in the classroom), now is the time to do something about it. Given that you said you are about enter the final year of your PhD, you still have time to do this if you don't already--but you have to do it. And it's not that hard. When you're teaching Topic X, develop an assignment--maybe an in-class assignment that cleverly relates the topic to daily life or current issues--and then share that *precise* assignment in your statement.

Finally, when it comes to the second half of your letter (if you decide to go the direction I'm suggesting), I expect it would be wise to talk about things you "might" do or "hope to experiment with" in the classroom--as opposed to saying what you "will" do (as the latter, in my view, would come off presumptuous if you have no independent teaching experience). So, for instance, you might share the kinds of assignments you would hope to include in your courses. Would you hope to experiment with daily reading responses? If so, describe as precisely as you can the assignment requirements and pedagogical rationale. Do you hope to utilize in-class activities, mixing them into a traditional lecture? If so, give a precise example of an assignment you might (might!) utilize in class, once again giving a pedagogical explanation of what the assignment achieves something important.

Personally, if I were on a search committee and I received a statement like this from someone in your position--a statement showing that the person has utilized effective practices in tutorials and actually has well-developed thoughts about how to teach independent classes--I think it would be exactly what I'd be looking for. This isn't to say that you won't struggle against candidates with more teaching experience than you. You still might struggle (in my experience, teaching schools do seem to want people with a proven track-record in the classroom). Still, such an approach would seem to me to put you in the best possible position to compete to the best of your ability.

Marcus Arvan

Soon to be Unemployed: I'm sorry to hear that you're worried about your employment prospects (I've been there myself). Here are a few thoughts.

First and foremost, it is not yet time to give up. In my experience, a *lot* can (and does) happen late in the job-cycle (well into June and even July). Some visiting positions fill up late (and even advertise very late due to an unexpected retirement or leave of absence), so keep an eye out for those. I've also known a few people (myself included) to get a phone-call out of the blue offering a job in very late spring or summer. Also, keep an eye out for non-US jobs. The foreign job season is very different than in the US, and foreign jobs (for the fall and in some cases next January) are still coming out all the time.

In terms of remaining competitive should you not have an academic job in the fall, I think there is one way to go: find a way to publish. If you are out of academia for a bit but find a way to publish, you may still have a fighting chance. I would say, "Just ask Einstein. He worked in a patent office", except (A) obviously, he's dead, and (B) he was Einstein. But seriously, before he was Einstein, he was a run-of-the-mill patent clerk who was lowly regarded by his graduate school faculty and just about everyone else. I've known a few people that have had to scrap around for jobs--either being out of work for a little bit, or in adjunct jobs--and some of them have worked their way to permanent academic jobs through publishing by force of will. Indeed, I know one fellow (a friend of mine) who struggled in an adjunct job for years, found a way to publish a ton of articles, and just (finally) got a TT job. I also know someone who got a job in library sciences yet published in top-20 and top-10 philosophy journals and now has a permanent academic job.

This isn't to say that it is easy or anything like a sure thing--but if life has taught me anything, it is that not giving up and "finding a way" can make seemingly impossible things happen: not always, but sometimes.

M. Roy

Thank you, Marcus! That advice is very helpful.

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