Sorry for the slow week (on my part) around here: it's been a very hectic summer. In any case, I would like to continue our Job-Market Boot Camp by considering teaching portfolios. We've already talked about teaching statements, and obviously, the teaching statement should be the first page of your portfolio. However, we have not discussed the rest of the portfolio. So let us turn to it!
Let me start out by saying that I will be really curious to hear other people's views--search committee members and candidates--about what exactly should be in one's teaching portfolio. This is in part because, unlike other parts of one's dossier, there are so many possible things one could put in it! For instance, do people include copies of particular assignments distributed to students? Do people include multiple, full syllabi for different courses? I'm curious to see!
In any case, let me explain how I laid out my teaching portfolio, as well as why I did it (drawing attention to some useful advice I received in the last year or two).
- Table of contents: I don't know if everyone forefronts their portfolio with a table of contents (I didn't always do so), but it seems to me an extremely wise thing to do. After all, if you are applying to teaching-focused schools (and, given the state of the job market, you almost certainly should), your portfolio should be fairly long (but not too long!), containing quite a bit of stuff in it. As such, I suspect search-committee members appreciate a table of contents, so that they don't have to find themselves rifling through the entire thing without any idea of what is in it.
- Teaching statement: Everyone I've ever encountered has told me that (as a matter of standard practice) the first thing of substance in your portfolio should be your teaching statement. If search committee members want to know your student evaluations or something else more, they can always rifle past the teaching statement for a look. Now, of course, I'm not exactly sure how much turns on putting your statement first--but a general piece of advice I have been told is that you should try to follow standard expectations, organizing things in the order that search committee members expect. Finally, it also seems to me reasonable to put your statement first as an indication that that's really what matters to you above all else--your teaching style and philosophy!--not, say, your wonderful student reviews (which are no doubt important to many search committee members, but which you may not want to forefront as "the primary thing you care about", since some people--indeed, many people--are not fans of student evaluations, and for good reason!).
- Summary of Student Evaluations: Okay, I know I just indicated that student evaluations are of dubious value, but let's face it--for better or worse, the people who are thinking of hiring you probably care about them. They are looking to hire someone who students will like, gravitate towards, or at least not completely despise. Indeed, having worked in a full-time position at a teaching institution for the past 6 years, I can tell you that they matter very much. So, then, after your teaching statement, provided you do not have terrible evaluations, you should have a quantitative summary of your recent evaluations (preferably, over the past several semesters or years). If your evaluations are above your university averages, you might include a comparison chart to indicate that. If they are in line with university averages, maybe don't. Finally, what if your evaluations are below average? Unfortunately, this is tricky. I frankly don't know what to advise in this situation. Perhaps, if your averages have improved over time, you could have a line-graph showing that improvement. On the other hand, if your evaluations are absolutely terrible and you don't have a trend of improvement, I'm not sure what to say (maybe leave them out altogether? Anyone have any good advice on this?).
- Several semesters of raw quantitative data: After summarizing your evaluations, you should give at least a couple of semesters of evaluation data. As you can see on pp. 4-9 of my portfolio, I did not include data for every question, as we have so many questions that it might bamboozle readers. Rather, I only included data for every question related to "the professor." (Note: in earlier versions of my portfolio, I included several years of raw data, but I was informed by others that it made my portfolio too large--so I would keep it to just a few semesters!)
- Unedited, complete student comments: Provided your student comments are decent (as opposed to a litany of complaints against you!), I have been told that it is a very good idea to follow the quantitative data section of your portfolio with a couple of semesters of complete, unedited student comments (yes, including the nasty ones), explicitly noting that they are complete and unedited. The rationale for including all of them (even the mean ones), I take it, is this: your portfolio comes across as though you "have nothing to hide", and indeed, are someone who will not try to hide unflattering student reviews.
- Sample Course Outlines or Syllabi?: In the past, I included several full syllabi in my portfolio--but I was advised at some point to replace them with (A) mere "course outlines" that simply give an overview and reading schedule for the course, and (B) a single full syllabus. The rationale for this, or so I was told, was to streamline the portfolio. Remember, search-committee members are busy people. If they have to rifle through a bunch of full syllabi, they might find it monotonous. One syllabi containing your course policies and such is enough. What search committees really want to know is whether you are prepared to teach the courses they are looking to teach, and this is what a full course outline does. Indeed, I cannot emphasize this enough. As someone who works at a teaching institution, I would be looking to hire a candidate who I know is prepared to teach a given course over someone who simply tells me they are prepared to do it--and a course outline would show me that they are prepared.
- Types of course outlines/syllabi?: As you can see in my dossier, I included four course outlines, with two for each of my AOS/AOC (2 for ethics, 2 for social-political). I've been told it's wise to have a outlines for decent variety of courses, as well as some upper and lower-division courses. Next, and this is something I just learned last year, it can be a very good idea to include a unique, "dream course" related to your AOS that is (in all likelihood) not included in the school's curricula. In my case, this was a course outline on "Ideal and Non-Ideal Justice." The rationale for this, or so I was told, is to make your uniqueness as a candidate stand out to the committee (viz. "Wow, all of the other candidates are able to teach biomedical ethics, but this candidate is prepared to teach a really interesting course on X!"). Finally, although in my view there are very good pedagogical reasons for this as well, it is good to include a good diversity of reading materials and authors in your courses. Many people these days are (rightly, in my view) concerned about the lack of diversity in the philosophical curriculum, and (again, rightly in my view) interested in seeing marginalized perspectives included in the curriculum.
- The Full Syllabus: Finally, I've been told that you should conclude your portfolio with at least one full syllabus--but that you should approach with some caution how you state things within it. Allow me to explain. I have come across some syllabi that come across as very stern, replete with language that comes across very heavy-handed and aggressive even. Indeed, I used to have sternly-worded policies, and in a few cases--academic integrity in particular--still do (though I have mostly replaced them with less stern, more encouraging policies that in my experience do the job of getting students to work conscientiously a whole lot better). Anyway, here's the thing. I know a lot of us want to be completely honest and open about our practices--and indeed, that there might even be something dishonest about "toning down" your syllabi language to come across better to search committee members. Trust me, if anyone cares a great deal about honesty, I do. That being said, much like dating, the entire hiring process is an exercise in "impression-management." When you show up for a skype interview or an on-campus interview--just like on a first date--you do not behave just like your "ordinary self": you try to be your best self, presenting yourself in the best possible light. Similarly, while you may have syllabi with really stern language in them, they may well turn off search committee members--in which case it might be wise to tone them down a bit. Is this dishonest? I suppose a hard-core Kantian who thinks it is wrong to lie to murderers at a door might think so--but given the context, and within limits, I do not think it is dishonest. Here's how. I think excising policies you actually use would be dishonest. However, I think that merely revising the language of your policies to come across a bit less aggressive is not. Just like you might not be as blunt with someone on a first date or interview as you might be on a daily basis--which is not dishonest, but simply the kind of impression management everyone expects in these contexts--so too do I think it is not dishonest to tone down language a bit in one's syllabi. And indeed, I will be honest with you: reading through my syllabi for the job market with this aim in mind led me to actually tone my syllabi in my courses, thus becoming a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy (as it only occurred to me once I thought search-committees might find some of my language too stern that students might find it unproductively stern). In other words, far from being dishonest, you might approach this as an opportunity to reflect on and improve the language of your syllabi. Anyway, I do not expect everyone to agree with me on this. In the past, I was precisely the kind of Kantian who thought it is wrong, as a matter of integrity, to engage in any kind of impression-management whatsoever (one should always "just be oneself", I thought). However, while I do not necessarily begrudge those who have this sort of view about integrity, I no longer think that it is correct. I have been convinced by many people--both in academia and without--that much of life--dating, interviewing, etc.--is a "dance", where all parties involved know that everyone is trying to "put on their best face." You may think this is an unfortunate fact of life--that it would be better for everyone if we didn't go around impression-managing--and I might even agree with you. But, for all that, it is standard practice in this world, and in hiring processes. We do expect people to try to put themselves in the best light, provided they do not outright lie about their qualifications, past actions, and so on. Thus, I want to say, as long as you do not go so far as to present yourself in your syllabi as someone you're not (say, by reversing your course policies from what they actually are, instead of merely "toning down language"), I do not think there is anything wrong a little bit of language-tinkering. Changing policies is dishonest. Toning down language a bit? I don't think so. Indeed, as I mentioned above, reflecting on your language might be an important learning opportunity for you, in terms of your actual teaching practices!
Okay, then, these are my thoughts about the teaching portfolio. I hope you all find them helpful. Do you agree? Disagree? Have better advice? Please do chime in!