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06/08/2017

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Recent hire

I was hired this year at a very tiny teaching school. I have no idea what made me past the first stage. But at the interview and campus visit, I had very similar experiences.

First of all, they did care a bit about my research, and were glad that I could explain it in terms they (even the non-philosophers) understood. I had the sense that not every candidate did that very well.

Second, of course they did care about teaching, but I didn't get the sense that the teaching portfolio was very important (at least, mine wasn't very impressive I think). They did comment when I was there on the good letters I got (which of course I don't know), including the teaching letter, so I guess that mattered. And they did comment *a lot* on my teaching demo when I was at the school. Apparently some candidates completely messed that up. (I think I have taught probably the average or perhaps a little more before my interview; explicitly thinking about some pedagogical approaches before the visit helped in the situation.)

They also had some pedagogical questions at the interviews, which I felt could have gone either way, so I just had to say what I really thought (e.g., what I thought about teaching mostly primary sources, etc.).

When I was on campus, I had a lot of interactions with students (meals together, etc.), and as it turned out, the students had a pretty serious say in the hiring (more, seemingly, than the grad students had in my grad school!). So just being generally personable with and interested in students helps; apparently some candidates just didn't know how to talk to them.

Overall, when I was on campus I felt their biggest worry was whether I would stay at the school. It will be a big change for me indeed, but I did really like the place and tried to signal that as often as I could. As I see, for such a small school the hiring process is a huge investment of resources.

Amanda

Thanks for the interesting perspective, recent hire. I think your account is a good example of why hiring might seem arbitrary: some schools are not specifically searching for someone with research or teaching excellence. They are searching for a pleasant and personable colleague, a COMPETENT teacher and researcher, and an individual who is unlikely to jump ship.

I am very close to some colleagues on hiring committees at "teaching" schools. They specifically were not looking for teaching excellence nor excellent student evaluations (and definitely not research excellence) but rather competence and idiosyncratic qualities that were a fit for the department. Now some teaching schools might really be looking for evidence of a super teacher, but many are not.

Teaching School person

Amanda,
I work at a "teaching school," a place where the principal part of our job is teaching. We have a 3-3 teaching load, with one course being large. We take teaching, evidence of teaching, and a commitment to teaching very seriously. We cannot afford to hire someone who is an okay teacher, because we do not hire often, and our colleagues are expected to teach, and to teach well. In other departments on campus people have lost their bid for tenure because they are ineffective teachers. We also value scholarship in our department but we can only ask for so much. Our scholarship requirements are quite low. Indeed, we hire people who have already published as much (though they must continue to do so during the march for tenure). We are a state college, and we still have many first generation college attendees.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: That's fair I suppose. While I don't know what other institutions are like, I know that my institution does not look to just hire competent people. We want to hire *excellent* people who otherwise are a good fit.

Anyway, I'm going to talk about "fit" in a subsequent post. I think it often does play a very large role, particularly late in the hiring process (viz. interviews, on-campus visits). When it comes those things--personality, how you come off, whether you look like a flight-risk--I think there are some things you can do. And that'll be the topic of my next post.

That being said, I still think that *standing out* is vital early in the process (at the dossier review stage), and that the advice I offer in this post can improve one's chances there. Indeed, one important matter of "fit" is breadth of teaching experience. Smaller departments often have courses they need taught--and you never know what that course might be for a given department: it could be philosophy of religion, it could be early modern, it could be business ethics, logic, etc. Consequently, the more courses you have experience teaching, the more likely you may be to perk search committee members interests (viz. "Wow, we really need someone to teach X, and this is one of the only candidates who can!"). Similarly, even if not all schools are looking for excellence, it is still surely better, all things being equal, to stand out from other applicants with unique teaching practices, etc.

Trust me, when you're reviewing hundreds of applications, what you are looking for are candidates who stand out--and, in my experience, the things I mention in the post are some ways to do that.

Recent hire

Marcus, I think you're basically right, but the question is *how* precisely people can stand out in the ways you mentioned, especially people just finishing grad school.

At least among my friends on the market this year, *everyone* had excellent teaching statements, excellent student evals (at least since it's mostly up to you how you present it), and excellent letters.
*Everyone* has had at least some publications, and mostly everyone had been on some committee / done some service at the department.
Since at least in my grad school we weren't given the option to teach whatever we wanted, we had very similar teaching experiences, over which we had little control. (Yes, you could maybe adjunct in the summer -- I couldn't, because of visa status...)

I assume that a *lot of* finishing grad students have these very similar characteristics. I do think fit is a big factor especially for smaller schools where you'll hang out with the other few faculty a lot. And yes, probably the teaching demo gives some sort of estimate of how you would approach students. But how do you really distinguish *excellent* from *competent* teachers? As most people agree, student evals don't do it. I'd say teaching statements don't do it either. But then what?

Amanda

I don't doubt that some teaching schools, (perhaps many), look for *excellent* teachers, my point is only that not all do that. And by "competent", I meant something better than "okay", perhaps "good." If it was up to me all schools would look for "excellent"teachers, even research schools. I was actually disappointed to find out that not all search committees do this.

I would also say I agree with recent hire. *A lot* of people on the market have very good student evaluations and a wide variety of teaching experience. Hence to stand out, it often is the person who is not a hair better at teaching or researching (as recent hire says, how do you judge that anyway?), but is rather a specific fit to the department.

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