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« Unconventional teaching ideas that work: Feeling it first (Brendan Larvor) | Main | Answering 'how would you teach intro?' »

12/16/2018

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Amanda

These are great. I would just ask this: how long do you like a teaching statement to be? I've always used a one-page statement, and that seemed to have worked well for me. It's what I recommend to my students on the market. But to answer all your questions, it would clearly have to be more than one page. Do you like long teaching statements?

Joe

I think, if we're going to deliver these missives to people already devastated by the market, we should be a little more forthright about what the message actually is. Here, for example, is a translation of most of 1-4:

"I work at an institution full of students who don't really belong anywhere near a humanities program and who don't wish to be taught philosophy unless it is spoon-fed to them via in-class games, Youtube playlists and Rick and Morty episodes. How would you successfully give them the impression that they've learned something, so we can continue to take tuition money from people who won't open a book? Bonus points if it's a teaching technique you've never in your life been trained to employ because you got your PhD at a school that didn't need you to employ it."

Recent Grad

I second Amanda's question. Addressing all of these points sounds like great material for an interview, but do you expect candidates to cover (roughly) all of this in a teaching statement? And if so, I take it you would have no issues with a two to three page teaching statement?

junior faculty

It seems to me that some of these questions are more effectively answered via a sample syllabus. I realize Eric recommends constructing your teaching statement by answering all questions, but I think it may be better to understand it as your *teaching portfolio* should answer all of those questions.

Probably still means a 2 page teaching statement, but I agree that if you had to answer every one of these in your statement alone then we'd be looking at something more like a 5 page teaching statement...

Eric Steinhart

Amanda & Recent Grad - I've seen really excellent teaching statements where almost all of these questions were answered in two typed single-spaced pages. Those statements just went right for the nitty-gritty details about how the candidate actually does teaching. - Eric

Graduate student

This is helpful. One somewhat off-topic question in response to one of the things you said in passing: what is your teaching load like, and how much time do you actually have for research?

I ask because while I care about helping my students and like trying out teaching techniques etc, I'm also just not *as* passionate about it in the way that I am about creating philosophy. (As an introvert, teaching also tires me out a lot faster.) Consequently, since I was under the impression that there won't be time for research at teaching schools, I've not tried to target them. But if there *is* time for research even at teaching institutions, then I may have been too quick in ruling them out.

(And I don't think I'm alone in wondering this; hopefully this will be helpful to others too...)

Eric Steinhart

Junior Faculty - Yes, these questions can be answered in a larger teaching portfolio. Since this post was just focused on teaching statements, I didn't mention syllabi. Of course, teaching schools really, really want to see syllabi. Those can answer the questions. - Eric

Eric Steinhart

Graduate Student - If you're not targeting teaching universities & colleges, then your pool of possible jobs is vanishingly small. Schools like mine provide the vast majority of jobs (at least as far as I can see from the last few years of job postings). The load I have in mind is 3/3, say about 100 students per term. Of course you can still do research. Research is in fact required at pretty much every school besides community colleges. And you will also have to do service. So you need to be an *efficient* teacher. - Eric

Marcus Arvan

Graduate Student: I work at a teaching-focused institution (3/3 load, in actuality closer to a 4/4). I don't have quite as much time to do research as I might like (I don't get much research done during the semester). But it's absolutely possible to get research done and publish. I've published 19 articles, a book, and have a second book manuscript drafted and under contract. Like Eric says, it just takes efficiency. Unless you come from a top-ranked grad program or would be absolutely miserable at a teaching institution, I think it may be a mistake to rule out those kinds of jobs.

Teaching school prof

My two cents:

I am at a teaching school and while I care about teaching, I think it's important not to simply put off research until the summer. Why? Because insofar as research is a job requirement, it should be doable during the period one is being paid for a job. Since most of us are not on year-round contracts (though we're paid year round), we are working for free when we put off research for summer. By all means focus on teaching, but don't focus so much that we let administrators get more than they are paying for.

Paul

teaching prof: I understand that while technically that is true (we have 9 or 10 month contracts), I have always thought that the idea that we are therefore "researching on our own dime" when we work in the summer (as one senior colleague once put it) is kind of silly. I mean, yes, its technically true, but most of us are compensated reasonably well, especially given the flexibility we are granted. My salary, while not great, definitely qualifies as a year-round salary. I mean, we can do that summer research on the beach or in a cabin in the woods or at home in our boxers, so that's pretty awesome. The other thing is, don't you at least do some reading or prepping for class in the "unpaid" summer? How is that different from research???

Amanda

TBH - I think if all professors took the entire summer off most of us would be paid too much. There is a lot of tradition and unspoken understandings about what it means to be a professor that isn't written into the contract. And we have so, so, much freedom compared to most professions. This, of course, varies by institution, but I think it is generally true.

Amanda

Graduate Student: typically teaching schools that are not CC colleges are either 3/3 or 4/4. It might be common but not required to teach a course in the summer. CC's are usually 5/5 or higher. And you can do research. I did research at a teaching school and now that I am at a R1 I can do more. It is all a matter of degree. But typically research is required at teaching schools. And plenty of teaching professors I know do lots of research, some of them more research than those at research schools.

Cleverly Disguised Mule

I appreciate Eric taking the time to share this, but I have worries similar to those Joe sketched above. Eric seems to have overlooked that comment. It would be nice to hear his response.

To me, the attitude that philosophy lectures have to be these incredibly performative and technology-driven experiences is really unfortunate. There is certainly room for that approach, no doubt. But Eric's post makes it seem as though that is *the* way to teach philosophy. Maybe I'm alone here, but I think a carefully prepared lecture with a syllabus that demonstrates a clear narrative for a given topic can be especially gripping, earn students' respect, and bring people to philosophy who wouldn't otherwise take it. It's sad to hear that a well rehearsed and nuanced explanation, in appropriate lecture format, of the veil of ignorance is now less preferable to literally covering oneself with a blanket in front of a classroom of students with cameras at the ready.

Mercado

Dear Joe,

Imagine that you went to inner-city schools that woefully underserved you, that you are working 40-50 hours a week to help support your siblings and disabled single mother, that you are regularly harassed by the police for no legitimate reason, that you don’t have heat and that your neighborhood is very dangerous. Now also imagine how you would initially feel about someone who likely has few if any of these these problems teaching you about justice, morality and theory of knowledge. Moreover, imagine even trying to stay awake in such a class even if you were interested.

Now, imagine you are the instructor who is charged with getting through to these students. I think you might do some of the things that Eric Steinhart suggested above.

You may think that trying to get through to these students is a waste of time, but in point of fact, many of these students realize late in the course or often after the course that they benefitted or enjoyed thinking about justice, morality and theory of knowledge. I know because I was one of these students and know many others like them.

Eric Steinhart

Cleverly Disguised Mule - I certainly don't mean to say that lecturing is invalid; if I gave that impression, that wasn't at all my intention. But why do you think that's a good way to teach? You wrote: "I think a carefully prepared lecture with a syllabus that demonstrates a clear narrative for a given topic can be especially gripping, earn students' respect, and bring people to philosophy who wouldn't otherwise take it." Do you have any evidence for that? I'm not advocating a one-size-fits-all methodology. I'm advocating that if you want to teach at a typical, non-elite school, you need to be prepared to show that you've thought about your methods. - Eric

Amanda

Eric, when you said,"What do you actually do in the classroom? Do you just stand there and lecture? Do you lecture with power point? Our students don’t respond very well to those styles..." I got the impression that you don't think a a teaching method that is made up of mostly lecturing is a good method, or at least not for schools like yours.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: At my university, standing and lecturing just doesn’t work. Our undergrad courses meet for four hours a week—in other words, our Tuesday and Thursday courses meet for 2 hours per day per class. When I got here I tried lecturing the way I did previously at my former schools. Although it has worked great previously, it was a *disaster* in this environment. Two hours of lecture/Socratic dialogue just does not fly with first year undergraduates—especially when they are used to all of their other instructors using much more varied and creative methods. And prepping effectively for 4 credit-hour classes takes far more time and effort than I ever previously realized (especially when one has a 3/3 load with three new preps consistently).

Because of just how different this environment is (compared to teaching at a large R1), I had to totally redevelop my teaching methods, and know from experience that someone who teaches via traditional methods would struggle immensely in an environment like this one. I also know that tenure committees at schools like mine expect far more creativity than traditional lectures.

Amanda

Marcus: I agree. I never just stand and lecture. Actually I hardly lecture at all. While I admit some people may be able to do it well even with underprepared students, my guess is those professors are rare. I just wanted Eric to clarify.

never liked groupwork

It might be too late to join the discussion, but I want to second the Joe-Cleverly Disguised Mule line of argument. Even though my undergrad life was pretty far from that described by Mercado, I was not a philosophy honour's student with straight A's. In fact, I didn't care for philosophy at all back then, and certainly didn't do most of the readings. I didn't have a full-time job, but was busy with my other major (which required long lab hours). I was probably close to the kind of student Eric believes to respond only to multimedia teaching methods.
However, the best classes I've had, the ones that eventually turned me to philosophy, were all traditional lectures. To be sure, I've had awful lectures where I would fall asleep or simply not show up. But the fact that people can (and often do) lecture terribly doesn't mean lecture is an inferior strategy. I had group works in class. Most of them were a total waste of time, because it turns out having a bunch of clueless students talking to each other will not spontaneously create a clue. Moreover, I felt that employing group work or multimedia was a sign that my prof didn't think we were capable of learning. (This might be wrong, of course. But I did feel like I was being babysat when profs show videos.)
To be sure, there are better group work strategies that would be effective. One problem with comparing traditional lecturing style with "flipped classroom" type strategies is that people who actively engage with the latter tend to be dedicated teachers themselves, whereas teachers who don't care about students tend to lecture and lecture poorly. The difference in learning outcomes observed between the two styles might as well just be the difference in the dedication of the teachers. I might be wrong about this, but I think it's at least not obvious that everything wrong with lecturing is a result of the style, rather than the teacher's skill in the art of lecturing. It's at least not obvious enough to write of lecturing as a sign that someone is not skilled/dedicated/knowledgeable about teaching.

Amanda

I always hated groupwork too. Indeed, I find the majority of persons who go on to philosophy graduate school hate group work. But the thing is, those who go on to philosophy graduate school are not the typical student. I have taken polls in my course, on whether group work was something they wanted, and to my surprise the overwhelming majority said yes. That's when I realized I had to teach to students who were not like me in the slightest. Overall, incorporating groupwork has been a major success, although i don't doubt some students dislike it.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: same here. As a student I preferred lectures. But the vast majority of my students say they love the group work I assign. It is also vital to understand that standing around lecturing just isn’t doable in some situations. Before I came to my current university, I lectured—and got excellent student reviews for it. Then I came here: a place where I had a 3/3 load of three different classes that each meet for 2 hours twice a week. I tried lecturing when I first got here. It was a *catastrophe*. Try standing around lecturing six hours a day—two hours per class twice a week!—to undergrads for three different courses at a time, on courses outside of your AOS that you have never taught before. It just doesn’t work. Lecturing for a 50 minute class on stuff you know well is one thing. That works! But at a school like mine, my experience is that you really do have to get students doing other things in the classroom to be successful.

Amanda

This is a bit off topic but I'm curious, Marcus, do your students get more than the usual amount of college credit for their courses? Since most semester long courses are 2.5 hours-3 hours a week, 4 hours a week over a semester is a significant amount of extra time. That would mean of course, if you were teaching intro to philosophy you would have to prep way more material than my intro to philosophy course, which only meets 2.5 hours a week. (unless your semesters are shorter...)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: yes, our courses are 4-credit-hours instead of the standard 3-credits. The amount of extra prep this requires per course is immense. We had a well-known philosopher from an R1 teach in a visiting position for us one semester, and she was shocked about just how much more it requires. So was I was I when I first arrived. It’s not just 25% work more per class. It’s signicifantly more than that because the second hour of class requires a ton more prep, not to mention additional regular graded assignments (to fill up the two hours,
I have graded group assignments and individual written homework assignments due each class—something I would never do for a 1:15 minute 3 credit course).

Amanda

Thanks Marcus. Yes, I imagine it is a lot of extra work. On the brighter side I *always* find I have more material than I can fit in, and that would help with that side of things. There is a college in Iowa where students take one course at a time, and meet I think 12 hours a week for 3 weeks!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: I try to do the same. But one additional problem in longer classes like ours is that it is possible to overwhelm students with too much information. Several semesters ago, I experimented with making my courses a bit more lecture-based. Although I thought I put together great lectures, a majority of my students reported being overwhelmed--and in retrospect, the lectures really were too involved. This is another reason why I've other types of activities are vital in courses at our institution.

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