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10/05/2022

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William Peden

I had a weird and frustrating phase where I had a publication or two, but no solo teaching experience. In this time, I was being interviewed for some amazing postdocs, including a 4 year post at Cambridge, but couldn't get a single interview for a teaching post, and I was only occasionally being longlisted for 9 month teaching posts.

With the advantage of hindsight, I suspect that the way to compensate would be by showing a strong commitment to teaching in other ways: teacher training courses, outreach to high schools, arranging extracurricular courses etc.

To elaborate on the last point, I created an extracurricular intermediate logic course (which I called "Logic After Dark", taught in the dark hours of winter evenings in the UK) for an undergraduate philosophy society prior to teaching solo in an official capacity. For at least one subsequent postdoc, which had a mix of research and teaching, Logic After Dark apparently helped me, by showing that I wasn't only interested in research and that I was going out of my way to obtain teaching experience.

Porphyry

I've been on search committees at R1s. Having no solo teaching experience would definitely be a negative for a TT-position. As everyone knows, the market is brutal, so most searches draw dozens of well- or ever over-qualified candidates, and there will inevitably be people who are strong in research, fit etc. but who also have solo teaching experience. Not having the latter will be an obvious way to whittle the list down.

For what it's worth, I think this would also be a reasonable and fair way to whittle the list down. With the possible exception of the very fanciest places, teaching is an important part of the job at most R1s. In hiring someone, I, and I suspect others, want someone whom I can be confident can go off and teach on their own, without having to learn how to do so on the job. If they've already taught solo that provides at lest some evidence that they are capable of doing so.

Karl

(Sorry, I'm about to rant and ramble. Having sat on search committees, this is what I gathered.)

Any job that requires teaching is looking for someone who could speak with authority when they talk about how they would teach a class. Designing a course from start to finish: from selecting the text, writing a syllabus, planning office hours, setting grading criteria, actually preparing and teaching, handling diverse or difficult or brilliant or cheating or disabled or whatever students, making exams, adjusting on the fly, responding to student emails, crafting paper topics, to turning in grades on time, is a significant undertaking, and more so if you aim to do it well. If you have not done it it is hard to take your teaching philosophy statement seriously.

Second, just because you got an A- on your first year grad course in logic, does not mean to a hiring committee that you can teach their logic course. Your first semester as a new hire, you might find yourself teaching intro, logic, and ethics. If you taught each of these once or twice, the committee will be confident you can do it and you should be able to do it "in your sleep" so to speak. If you never taught by yourself, this would be overwhelming and the summer you are moving to a new city, you will be prepping to teach the easy stuff. You will not hit the ground running. The committee knows this too.

Teaching also forces you to learn some fundamentals that you may not otherwise learn. If you spent all your time in grad school studying the metaphysics of grounding but did not think hard about the standard counterexamples to utilitarianism, you are not prepared to teach intro. Departments want people who are prepared.

Finally, it also makes your research accomplishments less meaningful and I am suspicious about your prospects for future success. If I have candidates who finished school with a good dissertation and publications who taught their own classes, in comparison, the fact that you have a good dissertation and publications is now explained by something other than the fact that you are a good philosopher. You just had far fewer responsibilities as a grad student, so you were able to focus on work. I do not know how you will handle our university requirements for tenure.

This is all to say, that to be competitive, get experience teaching your own class while you are a graduate student. Do not think you are lucky that you got the stipend that did not require teaching.

once a grad

Karl sounds a bit blunt, but it's really helpful advice!

current grad

A follow-up question (not the original poster, but I am a current grad student who is still a few years away from the job market): let's say someone is at a grad program where independent teaching is not built-in. Grad students may be able to teach a course over the summer, but it's far from guaranteed. Let's also say that technically, these grad students are not supposed to have outside employment while they are on fellowship or TAing. Should someone in this situation try to adjunct at a community college anyway? How should one figure out if this is a good idea?

wishful thinking

Karl is right. That’s how search committees SHOULD think about this stuff but of course regardless of what anyone will tell you here, in practice it’s the PhDs from very fancy programs who got the non-teaching stipends and have never solo taught a class of their own that end up getting the offers. So here’s my answer: whether or not you’ll be competitive without teaching experience depends on how fancy your program is.

Rosa

Current grad, JUST DO IT! Unless you are an international student whose visa might get messed up, just ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Chances are good no one will find out, and even if they do, reasonable faculty will know how important solo teaching experience is to the job market. I actively encourage my grad students (who are in your position) to get work at local colleges, and I would absolutely go to bat for them if anyone gave them a hard time.

another perspective

Having taught at a 4 year state college, I can assure taht what Karl says is quite typical. Your colleagues cannot afford to hire someone who is just learning how to teach, or just learning how to teach more than one classs at a time.
But in the European context, courses are often team taught ... so, teaching a course on your own is not an expectation in some of these contexts. If you are responsible for a modeule or section on a specific topic or topics, then that would be adequate evidence of teaching experience. My point is that much of this advice, though excellent for the USA market, is irrelevant to other markets.

Prof L

I'm at an R2 and I want to echo this. I don't care how fancy you are, if you have not solo taught a class with some measure of success, you're out of the running. Teaching is not some secondary thing. We are desperate for majors and minors (good teachers attract them) and want good advisors and teachers for our graduate program. Karl is spot on. As a committee member, I can't talk to you about teaching if you've never really interacted with students in that capacity. Half of our standard interview questions would be unanswerable. And we don't want to hire campus who (for all we know) might be a total flop in the classroom. So much of teaching has to do with course design, not just the lecture-performance that is exhibited in a teaching demo.

This is a major flaw of these top-flight programs, and if that's your situation, yes, you need to find a way to adjunct on the side, or you will be severely hampered in your application to any program that cares even a little bit about teaching. I'm sure there are some programs that don't really care, but the vast majority of programs will.

Teacher

I appreciate committee members' candor. It certainly echoes my experience as a grad student, VAP applying for TT jobs, and now TT faculty member serving on search committees. I received many more and diverse interview requests once I got solo teaching under my belt, and even more requests once I taught a 3-3 load for a year. I was much more prepared to answer many interview questions about teaching in my job market cycles after I had significant solo teaching experience. I'm tempted to say that it is close to impossible for a ABD with no solo teaching experience beyond 1 or 2 small first-year courses to speak convincingly about how they would teach a 3-3 load with 4 or 5 preps. So, my advice for ABD's is to go out there and get that experience, if you want to be a good candidate for schools where teaching is valued.

Mike Titelbaum

At my R1, we need to be convinced someone isn't going to be a disaster in the classroom before we hire them. If there isn't solo teaching on your cv, we're going to have to get that information in other ways. You should make sure your teaching statement is really excellent and speaks to the realities of classroom instruction. You should be sure your teaching letter (and maybe your other recommendation letters) addresses the lack of solo experience directly. You should be sure you have great answers to teaching questions we ask you in an interview. You should make sure your job talk demonstrates that you can speak in an accessible way to non-experts. In other words, it's not going to automatically rule you out for us, but will put a heavier burden on other features of the application to convince us you can cut it.

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