Surviving the Academic Job Talk
It’s summer. As the mercury slides up the thermometer (WAY up the thermometer), several events…
By Stacey Lynn Camp, University of Idaho
One of the biggest challenges of an academic job search is convincing a hiring committee that your skills and research interests are perfectly tailored to the advertised faculty position. Many advertised positions are ambiguous to begin with, with broad calls that span geographical and temporal specializations. Teaching responsibilities are also sometimes left to the applicant’s imagination, with the candidate charged with the task of deciphering what is expected of them in terms of their teaching and advising load.
Deciphering Teaching Expectations
If it is unclear what a university expects in terms of a teaching load (how many classes you will be expected to teach per academic year) or teaching pedagogy (how you approach teaching), you should spend a considerable amount of time looking into published material associated with the hiring department and its faculty on staff. This information can often be found on a department’s website, where course offerings are usually listed underneath a faculty member’s profile. At my institution, a number of faculty members in my department have published their teaching philosophies in teaching pedagogy journals.
One hint that teaching skills are prized at a university is a request for an applicant’s teaching portfolio, which can be made in the initial job announcement or requested from the applicant once they have made it through the first or second stage of the interview process. If, however, the job advertisement does not require extensive documentation of your teaching experiences, you should still take time to consider and research how many courses you will be teaching in the position, how many students you will be teaching in your courses, what courses you might be able or expected to teach in the department, the textbooks, book chapters, and articles you intend to assign as course texts, and the pedagogical strategies you will employ in the classroom.No matter where you interview, questions about your teaching will inevitably arise. Even at the most competitive research schools you will be expected to teach a few classes every year, and it is important that you think carefully about how you will undertake course instruction and employ the pedagogical values that you hold dear in the classroom.
If you are one of the fortunate few who make it to the first or second round of interviews for the position, you should ask questions about the teaching and advising expectations and how those balance out with research and publication requirements of the position. These questions are important to the faculty hiring committee, as they show that the candidate has the foresight to consider what their responsibilities will be in this position.
Developing a Philosophy of Teaching
To demonstrate your commitment to teaching, you should consult publications on teaching pedagogy. There is ample literature on the topic that is both broad and discipline-specific in scope; at the very least, it is helpful to be aware of commonly utilized teaching strategies in academia and within the field of archaeology. Recently published literature within our own discipline includes Baxter’s Archaeological Field Schools: A Guide for Teaching in the Field (2009), Burke and Smith’s Archaeology to Delight and Instruct: Active Learning in the University Classroom (2007), and Mytum’s Global Perspectives on Archaeological Field Schools: Constructions of Knowledge and Experience (2012). Citing this literature in your teaching philosophy or mentioning it during interviews shows that you care about your students and you take the role of a faculty mentor and instructor seriously enough to read up on the subject matter.
When I applied for my current position as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Idaho, a teaching portfolio was part of the initial request for applications. My teaching portfolio comprised of qualitative and quantitative data from my teaching evaluations, letters of support from professors who supervised me as their teaching assistant, letters of support from former students, handouts and assignments from my classes, syllabi from courses I hoped to teach at the University of Idaho, examples of graded papers and my feedback on student assignments, a faculty member’s assessment of my teaching in the classroom. and, perhaps most importantly, my teaching philosophy statement.
I knew that the university was a second tier research institute, which meant that my teaching and research experiences would be equally valued in the hiring process. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about my teaching philosophy. The teaching philosophy should not merely be a descriptive compilation of your accomplishments (e.g. teaching awards, good student evaulations, training in teaching pedagogy, etc.); the hiring committee should be able to find that information on your Curriculum Vitae. Rather, your teaching statement should be a coherent, consistent narrative that describes how you approach teaching, how that approach aligns with your research and dissertation project, and how you see yourself evolving as a teacher over the course of the next five or six years as an assistant professor.
Look at the teaching philosophy as an opportunity to explore the ideas, concepts, and methodologies you desire to impart to your students. This involves a bit of self-reflection; some questions you should ask yourself are: what is it that has driven me toward a career in anthropology? What is it that intrigues me about this discipline? What are the two or three key points or methodologies I want students to know when they leave my classroom? How does my work intersect with other disciplines in meaningful and interesting ways? How can I make anthropology and archaeology relevant to non-anthropology majors?
An Example of a Teaching Philosophy in Historical Archaeology
Let me give you an example of how I answered these questions and composed a teaching philosophy that reflected my personal and academic research interests. What I have always liked about historical archaeology is its multiscaler approach to interpreting a site, a community, or a region. By comparing and contrasting multiple data sources, historical archaeologists can identify gaps in historical knowledge as well as discover contradictions between what is said in the documentary record and what is found in the archaeological record. I encourage students to be active participants in this discovery process by giving them data to analyze and deconstruct, and devote nearly half of my Introduction to Historical Archaeology course at the University of Idaho to critically analyzing and assessing the limitations and advantages of using different sources of information, such as photographs, maps, probate inventories, newspapers, oral histories, and, of course, archaeological assemblages.
Thinking critically about where data originated, who produced the data, and for what purposes the data was collected or written is not simply a skill limited to the practice of historical archaeology. In today’s media saturated world, it is crucial that students, as consumers of media, learn how to assess the intentions of media producers and the validity of the data cited by the media. So, to make a long story short, one of my primary teaching goals is to prepare students to be critical consumers of modern day media and to understand how to verify the authenticity of the media’s claims using the tools of historical archaeology. My course readings, my assignments, and my in-class discussions all work together to impart this skill set to students.
Defining Teaching Experiences
For some applicants, the very thought of organizing a teaching portfolio evokes fear and anxiety. This is perhaps especially true for applicants whose teaching experiences have been limited, comprising of undergraduate mentoring in laboratory or field school settings or serving as teaching assistants for classes. At the very least, you will be expected to demonstrate that you have already started to build a strong repertoire of teaching and mentoring experiences that will serve you well in a faculty position
Even if you have yet to teach your own course, you should not discount other types of interactions and “teaching moments” with undergraduates. These experiences come in many forms, such as working with lab assistants, directing field crews, mentoring and advising undergraduates, or serving as a teaching assistant and directing discussion sections. Much of what we do as archaeologists involves hands-on learning and instruction, but it is up to the applicant to draw connections between what initially may be viewed as atypical forms of instruction and classroom teaching.
Concluding Thoughts on Teaching Philosophies
If you are hired for the position, you will be thankful for devoting energy and time to fleshing out your teaching objectives and philosophy. Teaching statements are an essential component of faculty assessment. When I went up for my third year review at the University of Idaho, I revised and edited my teaching philosophy statement that I submitted as a job applicant. I will be revising it once again when I go up for tenure next year.
Thinking through your approach to teaching can also result in research and publication opportunities. I have written on teaching pedagogy in archaeology (Camp 2010), and how giving students the chance to do archaeology over the course of an academic year and outside of the traditional summer field school model can help solve real-world issues facing campuses.
Inspired by positive student responses to my integration of archaeological experience into the classroom setting, I continue to seek new and innovative ways of delivering course content to my students. From my perspective, then, the best teaching philosophies are ones open to student input, self-critique, and continual revision as one grows and matures as a teacher.
Baxter, Jane Eva (2009) Archaeological Field Schools: A Guide for Teaching in the Field. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.
Burke, Heather and Claire Smith (eds.) (2007) Archaeology to Delight and Instruct: Active Learning in the University Classroom. One World Archaeology Series. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.
Camp, Stacey Lynn (2010) Teaching with Trash: Archaeological Insights on University Waste Management, World Archaeology 42(3):430-42.
Mytum, Harold (ed.) (2012) Global Perspectives on Archaeological Field Schools: Constructions of Knowledge and Experience. New York: Springer.