Presenting Your Teaching Credentials
The way you choose to present your teaching credentials will depend on the type of job you are applying for. It goes without saying that all departments are interested in hiring good teachers. Research institutions, however, will expect you to emphasize your research skills and publication plans, and some search committees will not even ask you to provide much documentation about your teaching credentials. Other universities and colleges will insist on seeing more evidence about your teaching abilities, and for temporary positions of all descriptions teaching is the chief and often the sole criterion. As soon as you begin your job search in earnest, you should prepare a document that sets out your teaching credentials or (and this is increasingly the case) a full-scale teaching portfolio which can be sent if and when a hiring committee requests them. The following describes how to present your teaching credentials, but also gives some tips on compiling a teaching portfolio, which is a longer, more coherent package that is usually 5-7 pages, but longer when syllabi and summary teaching evaluations are included. Some job candidates are now also making a video of them teaching available.
The cover letter
All cover letters should have at least one paragraph and sometimes two (for jobs focused more on teaching) on your teaching philosophy and experience. Be honest about your interests and experience and try to avoid platitudes. Most applications do not want a full report on teaching credentials or a teaching portfolio at this stage, but you can mention that you have compiled a teaching portfolio (or give its URL if you have placed it online) that contains further details. Do not mention teaching grad courses unless the job is at a research university with a PhD program.
The cover letter should include information on your teaching interests and fields. There is one rule of thumb to bear in mind here: be honest. Bearing this in mind, however, you should plan on emphasizing those aspects of your teaching interests that seem to fit best the department's own needs. All job candidates will be expected to teach one or more introductory courses, and if you can do both medieval and modern European surveys you should be fine. Do some research on the Web to find out what sort of introductory courses are offered at the hiring university, and be ready in an interview or in sample syllabi to talk about how you would teach this course. Beyond this, hiring committees will be curious to know what sort of electives for history majors you might be interested in teaching; some departments will have master's programs too. Again, stress aspects of your teaching interests that seem to fit the departments needs. A department that has no medieval historian may be interested in hiring a historian of early modern France who has prepared an exam field in medieval history; a department heavily weighted toward American and northern European history may be intrigued by a job candidate who has thought about how to teach a course in Mediterranean history. Most departments these days offer a mixture of courses defined either by theme or by geography, so be prepared to describe electives of both types. If the department already has someone who teaches medieval warfare, don't bother mentioning your own interest in teaching the subject; if they have no one teaching early modern women, family, and gender, and if that's one of your interests, then mention that one.
Teaching philosophy and strategies
In your cover letter you will also want to say something about how you teach courses. Here again, be honest. Focus on your strengths. Have you thought through how to use slides and audiovisuals in your courses? Have you developed power point presentations or experimented with using a Website as a teaching adjunct? Do you have particularly effective ways to promote discussion? If the school is a large state school, how would you manage a large lecture course with 80-100 students? In a sense, it matters less what you say here as long as you show yourself to be someone who thinks seriously about teaching methods and philosophies. For a teaching portfolio, you would include a separate statement on teaching philosophy and strategies that runs to one to three double-spaced pages. Statements that can draw on past experience and practical techniques work best, but it is also acceptable to discuss your stance on larger pedagogical issues or to talk about methods you would like to try. If you have taken a pedagogy seminar, then mention what you got out of that experience or how you applied what you learned. If you have not had a lot of teaching experience, you might want to read some of the vast literature out there on college -teaching in order to be able to write intelligently on the topic. Imaginative statements that show your enthusiasm and effectiveness as a teacher are crucial in securing an on-campus interview. Tone is very important; try to avoid sounding pompous by remembering that you are still learning and only at the beginning of your teaching career.
Here is a list of some topics (in no particular order) that a good statement of teaching philosophy might cover; adding some titled subsections is also helpful in longer statements.
- What are your teaching goals for students? The learning environment you foster?
- How do you facilitate learning?
- What are your teaching methods? Have they changed over time? Changed by course?
- Mention if you use new technologies (web, power point, computer games, etc..). Be specific about then be specific about how you integrate them into course assignments and why you think they work
- Do you integrate class trips (e.g., to the library or local museums) into your classes? Are their museums you would use in the college town of the institution to which you are applying?
- How you motivate students and develop rapport with them?
- How do you assess quality of students’ work?
- What have been your outcomes in terms of students’ achievements?\
- What have been your outcomes in terms of assessments of students, peers, or faculty?
- Have you attended a pedagogy seminar? Worked in a writing center? Tutored? How did you integrate what you learned into your teaching?
- Have you won any awards for your teaching? Given any presentations on teaching at workshops or conferences?
- Base your discussion as much as possible on personal experience. Give specifics about particular classes, lessons, or students
- Tone and writing style can be as important as what you say! If you do not have a lot of teaching experience and cannot give a lot of specifics, your statement can still get across that you are someone who has thought about and cares about teaching
- Refer directly to items in the portfolio as evidence for your claims in the statement
- Do not copy from another person’s teaching statement! Use them for inspiration, but your voice and your experiences should come through..
Unless the advertisement specifically mentions it, do not send any other teaching credentials at this stage. If you get past the first round, however, the hiring committee may ask for syllabuses, teaching evaluations, and perhaps a written evaluation by an adviser or coordinator. You should therefore have some syllabuses on hand (and bring extra copies to the interview). One or two should be introductory courses; again, make sure this course fits the introductory course taught at the hiring university. For example, the first course in European history at many universities runs from the fall of Rome to 1715; have a syllabus handy that covers this whole period. Have three or four electives handy and perhaps a graduate course if the university expects you to teach at the graduate level. Look through our own departmental electives and graduate courses to get a sense of what is offered, and ask professors if you can borrow their syllabuses; these can be very helpful guides. Don't plagiarize them; you should be building your own courses. You should plan to set aside a good bit of time, at least a week, to prepare these syllabuses effectively. Be sure you select readings that are accessible to undergraduates: Julia Kristeva or Brian Stock may make for fascinating reading, but for the most part they are beyond the grasp of even the best undergraduates. Last, many departments are concerned about attracting students to their majors. A course entitled "Medieval Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy" may not have quite the ring of "Heretics, Jews, and Inquisition in Medieval Europe." Choose a title that's honest and appealing.
Most hiring committees will eventually ask the candidates on their short list to send in teaching evaluations at some stage of the process. Obviously, you want to have these on hand and ready to go. For this reason, it is good to keep photocopies of all your teaching evaluations, along with the summary scores for the course at larger and for your section, so that they can be compared. For the most part they will be interested only in the numbers. High scores will speak for themselves, and don't spend too much time explaining low scores. You should add a brief cover letter explaining the circumstances of the course(s).
A few schools may ask for a written evaluation of your teaching; if you don't have this on hand make arrangements to have it sent out. If a written teaching evaluation is not part of your file at Fordham (those taking the Pedagogy course generally will have one in their file), then ask a faculty member (preferably not your mentor) to observe your teaching. It works best if the observation is from a faculty member who regularly teaches the course, rather than from someone in your own research field.
Preliminary (AHA) interview
Bear in mind that all these documents so laboriously put together will only get you an interview at best; ultimately, most hiring committees trying to assess your teaching credentials will rely to a large degree on the impression you make at the job interview and especially at the campus interview. Since you can do little to change the timbre of your voice or the energy of your gestures don't even bother preparing for this, apart from wearing reasonably nice clothing. At the first interview you will have to think fast on your feet, because this is when you'll at last find out what you've been guessing at all along, namely just what the department is looking for in a teacher. Here again, be honest. You will be asked from time to time whether you can teach the ancient near east or ancient Rome, and you need to make a reasoned and thoughtful response that isn't a lie. If you've read up on world systems theory and have studied its application to the ancient near east, then say so, and mention your long-standing fascination with Aksum. You need to express your willingness and interest without appearing either silly or desperate or both. By the same token, candidates who dismiss the possibility of teaching outside their field of specialization will virtually never get a campus interview. The question would not have been posed if the anticipated answer was no. The members of the hiring committee will also ask you to discuss your teaching philosophy and will describe their courses. If your auto-description in your cover letter is wildly off, then make careful adjustments; if you're shocked by the size of the classes you'll have to teach, then find ways to adjust your assignments so as to make the grading feasible. You cannot teach 200 students a semester and plan on reading and grading two papers and two essay-based exams per student. Feel free to ask your interlocutors what their teaching strategies are, and promote a discussion on the subject.
Good luck! If you've gotten this far you're doing something right and you don't need any more advice. There's only two things to be aware of. First, you will probably be asked to give a job talk. Although the research is the nominal subject here, people will also be evaluating you as a teacher and a presence. Second, many schools, especially schools with a heavy teaching load (four courses per semester), will ask you to make a presentation to a class. You'll get warning of this in advance, but it would be wise to think about how you might teach this type of lecture months in advance. If you have a fascinating lecture that doesn't require background reading, adjust that to suit the circumstances. Think about doing a power point presentation or bringing in some slides. Perhaps you can plan a class that might have students break up into small groups to read and discuss a very short handout. But it is also possible that you will be assigned to do the lecture in someone else’s intro course, so you will be stuck writing a new lecture on something that may be well out of your zone of expertise.
A last word. If you're reading this in plenty of time, it should make you realize that being a historian is more than being a French medieval historian or a historian of post-1945 America. The best way to prove your diversity of teaching interests is to have a diversity of teaching interests, so even in the midst of your own dissertation research take the time to read widely in the whole canvas of history. You'll find all this well worth your while when it comes to impressing a hiring committee with your earnestness and interest in teaching history.
D. Smail (1999) updated by M. Kowaleski (2009)