Teaching is a major factor in faculty role definition—and teaching experience is an important hiring criterion—at hundreds of psychology departments in regional universities and liberal arts colleges across the nation. Teaching also is being emphasized increasingly at many doctoral institutions. Because instruction consumes almost two-thirds (64 percent) of faculty work time (Bowen & Schuster, 1986), we maintain that academic job applicants should consider how best to present their teaching experiences and ability.
Applying for the Position
The materials applicants provide to recruitment committees should communicate their preparedness to teach and their understanding of teaching and its place in higher education. An applicant should avoid being perceived as apathetic toward teaching or as viewing teaching as a secondary activity (or necessary evil).
An applicant should want to create the impression in others that he/she is a future academician who sees teaching as a serious and indispensable part of academic life. A concern for excellent teaching is not antithetical to being a first-rate scholar, and it may in fact be highly correlated with teaching skills. Displaying an ability to teach will not diminish your competitiveness for an academic position.
Demonstrate Your Teaching Awareness
To demonstrate teaching skills, candidates should present information on their teaching experiences. For example, candidates who have participated in a first-rate teaching assistant program and/or a graduate seminar on teaching should describe what they have learned from these experiences.
Document Your Teaching Abilities
If you are presently teaching, you should ask those writing letters of recommendation to observe your teaching. Search committees often read letters saying: “I have not observed Sam/Sally teach, but I am sure he/she will be an excellent teacher.” Certainly your mentors would not say you exhibit promise to be an excellent scholar, if they had no familiarity with your scholarship! It is helpful if individuals writing recommendations can document their knowledge of your teaching philosophy and/or your efforts to improve teaching.
Develop a Teaching Portfolio
You may want to create a Teaching Portfolio to include in your application materials. This portfolio would include your teaching statement (described below), course syllabi, teaching evaluations from courses you have taught, and any other information related to teaching that the search committee requests.
The Teaching Statement—The teaching statement is of special importance, as it is the only chance you may have to detail your ideas and skills related to teaching. We urge job applicants to write a teaching statement, whether one is requested or not. In a recent recruitment, our position announcement requested statements for both teaching and research interests. Of 156 applicants, only 35 (22 percent) provided teaching statements (Perlman, Marxen, McFadden, & McCann, 1993).
To write an articulate and meaningful teaching statement, candidates must: (a) think about teaching and discuss it with others; and (b) read about the subject. If you have done this reading, you stand out among peers in the academic job hunt. A model of teaching, such as the one presented by McFadden and Perlman (1989), can help structure your ideas about teaching. Other sources might include the journal Teaching of Psychology, which for 20 years has been a forum for teaching information in our discipline. Another source would be the quarterly journal New Directions for Teaching and Learning. More generally, there are numerous books about the improvement of teaching (e.g., Eble, 1976; Lowman, 1984; McKeachie, 1994).
Candidates who are articulate about teaching—and who have given the art and craft of teaching some thought before arriving on campus for an interview—distinguish themselves as individuals motivated to serve the needs of students and to join collegially with faculty in the teaching enterprise.
Teaching Experience—You should have teaching experience. In addition to teaching at your home institution as a TA, you may want to consider ad hoc teaching at a nearby institution as you finish your doctorate. Responsibility for a complete course is important in learning what it means to teach. You may want to suggest submitting a videotape of your teaching to the recruitment committee.
Teach a class. We urge finalists for an academic position who have been invited for a campus visit to request the opportunity to teach a class. Using a colloquium to evaluate teaching abilities and potential is a time honored tradition, but why not actual teaching? Prepare a lecture with requisite overheads and other teaching aids, and demonstrate your teaching ability while getting a chance to interact with the students you would be teaching if hired.
Meet with Students
We also urge candidates to ask to meet with undergraduates. You want to discover their perspectives on the psychology department, and what they need and value in teaching faculty. Their questions and your answers will give both you and the students information about the fit between your expertise and interests as well as the students’ needs.
Ask About Mentoring
In addition, you should learn what kind of mentoring takes place regarding teaching. The academic Darwinian notion of “survival of the fittest” is being replaced at many institutions with mentoring programs. Becoming an expert teacher is a developmental process that takes years.
Talk with Department Faculty
Talk with department faculty about teaching. For example, what courses do they teach? What observations can they share with you about teaching? What is taught across the curriculum (e.g., ethics, scientific method, writing), if anything? Try not to focus too much on your needs or wants, but attempt to determine what is needed to best serve the students and department and to describe the contributions you could make.
We urge candidates to attend to teaching when applying for academic positions and during academic position interviews. Your subject matter expertise is not the equivalent of being, or having the potential to become, a good teacher. It is our experience in working with and mentoring new faculty that they often experience a shock during their first two years of teaching, finding that class preparation and teaching require much more time and energy than anticipated.
The unfortunate result is disillusionment, frustration, and dissatisfaction with academic life. Use both graduate school and the search process as preparation for a career as an academician who knows and cares about teaching.