What is Evidence of Teaching Excellence?

Today’s post is a Special Request post for quite a few clients, who wanted to know what is meant when a job ad asks for “Evidence of Teaching Excellence.”

I want to state at the outset that I have only a few thoughts to offer on this subject, and that I hope that readers will weigh in on the comments. It is entirely possible that I will not list every possible document that can be included as part of this “Evidence,” and I would appreciate readers sharing their own experiences, both as job seekers and as search committee members.

I believe that the basic evidence of teaching excellence to be submitted with a general job application includes the following:

  • A teaching statement
  • A sample syllabus
  • A list of courses taught (this does not have to be 100% exhaustive but gives a sense of overall breadth and scope)
  • Brief summary of evaluations

I will take each of these in turn.

The teaching statement is very easy to write badly, and very difficult to write well.

The overwhelming majority of teaching statements are simply awful.

I will not go into the reasons why here. I simply refer you to a recent post, The Dreaded Teaching Statement: 8 Pitfalls, that goes deeply into the subject. Please read this post closely and subject your teaching statement to a very close critical read for the errors and pitfalls I mention.

The sample syllabus should be a syllabus that reflects a course that you taught that is in some way similar to the courses you’ll be asked to teach at the job for which you’re applying. You do NOT need to write a new syllabus for one of the courses currently on their books (unless, of course, that were to be asked for explicitly in the ad). Your purpose here is simply to give evidence that you know how to put together a class, with appropriate organization, subject coverage, assigned readings, and course assignments and exams. The syllabus you submit should be a substantive one, with a good “course description” at the top that really demonstrates your original approach to and your pedagogical commitments in the class. Resist the temptation to create a “mega-class” to impress the search committee. Remember, they want evidence that your courses are successful, and that means, actually do-able by students. Keep the readings and assignments reasonable for actual students, and don’t use the syllabus as an opportunity to create an exhaustive bibliography for a scholarly topic.

Your list of courses taught should include the names, the level, and the enrollment. In my opinion descriptions are unnecessary. You can divide this list into undergraduate and graduate subheadings if you wish.

Lastly, you’ll want a brief summary of your evaluations. I say brief, because I do not believe it to be appropriate to send a complete teaching portfolio that includes exhaustive archives of your numerical and narrative teaching evaluations from all of your classes. These will most likely not be read, and may well offend the search committee.

Rather, find a way to summarize your numerical evaluations in a table, and then give a sample of the written comments.

It might be appropriate to, instead of the above, send the complete evaluation set, both numerical and narrative, from a single class. That would allow for an objective view, rather than the edited view that arises from your choosing which narrative comments to include. However, a single class probably does not give a sense of your overall teaching profile.

Two clients have been kind enough to send examples of their teaching evaluation summary tables. I share them here.

StudentEvals-anonymized

teachingevals1_Page_1

teachingevals1_Page_2

In all of your documents it is critical to be vigilant about the difference between your teaching as a TA and as Instructor of Record.  Be aware that for the vast majority of search committees, TA work does not count as full-fledged teaching experience.  If your department uses TAs as Instructors of Record for courses, then be absolutely sure that the title you use for the position includes an explanation that you were Instructor of Record.

In your selection of materials to include in this set of materials, always prioritize the classes for which you were primary instructor.  Only use TA materials if you don’t have any Instructor of Record teaching experience.  In general, even if the narrative evaluations from TA discussion sections were excellent, you should avoid using them if you have equally excellent alternatives from your sole-taught courses.

To conclude, readers, please feel free to add to comments below other documents you have seen included in the Evidence of Teaching Excellence.  It would be helpful for this comment thread to serve as part of the archive on this subject.

 



Comments

What is Evidence of Teaching Excellence? — 36 Comments

  1. Would it be a good idea to put approximate enrollment in the means tables?
    “Whatever 101: Introduction to Whatever (typical enrollment: 600; TA responsible for 4 sections of 20 students)”

    ?

  2. I have also been told that it is not necessary to include the ENTIRE syllabus. All that is really needed is the course description (as you say above), a list of the material under discussion, and the assignment descriptions. In other words, the actual schedule of the course is not required and neither are the write-ups on course policies, etc. Thoughts about this?

    • Personally, speaking now as a former search comm member, I liked to see the actual syllabus because I wanted to envision the course and its policies–i wanted to know, does this guy actually know how to deal pro-actively with plagiarism? with thanksgiving break? I wanted to know the guy was, as I say, “ready for prime time.” And prime time is just as much about the logistics of dealing with actual students as it is with the intellectual ideas of the course.

  3. When it comes to qualitative comments, I always make sure to include one or two comments that are in some way critical (not downright negative). It keeps the whole thing real and doesn’t lead to potential questions in the reader’s mind as to how it is possible to be this amazing (where are the moaners?). It also shows that I can deal with negative comments and am not afraid to share them, especially when the negativity is in some way a backhanded compliment (“xyz expected too much of us” = high standards, “xyz did not go through every single line with us to make sure our translation was correct” [in a literature class, not a translation class] = no spoon feeding, responsibility for working/learning is on student, etc.

  4. What about qualitative comments from TAing?

    I include good ones from courses where I was the instructor, but in reviewing the TAing comments, there are some really nice ones.

  5. I understand that we should choose data from courses we directly taught. However, I have only taught introduction levels of my discipline. I TA’ed for a senior seminar (an honor in my department) where that course was co-taught (i.e., I delivered half of the lectures, did half the grading, etc.) What should one do in this situation? Should I let my letters of recommendation cover this experience? Or should I include comments/ course data?

    • Good question. I would summarize this particular course on a one page document to include as evidence. I’d explain in the briefest terms, that the opportunity to teach the course was a competitive honor, and explain the half-half format. Then include a summary of the evals from the course. You can’t count on letters of rec to provide this info for you.

  6. I’m applying to SLACs that emphasize teaching predominantly in the job add. I taught in the International Baccalaureate at the high school level for 4 years before going to graduate school. These were students who went on to Ivies, Stanford, Cal, and nationally-ranked SLACs. A great deal of my teaching persona was shaped by that experience. I also really bought into the IB teaching philosophy. How should I use it in the evidence of teaching and or my teaching statement?

  7. Ironically, we ask for teaching excellence in our job ads, and I don’t think we really know what we are looking for, especially since we don’t ask for a lot of extra documentation. In successful applications, the excellence comes through in the letter in the specifics of the assignments, how they were effective and useful, and interesting teaching techniques. Something that demonstrates that these teachers put though and excitement into teaching. Also, that excitement matters. Finding a way to convey excitement is crucial.

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  9. I don’t know if it is cool to comment on an older post like this, but my questions pertain to this “Evidence of Teaching Excellence” business.

    Specifically, if you are offering a syllabus for a course you have never taught, should you break it down class-by-class, or just do week by week? If the former, should I adopt the time slot of the course as it is currently offered?

    In my case, I have taught *half* of the course in question—I filled in the second half of the course because the regular prof unexpectedly had to go on leave. I created the syllabus for the second half, but I modelled it, structurally, after his first half (which is not necessarily the way I would have taught the course). So even this half is a bit different from how I would approach the material.

    Second, how many syllabi should I provide? Just the one for the survey, or a variety for courses at different levels? (The job asks for a “evident of teaching excellence” but also says that a “teaching dossier” is preferred.)

    Sorry for all the random questions. I think it’d be much easier if search committees would just say explicitly what they are after, rather than all this mind reading.

  10. Regarding the teaching evaluation summaries: would it ever be appropriate to combine 2 sections of the same course taught ( from the same semester)?

  11. Thank you for this helpful post. I’ve just received evaluations from my first semester of (non-TT) college teaching. I taught two courses; for both I used a mid-term questionnaire and then adjusted my teaching accordingly. That helped, but I did not anticipate just how mixed the final evaluations would be. It’s become clear that I misjudged the students’ level relative to the course material (I believe this was a consequence of my lack of familiarity with this college, prior to this semester– the course needs to be much more basic), and that while some felt engaged and challenged, and gave good reviews, some felt just completely overwhelmed.

    One class was quite negative, and I’d like to avoid using its evaluations in future job applications. The other class is negative relative to the (stellar) department averages, but not necessarily negative overall (with the exception of one student’s remarks). All other profs in the department have at least a decade of teaching here– I’m the only newbie.

    I’m confident I can dramatically improve my teaching to this population for next semester, but I’m concerned about the job market consequences of these evaluations. My contract is secure for next year, but after that I’d like to re-enter the market. (In other ways, the school has not been a good fit for me.) For some jobs, this will mean next fall– before fall term evaluations come in. May I present evaluations from only one of the spring classes, or will search committees wonder where the other class has gone? I have an abundance of excellent evaluations from several years of teaching higher-level classes to adult students, which I could use to flesh out the evaluations sheaf, though I’m not sure an undergraduate school will care about them. Do colleges take into account that one’s first-ever semester of college teaching may involve figuring out the lay of the land?

    In short: Is there any elegant way to handle this, without torpedoing my fledgling career? How do people recover from bad first semester reviews?

    Thank for your help.

  12. I have a similar question. My department continually assigns me to teach new classes in areas that are not my specialty. On one hand this shows how much they trust me, but it hasn’t made for great teaching evaluations. In classes I have taught multiple times my evaluations have gone up significantly, but overall I would say my evaluations aren’t great. Do I just pick the best course and show that? How worried should I be if my evaluations are just average? By which I mean…above average ratings, but not excellent ratings.

  13. what if one’s institution does not employ an electronic system of student evaluations? how does one prove teaching excellence in this case? Perhaps one could ask the referees to include a paragraph commenting on one’s teaching experience?

  14. One job for which I am applying asks for a “sample of recent student evaluations.” How should I go about selecting this sample? More than one course? All evaluations from the course, or just the really “good” ones? Any advice here would be GREATLY appreciated!

  15. What about for jobs in the arts? Would it be appropriate to include among “evidence of teaching excellence” video or audio of performances, lessons, or rehearsals, or concert programs, or photos/samples of visual art? Or should things of this nature only be sent if they are requested?

    The job I’m currently applying for, curiously, does not ask for performance video–this is pretty unusual, in my admittedly meager experience–but they do ask for “evidence of teaching excellence.” What do you think?

    • I confess I don’t know the conventions in these fields. The clients I work with from these fields have never told me that they send any audio or video teaching examples. They send audio or video examples of their WORK, but not their teaching, as far as I know. But others would know better.

  16. A lot of what you’ve mentioned is already in my CV: for example, the list of courses that I have taught, and professional development courses in teaching.

    Should I reiterate them in the teaching excellence package, or just refer to them?

    Thanks.

  17. What if you’ve never taught a whole class? I’ve assisted a professor in teaching a course (similar to being a TA but I only led one class session in her absence and helped with assignments, and I also advised the students. It was at a private SLAC and a first-year seminar, by the way). I’ve also completed a few guest lectures and have some evals from those (about 10, from the other students and the professor), but have never taught a full class. How would I show teaching effectiveness then? Describe teaching? (By the way, I do have sample syllabi and assignments, but these have never been “put into action”). [I’m in the social sciences and most the lectures were in classes being taught my TAs in my same program while I was a grad student]. Please help!

    Thanks.

    (Also, just want to say, I’m glad I found this site because reading several of the posts I realized why I have sent out “tons” of applications and received hardly any follow-up [a couple phone interviews, but no campus visits and no offers] in two job market cycles, 2012-2013 and the current cycle. [Increases to a third job market cycle, for the 2008-2009 academic year, if you include the one I was on before I should have been since I hadn’t even defended my dissertation proposal, much less started to collect data. So it’s understandable why that didn’t work out, though I did have two phone interviews that cycle].

  18. Can you explain TA vs Instructor of Record? I’m in the sciences…we TA our own labs and create our own lectures/exams/grades, but the labs are run by a coordinator that tries to keep everyone on an even playing field (and to deal with student concerns).

    • Late reply, lol! As a contrast to your experience, my entire teaching experience has been as an instructor of record: what this means is I am THE teacher in the classroom. I had between 15-30 students for whom I was responsible for planning lessons, maintaining course records, teaching each class, grading each student, and sometimes for creating syllabi, assessments and choosing course materials. In other words, the instructor of record is the “professor” of that class, with no TAs to assist. For courses with lots of sections, we use a course coordinator who creates the syllabi and establishes consistent course policies for all classes, but each individual class is taught and planned and graded by its own instructor.

      What I understand happens in sciences is that large lecture classes taught by a professor have a lab component in which students are split into smaller groups and assigned to a TA’s lab once a week, and TAs may grade exams and assignments. This isn’t quite the same thing. The teacher of record is still the professor. In my field (foreign languages) the buck stops with each individual instructor; students are responsible only to that instructor, and each instructor plans and delivers every single meeting of the course. Hope this answers your question!

  19. When ads ask specifically for “teaching evaluations” (as opposed to evidence of teaching excellents) — I am assuming that they are not expecting to see the bulky university’s scanned sheets. Is the standard to compile these into a single document as sampled above?

  20. I want to teach at the collegiate level. I’ve been teaching high school for 18 years and I have worked as an adjunct instructor at a local community college. I’ve applied for a full-time tenure track position (at a California university) and they are asking for student evaluations. I don’t have any because they are not required in the K12 system. And when I was teaching at the CC I was not in the rotation. How should I cover this gap? BTW, I love this website. Thank you for all of your information.

  21. Is it ever acceptable to submit only list of qualitative evaluations? There is a considerable gap in my teaching experience and can not find the quantitative evaluations for my for my TA and instructor courses.

    I never had the (second nature) need to archive this paperwork nailed into my psyche. Grr!

  22. This is all good advice. However, for two years I taught at an institution that didn’t allow its teachers to have copies of evaluations — we had to go into a room to look at them, and then return them to the registrar. Evidence of excellence in teaching for those years is not available to me; is there anything else I can do?

  23. At my university, if someone refers to themselves as “instructor of record” it usually means they did not actually teach the class, they just had responsibility for it (“of record” perhaps means “on paper”). I think “instructor” is enough.

  24. As someone who has taught as an adjunct at a number of different schools, there’s very little standardization across my evaluations–i.e. even the quantitative questions are different. Any suggestions for how to elegantly compile disparate types of evaluations?

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