by Katherine Dugan
Katherine Dugan is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Springfield College in Massachusetts. She earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Northwestern University in 2015 and spent two years on the job market before her current position. She studies contemporary Catholicism in the U.S. while teaching a range of religion courses. The teaching demonstration part of on-campus interviews is, I think, one of the most awkward parts of these marathon-styled interviews. As candidates, we are charged with showing that we can teach, but have to do so with an unknown set of students, often in a course that is unrelated to what we would actually teach in the position, and do so while members of the faculty making undergraduates in a classroom uncomfortable (and tight-lipped!). All the while, we have to show knowledge in subject area and ability to engage students. The task is daunting!
Regardless of this inherent awkwardness, teaching demonstrations are common parts of on-campus interviews, especially on SLACs and institutions with heavy teaching loads. These institutions tend to be concerned with our ability to communicate effectively with their students. In this post, I want to outline three goals of teaching demonstrations and provide suggestions on how you can meet those goals through your demonstration.
While there are a wide variety of scenarios for teaching demos, they share three main goals.
The first is to see if all of the great words in your teaching statement/philosophy actually apply to the way you teach. Since you’ve landed the on-campus interview, feel confident that the committee likes what you have to say about teaching. They know from your materials that you are competent in the subject and that you know how to talk the talk of current pedagogical trends. But now they need to know if you can actually do it.
You can meet this goal my aligning your documents, interview, and on-campus teaching interview. Plan to demonstrate a piece of your teaching style that you described in the conference/phone/Skype interview or teaching philosophy. From my own experience, I took care to describe my ability to prompt in-class discussion through small groups. I made sure to show that in my demonstrations. If you have promised that you are a rockstar at having students dig into texts, have a short paragraph for them to work on. If you have trumpeted your ability to explain a complex topic clearly, do that.
The second goal of a teaching demonstration is to see how you align with the demographics of their students. Committees want to know that you can relate to what they think of as their very unique student population. If they have a diversity initiative in the forefront of their minds, they want to see you teach to diverse population of students. If faculty feel that the institution caters to pre-professional students, they want to see that you can spark students’ interest in a general education requirement. Committees need to see how you engage with their undergraduate students.
This goal is in the more nebulous character of “fit” in the hiring process. But you can do a lot to de-mystify this as you meet this goal. During your preliminary interview, ask the committee about their students. Pay attention to how some of the faculty describe the student population on campus. Do some research: visit the institution’s website and Facebook pages; watch any videos of students talking about their professors or about their reasons for choosing to attend this school. I once actually found a Youtube video of one of a committee member teaching his own class. Ask any of your peers if they know anything about this institution. Make a list of the characteristics of students and keep it in mind as you design your demonstration. You won’t be able to cater to every possible student, but work to have a feel for the demographics.
The third goal of these teaching demonstrations is for over-worked faculty with a heavy teaching load to determine what kind of colleague you will be. Will you contribute to a dynamic teaching environment or will negative course evaluations be a drag on their department? Will you need a lot of hand-holding to get through the semester or are you a confident and competent new professor? Will you bring students into your classes or have to scrounge to fill seats? This is the sales pitch part of your teaching demonstration. You want to show the department that you are an asset and that you will make their lives easier. Of course, you will be doing this throughout the on-campus interview, but it is particularly important during the teaching demonstration.
You can meet this goal by take charge of the room when it is handed over to you. The 30-40 minutes you have for this teaching demonstration is not the time to ask permission or appear meek. This is the time for you to provide clear management of the classroom. Practice your presentation until you know it backwards and forwards. Outline your objectives for the class period and write them on the board or include on a powerpoint slide. Give clear instructions for activities you want students to do (provide handouts with concise guidelines). Speak confidently, stand tall, and do not fidget. Lighten the mood with a quick joke or two (not too much; you are a professor, not a goofball). But please do not undercut your classroom authority by laughing at yourself. Try to ignore the observing faculty—they are watching you, not engaging with you. Treat the students like human beings by doing things like asking them to tell you their names and responding to them. These stylistic choices will show that you are prepared to be a partner in the high teaching demands.
While there are certainly additional goals of teaching demonstrations unique to each kind of position and style of demonstration, these three are generalizable. To meet these goals: (1) Show you can do what you say you can do; (2) Demonstrate your fit with the student population; and (3) Take charge of the classroom.