First off, here are the teaching-related questions we asked in our interviews:
- Describe for us the worst course you ever taught and why, and the best course you ever taught and why.
- How would you approach general education courses for non-majors?
- How do you approach teaching students with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds?
- Describe how you would teach courses in area A and/or area B (our requested AOS's).
- What are some specific methods or approaches that you use in your classes to enhance student learning?
- What are some of your long-term teaching goals (for example, topics you would like to teach, techniques you would like to try, areas where you'd like to improve, etc.)?
I won't comment on candidates' responses to each and every question but rather point to some themes that linked the responses that impressed us the most.
First, some candidates answered virtually every question in terms of (a) course content (which topics, textbooks, etc they have taught or would teach), and or (b): evaluation (how many papers and exams they do). Obviously some discussion of content and evaluation is appropriate, but candidates whose answers fixated on content or evaluation did not impress, for the following reasons:
- It can get awfully tedious to hear people talk this way. It's like they're reading a syllabus (a syllabus which we may already have in their application materials anyway!).
- We sometimes were not in a position to know if the candidates' content was well-chosen. With respect to one of our requested AOS's, no one on the search committee had much background in the area, so we weren't really in a position to know if opting for this textbook over that one, for instance, is a good choice pedagogically or not.
- Most importantly, those who fixated on content and evaluation seemed less reflective than those who could more thoughtfully talk about teaching goals, challenges, methods, etc. I.e., it just doesn't seem like rocket science to be able to select some topics and a general evaluative scheme for an Introduction to Philosophy course. I don't mean to trivialize the challenges presented by the choices we have to make about content or evaluation, but I suspect most any philosopher can make those choices competently. What separates competent instructors from the excellent ones are that the latter have a better understanding of how to enable students to learn said content and demonstrate their mastery of that content via different evaluation instruments.
Second, in addition to being able to talk about how to help students learn, the candidates that performed best had a sense of their self-development as teachers. Several of our questions (1 and 6 in particular) require candidates to refer, at least implicitly, to their development as teachers, and I have to say, a number of candidates were flummoxed by them. It was as if they possessed a very limited pedagogical vision of themselves — teachers with no past and no future.
Third, candor goes a long way. We fully expect candidates without a specialization in X to, say, "of course I'd be interested in teaching a course on X." But it made a favorable impression when a candidate said things like, "no, I've never taught X and know very little about X, but if the department needed someone to teach X, I'd be willing, even though I'd need some time to investigate X a bit."
Finally, be detailed. With respect to questions 1, 2, 3, and 5, some candidates struggled to get past generalities and pieties. The best candidates left us with something concrete that illuminated the core of their pedagogical philosophy.