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A model lesson is a usual element in interviews for the faculty level positions. Normally this is not a full lesson but a 15-minute version which is performed in absence of actual students for just a few professors from a hiring committee. It is supposed to demonstrate "your teaching style", but by design this is clearly a different enterprise: you should "act normal" doing "the same" things

  1. in a different time-frame,
  2. for a different audience,
  3. with completely different motivation and
  4. under exorbitant cost of failure.

Having said this, I also acknowledge the model lesson as indeed a much needed element of the interview, which helps to assess a candidate's set of relevant skills.

The question is how one can ideally prepare to give such a model lesson. Putting aside obvious things like "structure of the talk," "clear slides," "projection of the voice," and "body language", which normally should be already trained by experience, are there specific things that should be taken into account for the model lesson only? What about techniques like jokes, questions to the audience (e.g. how many of you are familiar with the definition of the derivative), work in pairs, which you probably use in a real classroom — is it a good idea to demonstrate them in a room full of senior professors? I am a little confused.

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May I ask: is this a common scenario in Europe? In my experience, in the US: (i) if you are applying for a job at a research university you will give a research talk only; (ii) if you are applying for a job at a teaching/liberal arts college, you may still give a research talk, and you will probably also teach a class, but a real class: i.e., of full length, and to actual students. The format that you describe seems so artificial so as to select primarily for people who can get past its weirdness. –  Pete L. Clark Jul 7 at 1:22
It is quite common in the UK, afaik, since they are very much in the "teaching & research" mode. I can not say for the rest of the EU. –  Dmitry Savostyanov Jul 7 at 7:03
@PeteL.Clark: I teach at a community college in the US, and the 15-minute format described by the OP is exactly what we use for interviews. You simply don't try to present a large amount of material. –  Ben Crowell Jul 7 at 16:42
@Ben: That's interesting. I have little direct experience with CC's except that both my parents taught in that system (in English departments). My father's department was enormously large (over 100 faculty, I believe), so I can imagine that the hiring process needs to be streamlined compared to what I am used to. Do your 15-minute teaching segments involve actual students? –  Pete L. Clark Jul 7 at 16:53
@PeteL.Clark: No, just the committee, who pretend to be students. It wouldn't be practical to have candidates teach a guest lecture. We typically have 6-8 candidates for the first interview, and our teaching schedules are such that the committee can only meet on a Friday, when there are no classes. We march each candidate in and out in an hour, of which the majority consists of answering a list of interview questions. –  Ben Crowell Jul 7 at 18:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Having done this, I'd advise:

  • Take it really seriously. In places where candidates are judged equally on teaching and research, the model lesson could really make the difference. Strong researchers may neglect it, relying on their publication/citation record.
  • Make sure you prepare for the expected audience (in my case, 1st year students), not the actual audience (academics).
  • Feel free to use techniques you would use in a classroom, but then use "time jumps" to indicate that the activity has taken place. The problem with this is that if you have follow up questions, there may be no answers and the lecture may fall flat.
  • Don't forget "learning objectives" and "lecture structure" up front, and other guidelines for students throughout (though you probably can only show one such thing).
  • Practice more than you would practice for an actual lecture.
  • No corny jokes. If you cannot tell whether a joke is corny, then assume it is. In fact, beware of jokes. Relying on natural humour is probably better.
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Nice answer. I've been on a number of committees where we had our candidates do this. In addition to the points you listed, I would list a few more. (1) If someone on the committee asks a typical student's question, respond as you would to a student. I often ask a question that shows a common student misconception, and candidates often don't seem able to recognize that and respond appropriately. (2) Feel free to say, "as you know from the reading," pass out a sample reading quiz, say, "as we discussed in the first half of the class," etc. (3) Don't be afraid to use active learning techniques. –  Ben Crowell Jul 7 at 16:47
Wow, this is some real improv / performance art stuff! –  Pete L. Clark Jul 7 at 19:11
@PeteL.Clark ...just like real teaching, no? –  JeffE Jul 7 at 19:33
@JeffE: Maybe. Remind me to end my next lecture with "and.... scene." –  Pete L. Clark Jul 7 at 20:18

I participated to this kind of interviews, as an applicant as well as a committe member. For the exemple, I will assume that you are applying to a position as a maths teacher.

  • As Dave Clarke mentioned, prepare for the expected audience. If your are expected to teach to maths major in a very good institution, it is not a big problem to show off your skills by lecturing at a level a little bit above the expected audience's level. But avoid this if your expected audience is notoriously weak or non maths majors. I got rejected once because I was "too good" for the position.
  • To prepare the lecture, you should study the curriculum of the institution you will be teaching. You usually can find it on the institution's website. It is important since it helps you to do the lecture at right level, but also helps you to connect your lecture to other topics (especially when your expected students are not maths major) studied by your future students. It will make you more comfortable for the questions that usually follow the interview.
  • Only do things you usually do in class. An interview is definitely not the place to experiment a new teaching method. Last month, a candidate with an impressive CV failed an interview in my institution by trying to use a computer and videoprojector, thing he obviously never did before. The result was pityful.
  • Make sure your connect the lecture to the lectures sequence of a real course. So, take time to tell what students should have studied in the previous lectures, and which problems (related to the current lecture) they will solve in future lectures. This is something you probably already do in a normal lecture, but it is especially important here since the committee wants to know if you can organize a complete course.
  • But putting your lecture in context does not mean reviewing the (expected) previous lecture, you have no time for being off-topic.
  • I would not prepare a joke, as if it was a stand-up comedy. But, if an opportunity to make a joke, I would take it in order to make a more decontracted atmosphere. Beside hiring the best teacher, the committee wants to hire someone who they feel comfortable to work with. To sum up, your goal is to appear as a reliable, professional, open-minded and with team spirit person.
  • Even if I do it in class, I would not prepare any activity where the audience participates -or only a very short one-, since it takes too much time (except for a foreign language teacher interview). But I would try to interact as much as I can with the audience through questions.
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I am going to start my PhD in the next six months and I am not at the level you are questioning about. But I want to answer your question as a person who has seen many professors in the classes. Different classes, different lecturers with different teaching styles. I can understand which way could make me more interested in the person's lessons and which not. Just to say, I am an engineering student.

I think that professors who did only write on the blackboard or just sit behind their laptop and show slides do not attract any attention to themselves or to the things they are teaching. Professor should make connection to the ones sitting in his class. Show that you are a hands on guy. You know every step of the problem you are discussing; not just the theories and nothing else. I have seen the professors who know theories so good, but they are not able to solve a simple example and give their students the final result.

He should walk in the class, but not too much. In a normal way, like the one who is tired of being on his chair and wants to relax.

I love the professors who where not that much restrict in their teaching. Some of them did not pay attention to the questions and just wanted to teach their memorized things. On the contrary, I loved the professors who used to talk to the students. The ones who really think about the thing which is being discussed. The ones who do not think that because they are teaching, they know everything. It is more appreciated that a professor think that when he is in a class, he also can learn many things from discussions and reviewing his notes and slides.

As a professor, I think that it is not a bad thing to say something like you do not have any idea about the solution to a problem. Give the student to show his little knowledge and encourage him to talk among other people who follow the talks.

Giving printed notes, problems or even parts of the lecture to the students is amazing. It encourages even the students who usually sleep at the end of the classroom. At least the bored ones are forced to take a look at the teaching materials and brave students are encouraged to see what more is going to be presented that day.

Make the student feel that you give them freedom in what they are learning. For instance, giving them midterm projects instead of midterm exams may encourage them to work more on their course. Because by doing projects, they feel that they are doing something independently and some applications of their courses; not the exams which may be repeated exactly term by term. Moreover, refer to recent publications and papers during your course. Do not only follow chapters of an old-fashioned book. Show that you follow current researches and know how to apply them to your own courses and projects.

Show that you are accessible in the university or by email. By doing this, you show your students that you care for their problems and questions. I am not interested in the professors that only come to their office once a week and that is the time they have to do their teaching duty.

Pay attention at which level you are teaching, is it a BSc freshman course or is it a PhD coarse. Adjust the level of material you are going to present. High level teaching to the low level student will make them bored. The same applies to the students sitting in a classes that does not add to their knowledge.

Pay attention to your mood (do not be sleepy or tired), Always have smile on your face (but not laugh to everything being said in the class), Do not become angry and wear suitable cloths. Sorry to say that, I have seen some professors who even do not comb their hair.

I think that, if you show that you pay to these little things in your classes; you will have good effect on the assessment group.

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-1: You seem to have missed the point of the question: the OP is not teaching an actual class with actual students. He is teaching an abbreviated schematic version of a class to an audience of faculty who are considering hiring him. Your answer does not say anything about this situation. –  Pete L. Clark Jul 7 at 1:17

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