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I would appreciate clarification on the following aspect of joining academia as a junior faculty member. I have seen a number of advertised positions for junior faculty, which often involve a teaching component. However, a particular timing aspect is not clear enough to me: if, for example, a position advertisement mentions "vacancy, starting August 2015", does it imply:

A) that a candidate by that time is expected to have a portfolio of developed courses, expected to be taught in that position, or, at least, similar courses that could be easily customized; OR

B) that August 2015 is just a position's start time, but a candidate will be given adequate time to develop corresponding required courses, including necessary materials, after the start date?

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I think this is a false dichotomy. In the US, you are generally expected to be able to teach a course your first semester. You shouldn't need to have the course fully prepared in order to start teaching it, though. You can prepare as you go.

Also, many departments in STEM fields back off on their standard teaching load for junior faculty during the first year to give you some time to prepare your first courses, so you might get a 1-1 your first year instead of the usual 2-1 (or whatever). This kind of thing varies quite a lot from department to department, but there is usually some sort of consideration given to let you ramp up some classes.

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    And they often try to give you easy classes to teach at the beginning (at least in departments where you faculty don't "own" courses). – Kimball Jun 30 '15 at 13:48
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    You don't have to deliver all the lectures, assignments, and exams on the first day of class, therefore, you may begin preparation as soon as you know what class(es) you are to teach. Once you have an outline, syllabus (often required by law not just your department), and the first few lectures prepared, you will find yourself working on lectures that are a few lectures to a few weeks ahead of where you are actually teaching. This is just how it has to work. First time teachers do not necessarily deliver award-winning lectures. Departments understand this. Quality improves over time. – Bill Barth Jun 30 '15 at 13:59
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    It's typical to assign a new faculty member to teach a section or two of a large multi-section course along with more experienced faculty who can provide guidance and even lecture notes. In my experience, departments try to make things as easy as possible for a new faculty member. – Brian Borchers Jun 30 '15 at 14:42
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    @BrianBorchers, that's assuming there even is such a course. My undergraduate Aerospace Engineering department had no multi-section courses at all. It did have some very introductory courses, but they liked to get a senior faculty member with lots of experience to teach the very most basic one, "Introduction to Aerospace Engineering". I can see how a math department might let junior folks help teach Calculus I, but there's lots of departments where first-timers are going to get thrown right into a more challenging course. – Bill Barth Jun 30 '15 at 14:45
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    @Kimball, I'm trying to be encouraging here. I've certainly been between 2 minutes and 2 weeks ahead. It just depends on the week! – Bill Barth Jul 1 '15 at 1:45
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A position starting in August almost certainly expects you to immediately teach courses for the academic Fall Term. As a junior/first-year instructor, the courses and their general expected learning outcomes will typically be dictated to you, and you will likely be expected to use whatever textbook and resources were indicated while students registered for classes during the Spring and Summer.*

In order to make this expectation reasonable, a few concessions are made. Normally instructors are expected to handle academic advising for a certain number of the students in their subject area, but it's common to waive this requirement for first year instructors. This allows new instructors to devote more office time to preparing lesson plans and the like, and helps avoid advising mistakes from instructors who are not yet familiar with the degree plans in their area. You may also have one course fewer on your load than is normally expected, or you may be granted an extension on when your full syllabi must be posted. Finally, you may be given access to materials from prior or concurrent sections of the same course as taught by other instructors.

But, when it comes down to it, that first year you'll likely still find yourself writing lesson plans the week and day before delivering them. In the current climate, be grateful for a tenure-track position at all :/


*Note that this isn't a matter of infringing your academic freedom; it's just that there won't be time for you to start from scratch, and you should still expect full academic freedom as you get your legs under you in the new position.

  • Nice and clear answer - your help is much appreciated (+1). – Aleksandr Blekh Jun 30 '15 at 18:07
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When you apply to most positions (except at the very highest tier), you are asked to provide a teaching portfolio. This could include courses that you've taught, syllabuses, teaching evaluations, a statement of your teaching philosophy, etc.

When you give a job talk, you may also be asked to give a guest lecture in a class or before undergraduates as a means of assessing your capacity as a teacher.

The assumption here is that you've already been teaching or been a teacher's assistant -- and can jump immediately into full-time teaching from Day 1.

The university might do some things to make it easier -- a course release or perhaps allow you teach a course where the syllabus is fixed. Or perhaps a high-level seminar where they only expect 3-4 seniors or grad students. But they don't have to and many PhDs have been thrown into 3:3:2 teaching loads with none of that.

Now, everyone knows that the first several years of teaching are difficult. So don't worry if your courses aren't as fully baked as they should be or if you have some negative reviews. Tenure and promotion committees are interested in positive and upward trajectories -- so at least you'll have the ability to show this!

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    Thank you for useful and encouraging answer (+1). Could you clarify what those ratios that you and Bill Barth mentioned in your answers (1:1, 2:1; 3:3:2) mean? As for teaching experience, my situation is somewhat unique, because I haven't had a chance to be a TA (due to family circumstances); however, I have a relatively diverse experience in non-university teaching and advising (which includes informal and formal high school students tutoring, online and offline advising on various topics as well as teaching corporate IT classes). – Aleksandr Blekh Jul 1 '15 at 4:27
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    It refers to the teaching load. 2:2 is two courses per semester on a semester basis. 3:3:2 is on the quarter system: three courses for the first two semesters, 2 courses on the last. – RoboKaren Jul 1 '15 at 5:07

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