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I am applying for an assistant professor position at a research university (in one of the hard sciences). It is stated in the announcement that some teaching will be required, and a teaching statement is needed for for the application.

I only have limited teaching experience. I have never taught a full semester course. I have helped out colleagues by teaching their courses for 1-2 weeks at a time, while they were travelling. Thus I taught as many as 7-8 different subjects, mostly graduate courses, but always for a very short time (except once, when I did it for 2 months).

I did enjoy these short opportunities to teach and I was hoping to be able to teach a full course at some point, but at my current job this was unfortunately impossible for a number of reasons outside of my control.

Will this lack of experience seriously harm my application? How should I approach writing the teaching statement in my situation? I do have opinions on how to each effectively in the classroom, but they may be naïve: they are based more on my experience as a student than as a teacher. I am even less confident about laying out a syllabus for a full semester (what is too much or too little, best organization, etc. -- following a textbook is not always an option).

Should I describe and discuss my background at length? I fear that doing so will highlight my inexperience too much. But not doing so makes it difficult to beyond generalities.

  • I have seen similar questions on this site. Mine is different in that this is not primarily a teaching job and in that I do have at least some experience, but worry that it is just not enough. – Applicant Dec 30 '16 at 13:56
  • No time for a full answer, but note: your experience level will be obvious, you do not need to worry about "highlighting your inexperience." It is always better to be specific, even if you have limited experience. – AJK Dec 30 '16 at 19:41
  • Are you a finishing PhD student, or have you done some postdoctoral work? How your teaching experience compares to fellow applicants depends upon your career stage (for example, among finishing graduate students, you're actually reasonably close to the average). – Greg Martin Dec 30 '16 at 19:53
  • Will this lack of experience seriously harm my application? - It really depends on the school/department/position. – Kimball Dec 30 '16 at 22:44
  • @GregMartin Actually I have been a postdoc for several years, but at my current appointment it was not possible to teach. – Applicant Dec 31 '16 at 8:18
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We can't tell if the lack of teaching experience will hurt you or not; too many variables. But I can share with you how to prepare yourself on this front.

Make a clear inventory of all your guest lectures, reflect on them

Do know that most job market candidates have not taught a full course themselves and nearly none of them had developed a course for real by themselves. Your profile is definitely not in the dismal category so you shouldn't beat yourself up too much. In the teaching experience section, list all of the relevant guest lectures you have done, and make sure to highlight the 2-month one, as it's already 2/3 of a semester. If you can survive 8 weeks, you can likely survive 13 weeks.

Do also recall the title of your talk, class size, undergrad or graduate students, any in-class activities you have used, any evaluations you have applied (assignment, quiz), and if you can get a hold on your colleagues whom you helped, check if their course evaluations had any entries that are pertinent to your performance and ask if they would allow you to quote them.

Also, since it's a research institute, it'd be important to document your 1-on-1 mentoring experience as well. Any entries on supervising students or postdocs should also be captured.

With this inventory listed in front of you, try to dive deeper to remember how and why you explained the concept a certain way, why you decided the sequence of slides/notes were better this way. New teachers often worked on hunches, but most hunches have some reasons behind them. And most of them are a direct manifestation from their experience as a student. So, in fact I think it's totally fine that you based some of your teaching philosophy on your student identity.

Develop a clear set of vocabularies in learning and education

There are a few titles I enjoyed and found useful when learning how to teach:

If you have access to these titles, definitely check them out. You should be able to garner a healthy amount of concepts and vocabularies about teaching, and apply them appropriately in your teaching statement. By the end you should be able to sensibly talk about things like Bloom's taxonomy, backward engineering of syllabi, action words in learning objectives, summative and formative assessments, etc.

Some schools (perhaps your current one as well) periodically conduct teacher development workshops. While you're there you can also try to enroll in some of them, or at least contact them for online or published references on learning theories and teaching methodology. They will also be an excellent source for sample teaching philosophy.

(I think) there is no recipe for teaching philosophy

I have come to a conclusion myself that there really isn't a golden formula for how to write a good teaching philosophy. It is really an authentic statement about your current teacher's state of mind. (I looked at my teaching philosophy written 4 years ago and I found that silly as well.) A little bit of naivete is not going to hurt you.

What I found, however, is that it's easier to develop this document if you sit down and ponder about 3-5 statements starting with: "I believe learning should be..." and then elaborate from there. If you have done your inventory and literature review meticulously, you should be able to come up with a few that resonate with you.

It is also common to mention what kind of courses you're ready to teach. Most committee members would find that easier to imagine how to incorporate you into the teaching roster.

Seek help from peers

And since you mentioned you have helped some other faculty pals, definitely consider getting their feedback on your teaching philosophy. The people working at the faculty development will also be a good resource if you don't wish to publicize your job hunting.

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    And somewhere in these materials, acknowledge that full-course teaching was not an option at your current institution, and that you're looking forward (if that's accurate) to developing that part of your skillset as well. (And meanwhile, look here at all the cool things I voluntarily did even when I had no assigned teaching...!) – Greg Martin Dec 31 '16 at 8:34
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I've been on hiring committees for adjuncts and full time instructors at the community college I work for (I support our online courses and teach for the ITE dept. as an adjunct).

We do look at what has been taught, at what level. We look for experience with things like lesson planning, planning content for an entire semester, how students grades are computed (labs vs projects vs exams). Being in IT Education, we also look for real world experience, industry certifications, the skill set we need filled (can't really use a networking guru to teach iOS/Android programming), etc. just like any other job.

One thing that we always do is have candidates do a 15-30 minute "teach us". We give a topic that has a few areas that tend to give confusion on first introduction and see how they do. From what I understand most academic departments on campus do this when hiring adjuncts and faculty.

A total lack of "real" teaching (full term at a similar or the same institution in the same or similar department) isn't nearly as detrimental as a lack of any kind of teaching. And since everyone has to start somewhere, the "teach us" gives us a chance to see what the candidate can bring to the table.

Re: Teaching philosophy - yes, we do get into that. Teaching to certification tests, good or bad? Why? What is better for evaluating the type of learning we care about (trying to product a halfway decent junior programmer or network admin) - exams or projects? Why? Should we consider attendance as part of the grade (heck, my 7th grader doesn't have it as part of his grades!), etc.

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I will give a partial answer because you've already got two good answers. I will provide one suggestion that was not covered previously.

When you are in the classroom as a student, you of course notice some things the instructor does well, and some not so well. But you are primarily there to learn.

When you go into a classroom as an observer, you are free to devote yourself entirely to the observation role. You can take notes that focus on what's working in the teaching and what's not, and you can observe the level of engagement of the students.

You can prepare for this application, and for a teaching job, by observing classes and keeping a journal about your observations. Doing this in conjunction with your reading would be the best way to go about it.

I think it's okay to be honest in your essay. Try to strike a balance that projects self-confidence, humility, and a willingness to learn from your students and from your colleagues.

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