Applying to Teaching Colleges: Tips from the Search Committee
NEMLA Presentation February 28, 2009
Sara E. Quay, Ph.D.
Teaching institutions are most often looking at candidates in terms of 3 areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. You will be hired, evaluated, retained, and promoted based on these categories of professionalism. While some teaching colleges may emphasize scholarship over service (or vice versa) they will all be more interested in a candidate’s skill as a teacher. If you apply to a teaching college, you should be prepared to talk about yourself as a teacher, to do an excellent teaching demonstration (even if it is in the form of a job talk—you are still being assessed as a teacher), and to show evidence that you understand that teaching will be your primary work if hired. This means understanding that you may teach a 3/3, 4/4 or even a 5/5 load—and that you are excited about doing so. You may very well be asked about how you will continue to pursue your scholarship while doing so much teaching. Think carefully about your answer! While you need to be able to be a teacher and a scholar, being a teacher is always first at a teaching college. Now for some details….
1. Curriculum Vita. CVs are an important part of your application and the teaching college looks for pretty much the same information as any other institution: evidence of your teaching, scholarship, and service. We will study your CV especially in terms of the amount of teaching experience you have (what courses you have taught) and the kinds of scholarship in which you are engaged. If you are a newly-minted Ph.D. don’t feel like you need to pad your CV. We know you are just starting out—what we want to determine is whether you are beginning to create a foundation for your professional career in each of the three main areas.
2. Letters of Application. When you write to teaching colleges, don’t use the traditional research university cover letter which describes in great detail your dissertation, research interests etc. While we want to hear briefly about your research, we want to hear even more about what classes you have taught and other work you have done with students outside of the classroom. We also always wonder whether candidates coming from large research institutions know what job they are applying for when they apply to a teaching college. We want to know that you “love to teach and want to do some research,” rather than “love to do research and have to teach.” We want to know that you have an idea about what it means to teach a 3-3 or 4-4 (or even 5-5) load. If there are specific aspects of the college that appeal to you–the mission, programs etc–you might mention those. In other words, show that you know something about school and start to present why you are a good match.
2. Interviews & Campus Visits. If you get an interview, spend a good deal of time studying the college’s website. Read the mission. Look for what makes the institution unique. This is really important. Search committees are disappointed (and candidates usually don’t fare that well) when a candidate doesn’t know anything about the institution. Prepare a few informed questions about the school to ask at the end of the interview (whether on phone or in person).
If you go to campus, you will be asked about your research but you will be asked about your teaching, your experience advising students, and the way you might contribute to the community of a college. Be prepared to talk about this. You may also be asked to do some kind of job talk. Here we are really looking at how well you can engage a group, how clearly you present ideas to people who may or may not be in your discipline; your dissertation research might be interesting, but how would you translate it to a college classroom (perhaps one filled with non-majors)? Keep in mind that your audience may be faculty from across the college, not just your department.
When you talk with the chair of the search committee about your presentation, ask questions about who the audience will be, what the aims of the presentation are, and even something like “can you give me an example of what a successful presentation would look like.” The presentations are crucial at a teaching college because invariably we start connecting what the presentation was like to what will happen in the classroom. Of course you may actually be asked to teach a class, and, if so, try your best to teach something you have already taught before. Sometimes this won’t be possible but if you can, teach a lesson you know worked well for you.
3. Questions to Be Prepared to Answer. How do you handle the increased trend in grade inflation? How do you deal with “problem” students? What kind of contributions will you make to our college community? How will you balance teaching and research? Do you know about our [fill in the college’s signature program: internship, international experience program, senior thesis curriculum, mission etc]? What questions do you have for us? Describe a teaching experience you learned from.
3. Interdisciplinary. At a teaching college, especially a small one, you may not be hired as “a Victorianist” or an “Americanist.” Search committees may be looking for a specific area, but additional areas of interest and/or expertise are a plus. You might want to think of yourself as a generalist with some areas of focus. Teaching colleges are often interested in new courses you might develop and teach. Do some research in the college catalog (most of these are on line) and see what they offer and where you might fit in—or even add to—the curriculum.
4. Job Postings. Not all colleges interview at the MLA! Keep your eye on the Chronicle but also on websites of specific colleges. We often decide to do a search in early spring–due to unexpected retirements or re-allocation of funds–so keep looking.