Search-Committee Confidential

I’ve been thinking lately, as a serial search-committee member, about some of the standard questions we ask candidates and the answers we’re looking for. At the risk of drawing back the curtain and revealing the great and powerful wizard, I’d like to share some of those with you.

Question: Tell us how you use technology in the classroom.

What we want to know: If you’re familiar with, comfortable with, and willing to use some of the more common types of instructional technology, and if you have any special expertise — such as in teaching online — that might be of use to us.

What we really want to know: If you can turn on a computer.

Bad answer: “Lately I’ve been experimenting quite a bit with (name of obscure hardware here), using the latest (name of obscure software package here) technology. In fact, last year when I was at DragonCon. . . .”

Better answer: “I’ve always used computers in my classrooms in some form or another. For instance, a couple of years ago I starting bringing in YouTube videos to illustrate my point about how many television commercials use a form of emotional appeal. Then we’ll go online and pull up an editorial from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. That helps my students understand the difference between lower and higher forms of reasoning in a way that they find meaningful and relevant. Also, even though I haven’t actually taught an online course yet, I’ve been working on getting all of my course materials online so that perhaps I could move in that direction in the future, if there’s a need.”

Why it’s a better answer: It references some common applications that committee members can relate to and is specific about the way those applications are used and the impact they have on students. That sort of response also indicates a willingness to try new things in order to meet the needs of the department. The applicant comes across as a teacher who uses technology, not as a technologist who happens to teach.

Question: Tell us about your experiences working in a diverse institution.

What we want to know: That you understand what to expect in a community-college classroom and that you have some experience dealing with students of different ages, ethnicities, and needs.

What we really want to know: That you’re not going to freak out when you discover that the 22 students in your freshman composition course range in age from 16 to 73 and represent six ethnicities, 17 nationalities, and eight religions.

Bad answer: “I had two African-American students in the undergraduate course I taught as a grad assistant at Prestigious U.”

Better answer: “One of the reasons I want to teach at a two-year college is that I enjoy the diversity of the community-college classroom, not only ethnically and culturally but in terms of age and life experiences. I think that sort of diversity brings a lot to a class discussion. For example, last semester I was teaching a story by Amy Tan, and we happened to have an older Chinese-American student in the class who was able to help the other students understand some of the customs and cultural differences that Tan describes. That really enriched the learning experience for everyone in the class.”

Why it’s a better answer: For obvious reasons, but in particular because it indicates that the candidate understands what to expect at a community college and also cites a specific classroom example linking an experience involving diversity to the candidate’s teaching.

Question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

What we want to know: If we hire you, are you planning to stay?

What we really want to know: Are we going to have to do another stinkin’ search next year?

Bad answer: “Since I have a Ph.D. from Prestigious U., and most of you appear to have gone to ag school, I imagine I’ll be running the place by then.”

Better answer: “I applied here because I was impressed with what I saw on your Web site and because I like the area. I’m looking forward to being able to devote myself full time to my teaching and doing what it takes to be a good colleague and eventually earn tenure. At some point, I might be interested in getting into administration, perhaps as a department chair, if there’s a need, but I haven’t really thought much about that yet. Ten years from now, I want to be a much better and more experienced teacher without losing any of the passion I have for teaching right now.”

Why it’s a better answer: Duh.

In closing, please allow me one disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that you make up anything, say things that aren’t true, be disingenuous, or shamelessly suck up. The “good” answers I offered are, of course, just examples, meant to illustrate the sorts of information you should include. Please don’t simply repeat my answers by rote in your best Eddie Haskell tone. (Note to Gen Y’ers: Google him.) Remember, someone on the search committee may have read this blog post, too.

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