We tend to ask candidates on campus visits to do either a teaching demo, some sort of research talk, or sometimes both. Today, I'd like to talk a bit about the teaching demo.
We're a "teaching institution," so maybe it makes sense to ask candidates to do some sort of teaching demo, but I'm never quite clear on what we're looking for. Usually only the search committee and the instructor for whatever class the demo is in are at the teaching demo, so it's not like the whole department is watching.
What's the point, then?
I suspect we want to see if the candidate will outright abuse the students or freeze up or something? I can't really imagine either happening, so I'm not sure what we learn.
When we do observations of colleagues, we're pretty careful to follow a process of asking the colleague what they're trying to accomplish in the class session, and how they plan to do whatever it is, what potential issues they're having, and so on. And then we talk after the observation, and give the colleague a chance to say that they changed their plans, thought this worked or that didn't, and so on, and then give them what should be constructive, developmental feedback.
But the teaching demo doesn't have that level of process, and certainly not feedback.
When I interviewed here, I guest taught a Shakespeare class on Macbeth. If I recall correctly, it was the first day the class was working on the play, so I started at the beginning. That makes me think that there's some information a candidate should ask for or be given before the demonstration.
What's the course, level, experience, and how long has the course been meeting? If it's the first day of class, then you're going to expect different things than if it's the middle of the semester; students, for example, are likely to be more at ease speaking with each other later in the semester, but may also have developed relationships, good or bad, that might make things work or not.
How does this day fit in the course calendar and syllabus, and what is the instructor hoping gets done that day. So, for me, first day of Macbeth, it would also have helped to know how many hours the instructor was planning to spend on the play. If I'm supposed to do the whole play in an hour, I'll take a very different approach than if I'm planning to spend six hours on the play. It's a world apart.
Are there specific readings or whatever. Macbeth is pretty specific, of course, but also the edition might matter, or assigned critical readings, what's been done before, and so on. I'll teach Macbeth differently in the context of a witchcraft course than in a hit the genres Shakespeare course, and differently again in an intro to literature course.
Size matters. If the class has 15 students, you can do things you can't do in a class of 60, especially as a visitor.
How long is your teaching supposed to last? Is it a three hour class and you get the first half hour? Or is it an hour, and you should take the whole thing?
As I'm thinking about it, I guess as a committee member, I want to see that the candidate has some sense of how to run a classroom, and can engage students. I want to see that the candidate seems purposeful and aimed at getting somewhere. And I want the candidate to be able to talk (if we're chatting later) about what they were after.
How about you folks? Do you do teaching demos? And what, if anything, do you want to learn about your candidates?
And for candidates, do you have thoughts on teaching demos that you're willing to share? Are there things your hosts can do to make these work better as a way to show us how good you are?