The Staged Teaching Demonstration

If you are an instructor, when you applied for your current teaching position, were you required to give a demonstration of your teaching ability? The answer to this question may depend upon how long you’ve been at your school. Many years ago, it was uncommon to require even finalists to demonstrate, but the practice has become commonplace.

For an informed discussion of this topic, see Matt Reed’s take, in Inside Higher Ed.

It is reasonable to think that, if someone wants to be a teacher, they should show their stuff. On the other hand, there has always been a certain degree of artificiality in staged demonstrations. Um… they are staged, after all.

Then there are logistics. Getting all observers together in a room for several demonstrations can be tricky. Some schools deputize students to participate, but which students? They should probably be as typical as possible, but that’s a tough chore to pull off.

One way around the staged demonstration is to require each applicant to send a video for the audience to view. It would be interesting to see if all members of the panel sat through every presentation. But you can find out quickly in a video if the applicant for a chemistry position knows a lot of chemistry. You can probably accomplish the same thing with an interview.

Another workaround might be to require presentations only of those with limited or no teaching experience. Someone fresh out of school might be knowledgeable about subject matter, but have trouble communicating. This would certainly be good to know. For experienced teachers, applicants should have a trail of recommendations from previous employers, and perhaps samples of student evaluations. These sources can be problematic, too, however.

What if a teacher does not use lecture as pedagogy, as recommended by many reformers? What’s there to present? Copies of recent syllabi might help for experienced teachers or a proposed model syllabi for those starting out.

Teaching is a very idiosyncratic craft—more so than almost any other profession.