Thursday, October 25, 2007

"evidence of teaching effectiveness"

(Yech! It’s hot. I’m hot. Not as bad as yesterday (90 degrees) when I was dressed up (yay boots! ugh sweat!), but it is still strangely hot for October. Bleah. In other news, the fire up here is contained, though I don’t know about the rest of the Southland. I’m debating whether to go to a cultural event tonight (heat=laziness) and I sent out 6 apps, I think, plus 4 or 5 yesterday, so I'm barely making it along my timeline so far.)

So I have been rolling along through my applications, doing the “easy” ones with early deadlines and leaving the ones with “extra” stuff for later. So now I’m calling on the internets for help again: “evidence of teaching effectiveness”??? What do they want for that? And is it going to be boring and annoying to put together? Because I don’t do well with heat and annoyingness; I may as well go to that performance tonight then instead.

I poked around a bit and some sources of online advice suggest a “teaching portfolio,” including everything from sample syllabi and course assignments to a letter by someone who has observed your teaching. Other web sites say “just bundle up all the narrative comments and statistical breakdowns of evaluations for the classes you have taught and send those in.” WTF!?!!? These must be for Fancypants McPanterson grads who have taught at most a couple classes. I have 6 years of evaluations from about 4 different departments doing vastly different subjects, some of which have nothing to do with my actual specialty and others that have nothing to do with the kinds of jobs I am applying for. See?:

(A view of my miraculous library cube/room --- have I mentioned how much I love librarians and my library? It's true! They love me so much they let me have a room with a door that locks --- better than some of the departments I've TA'd for, I tell you! This lets me go to the bathroom without packing up my laptop and every thing I brought every freakin' time. And yes, I have had thefts from the TA cubicle farm, so I am not merely paranoid. Well, I'm paranoid on top of being justified in this case.)

In the above photo, you will notice my zillion-pound stack of evaluations. If I have to send all that, I’m going to break my back down at the post office. Do you seriously want me to read through all that and summarize all of it? That looks like a fucking dissertation project right there. Hmm… just do the most recent class(es), you say? The problem with that is that our department loves its shiny and new students, only to cast them aside as they grow older and less cute. This leaves the school with large packs of semi-feral advanced grad students who scavenge on the edges of the campus, snatching at whatever leftover funding might be available in odd places while snarling rabidly.

Case in point: after much scrounging I finally managed to get one (1) TAship offer for this fall --- in the environmental sciences dept. Now, I think I can teach pretty much anything at the introductory level: it’s about being able to read better than the students and have discussion-leading skills, no? But I actually turned it down, despite it paying for my fees and health care and keeping my loans down and seeming interesting and fun, because I thought I needed to focus all my time and energy on the job market and finishing (hah!) the dissertation.

What all this means is that the most recent classes I have TA’d or taught are far outside my field, and the ones within my field are back from when I was not as good a teacher. (I should hope I have improved over time, at least!) So, what to send? How to reflect all this crap? Where can I find some magic job market gnomes to compile this information for me?

So, internets ---- what should I send to prove that I have not only taught, but taught “effectively”?


Renaissance Girl said...

Listen--in all seriousness: when I was nearing the end of my grad school life, my "job" was to teach job-marketing grad students how to put together a teaching portfolio. I'd be glad to help, but it'll probably be a more extensive conversation than a blog comment. Let me know if you're interested.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Do your evaluations have a summary page? That would suffice. They probably don't care much about what field you've taught in most recently. It's not like you forget how to teach things from a few years earlier.

I used to include a table of all classes taught, including term, number of students enrolled, anything notable (online, lab, etc.), and mean evaluation score. It nicely summarized things. Then I included a sample syllabus and maybe a sample of an assignment that I was proud of (plus a sample of student work, if it was feasible/handy/interesting to include -- often with my comments/grading included).

St. Eph said...

I have not a thing of use to offer, but I had to make mention that the image of "large packs of semi-feral advanced grad students who scavenge on the edges of the campus, snatching at whatever leftover funding might be available in odd places while snarling rabidly" just made my goddamned day. Which is saying something.

Flavia said...

No one, anywhere, wants all your teaching evals. But it's perfectly legit to cull some of the best narrative comments, and to provide email correspondence from students who have praised you, and that sort of thing (I'd stick just with courses in your field, but be sure that you announce that that's what you're doing). That, combined with the numerical scores in a couple of relevant categories from your evals for courses in your field, and some sample grade distributions, would seem to me to be sufficient.

But do more than just send in averages: type up a couple of interpretative sentences explaining what you think these things mean (so, if you have a *high* grade distribution, point out that it was a class of all senior majors; if you have a *low* distribution but pretty good scores and some rocking comments, point out that you got good feedback despite being a tough grader).

The point is to be selective. Don't be deceptive, of course, but it's appropriate to highlight your best moments as long as they're generally representative of your abilities.

An actual teaching portfolio follows the same principles, although it involves more stuff. It's time-consuming to assemble but doesn't actually require many braincells. I'm sure RenGirl has better advice than I on that score, though, if you decide to go that route.

gwoertendyke said...

yes, what flavia said, this is the advice i have been given also. and i would send things from your recent classes--pick your best self, no matter outside your field it is, then be prepared to talk about how you would teaching your field, survey, etc.

good all sucks, doesn't it???

gwoertendyke said...

jesus, sorry about the half-baked sentences--"how" "teach"--lo siento.

Sisyphus said...

Thanks for all the advice everyone! Actually, though, I was hoping everyone would tell me I didn't have to actually do anything. (I can dream, right?)

I am pleased to have made someone's day. :)

Flavia, I'm going to have to be doing this shit regularly once I get a job, then? Sigh.

I pulled some comments from the Spring class (why does WS use such stupid evals? My summer comments were useless for this.) and I guess I'll work up some sort of cover page for it. (Profgrrrl, you scare me with your organized-ness! I aspire to your greatness.)

The good news is that once I have the packet made up, it's just a copy-and-stuffit for each subsequent mailing, right?

The Constructivist said...

Depends on what stage and what they're asking for. In my dept., we only ask for a letter and c.v. upfront, so the evidence of teaching effectiveness will necessarily be scanty. Teaching awards stand out, as does the ability to make your research interesting, as does a non-boilerplate teaching paragraph or two, as do courses in or near the areas noted in our ad.

At a later stage, you'll need more evidence. You should ask your letter writers to observe and describe your teaching if you haven't already. You might consider including some syllabi you've designed, along with assignment sheets. (If you're really ambitious, maybe a good and bad paper with comments, too.) Definitely contextualizing whatever statistical/narrative summaries you're providing is a good idea. The good news is, do it once and you can do it for any job. And you have a template for your first-year renewal once you do get that tenure-track job waiting for you!