Teaching Demonstration

I know some people on the board have experience working in higher education, so I turn to the Hive.

I have an interview coming up at a community college for a history instructor position. I’m one of only a few people who’ve made it to this stage, so I’m pretty excited. As part of the interview process, I’m to conduct a 30 minute teaching demonstration.

I’ve done this a few times before, but I have never been really sure what to do. They haven’t given my my topic yet, but I’m assuming it will come from U.S. history. My tendency in a history class is to lecture, and I told the committee as much during the screening interview.

How do I treat them? Do I treat them like a class of college freshmen? Do I assume since my topic would most likely come during the middle of the semester they have background knowledge in American history? Normally, the questions I would ask during a lecture would relate the material to previously studied material or to a homework assignment. Similarly, I wouldn’t have a class discussion without being sure there was some class knowledge there first. At the same time, I know lecture is out of favor with the pedagogical gods, but I believe there is still a place for well crafted lecture in a discipline like history.

Anyway, with that too lengthy background, are there thoughts/suggestions on what I should do or what you’ve done in similar situations?

I can’t speak for college level from my own experience, but even in high school where you are definitely expected to do things other than lecture I have not heard of many deviating from the “deliver a solid lecture” for the demo class. The thing with lecture in terms of pedagogy is that it’s very “teacher-centered”, which is generally meant as a criticism these days but it seems perfectly in keeping with what a prospective employer would want. Discussion, projects, and everything else may be on the menu, but they are all things that are difficult to simulate on the fly (with the notable exception being one of my outstanding science colleagues, who can bring a taste-test of learning science through investigation and experiments in a very portable package).

It’s certainly possible you could do other things that would fit within that format, but if it’s not what you want to do as a professor I don’t see a reason why you’d pretend to be someone your not. I’m sure if you got this far it’s not a deal-breaker.

I’m kind of surprised that they didn’t give you any guidelines as to what you should expect to do. But you can’t go wrong with a mostly self-contained lecture on a tiny but enjoyable piece of something you anticipate teaching.

I should add that in my case (again, high school) I was told to prepare a lesson plan and be ready to teach it, but we ended up just doing the straight interview and talking through the lesson and how it would connect to a broader strategic teaching plan (eg, what aspects of skills development as well as content did it contain, etc).

Good luck, though. Any ideas on what you are going to use as your lesson?

When we have people come in for teaching demonstrations–I teach at a small, private college in Vermont–what they do depends on the position they’re applying for. For our professional programs, the search committees I’ve been on have asked for lectures. The candidates usually but not always approach it as if it was a “real” class, and treat the audience as they would their students. Depending on the topic, they may assume whatever knowledge would be appropriate for that point in the semester, or they might give a fully self-contained lecture. Most of the time, if they ask questions of the “class,” it’s over material that they just covered, or general knowledge stuff.

Now, for the positions in general education, which would include folks with a history background (my doctorate is in history as well, though our gen ed program is interdisciplinary and we don’t hire people to teach a single discipline in the humanities), we expect candidates to do more than just lecture, because none of our gen ed classes are traditional lecture classes. At the institution you’re applying to teach at, I’m guessing they do more or less traditional history classes? In that case, a straight-up lecture is probably ok. It never hurts to show command of the classroom and a desire to involve the students, though, as long as your command of the material is clear as well.

I know that when we bring in candidates, we’re looking for a lot of different things in that demonstration. We assume they know the material, though it’s always good to have that confirmed. After all, we wouldn’t be interviewing them if they didn’t have a Ph.D. in their field. What we really want to know is, are they comfortable in a classroom setting? Can they think on their feet? Would they make a cool person to hang out with (seriously, collegiality is a big part of who gets hired) on campus? Do they get flustered easily, and if they do get flustered, can they recover? Are they imaginative, or locked into a script?

In short, be yourself, be professional, don’t be afraid to show flashes of humor, yes, involve the audience in some way. No matter how good your expertise, I doubt many people are interested in just a sage on the stage and nothing else (unless you’re like a Bancroft and Pulitzer Prize winning author or something). But it does depend on your institution.

Oh, and don’t lecture on Kant. No one wants to hear a lecture about Kant.

Thanks guys.

They are supposed to e-mail me with particulars. If I’m lucky, it’ll be something I’ve taught during the past school year. :) If I don’t hear from them by Tuesday, I’ll ask. (The interview is a week from Monday.)

I think they’re fairly traditional, but would like some innovation—in other words, a somewhat typical community college (at least in my experience). They’re very rural which can mean very traditional, but my gut tells me that’s not the case here. I do think they’re more traditional than Wombat’s institution. I would be hired to teach both English and history (with history as the primary discipline), but the teaching would be in distinct classes.

The course descriptions for US History include the proviso that students will be trained to think like historians, which, to me, is a more modern take on the survey class. I do think I will round up a political cartoon or other visual from whatever I’m supposed to teach and have a discussion on its meaning and ties to the period as part of the 30 minutes. That will show some integration of primary sources at least.

The somewhat unusual aspect is that they want to emphasize “place based education”; they’re in a rural, outdoorsy area and what to tie that to learning—something I can see in my English classes and (possible) geography classes, but it may be a bit dicier with history other than local history. It’s an interesting idea though.

Good luck, and congratulations on the interview. It’s a tough market out there for humanities teachers at any level, and I hope you get the offer.

It depends on the place. Initially I was very resistant to that idea, but part of that is because I’m a newcomer to where I live and a complete stranger to where I worked, which made its history far out of my comfort zone. That sounds like a great opportunity to do some looking up beforehand and substantively integrate a local concept into your sample. While it’s hard to do local as the meat of a lesson and adhere to a survey format, using it as the gateway to the concepts and content you want to address isn’t difficult.

I’ve been on a couple of search committees for Writing, Art, and Computer Science related positions and there are a few things we always looked for:

  1. Get out from behind your podium/table/desk! If you’re hiding behind wherever your notes are you are afraid of the class.

  2. You get through the subject in the time allotted. Yes, in real teaching you can drop it whenever the time’s up and pick it up the next class, but we’re looking at whether you manage your classroom time well.

  3. Are you engaging the class? Ask questions and expect answers! And this isn’t about whether people have read the material (because they haven’t in this case), this is about engagement. So I would expect in History you set up a situation and ask what you think the people in that situation did. That way as people come up with possible solutions to the problem, you can examine why the people at the time didn’t to that, and eventually why they did what they did.

  4. And finally, if you know your material well enough to have a real discussion rather than running back to notes and citations. This isn’t giving a paper at a conference, this is teaching a class, yes, you better be able to back up what you say, but don’t hide behind that.

We always allow the candidate to pick their subject, but that may be different in your case.

Anyway, that’s the quick and dirty. Good luck!

Boy, this is a pretty big one. We had one guy come in and waste nearly all of his time giving us “background” information on what he was about to teach. He barely got started when the class ended.

If you can turn lecture into discussion, that’s a big plus. Wombat knows I just love getting the students to discuss what a complete tool he is.


It’s true; and the students go along because they know Greg is so simple, so intellectually challenged, that it would be cruel to actually take issue with his blatherings.

Thanks for the advice. I have one of these on Thursday too, and it’s helpful to have a better idea of what people are looking for.

I’m in the school of engineering at a research university. The way we do it is:

[ul][li]If you’re being hired as a lecturer you give a lecture as if it was a freshmen or sophomore class. The faculty watching pretends they’re freshmen. It’s rather amusing watching the senior professors ask questions as if they have no idea about basic concepts in the field.[/li][li]If you’re being hired as a professor you give a research talk.[/li][li]If you’re being hired as a professor of teaching practice you give a lecture and then you give a research talk.[/ul][/li]
I was on a hiring committee this past year. One thing I noticed on watching the lectures is that having a lot of energy makes a huge difference. Try to maintain a lot of energy during your simulated lecture.

Also I’ve seen several candidates deliberately choose tough topics. IMO this is not recommended. If you really do a stellar job on it, it’s probably a plus. But it’s better to give an outstanding talk on a relatively straightforward subject, rather than an okay talk on a tough subject.

Definitely agree

Agreed. Have stuff prepared that you can add to the talk if it goes faster than you expect. Have items marked for easy removal if it looks like the talk is going slow.

Great advice. You want to show strong people skills. You want to show that you are not going to be boring. You want to show that people will be excited to be in your classroom.

Teaching, particularly for service/breadth courses and for large classes, is part showmanship. You can probably go too far overboard and make the class all about fun and jokes, but you really need want to keep the students as active and involved as possible. When I get a chance to make a joke about something, I always take it.

Also don’t forget to stop and ask how the students are doing and if they understand the material. It may seem silly, because the audience will actually be faculty, but just doing it will let them know that you understand the importance of making sure your class is following along.

We used to, but we hired a candidate once who gave a talk on the history of the field and when he got here it turned out his technical skills sucked. So now we provide a list of about 6-8 items and they have to choose one.

Some other tricks I’ve seen:

You can talk about what you’ve allegedly taught in the classes prior to the current lecture – if you’re up for it, you can try doing it in character: “as you’ll recall earlier this quarter we talked about …” or “remember last lecture we went over …” This “faux” reference to previous lectures generally amuses the audience and helps set into context what you are assuming your supposed student audience already knows from past classes.

I actually gave out a homework assignment during my recruiting lecture, that I spent about 10 minutes going over. I thought it went really well, and the feedback I got afterwards was very positive. It also played to my strengths since my assignments and handouts are relatively strong compared to my lecturing skills.

This is all great advice, so the only thing I will add is that in my experience, once you get to the point of an on campus interview, the teaching demonstration is just to make sure you don’t screw it up. Most people realize that you will be a bit nervous and that this isn’t your class, so this isn’t exactly the way you would normally operate. Just show that you are comfortable teaching. That’s the main thing.

So my advice is to not worry about it too much. If you are a good teacher, it will show through fine.

Thanks again for the suggestions and reassurances. For those who were curious, I just received my topic:

Several historical forces, events, or developments influenced the northern city states of the Italian region in particular and Europe in general in beginning the period known as the Renaissance. Explain the most important ones.

Condottieri! I loved that game.

Don’t forget the aliens landing…

That sounds like a pretty cool lecture topic.

Remember to only give your lecture in Latin, too. All good academic lectures are in Latin. Or maybe Greek, sometimes.

Good point. A bunch of my background is history of religion, so I’ll give it in Aramaic. Or maybe Coptic.

Mine are in Simlish.