The nation is focused on education these days, and emphasis is being placed on strengthening the caliber of teachers in both schools and colleges. “There is not a more important profession for the success of our economy in the long term,” said President Obama, speaking about the teaching profession with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show (Wagner).
Many institutions of higher learning, community colleges in particular, are facing a jump in student enrollment; this, combined with the exodus of older faculty due to retirement, is creating a growing need for new teachers (Mouchayleh). In addition, qualified individuals who have been laid off from jobs in other industries are turning to teaching, as more and more people go back to school.
If you are one of the thousands seeking to enter the world of college teaching, either in a community college or a four-year institution, there are some important points to be aware of concerning job interviews in academia. They can be tricky, to say the least. I know; I’ve participated in over 20 academic job interviews, both as interviewer and interviewee. Most interviews will involve you and some or all of the members of an academic department, totaling from three to eight people. In all but one of my academic interviews I landed the job. And, in most of these interviews, including those I participated in on the other side of the table as a member of the faculty, very similar issues were discussed.
Here is a sampling of some questions you might expect on a job interview in academia (not in any order). Answer these creatively and you will shine!
Are you familiar with the Mission Statement of this institution?
Your answer, of course, should be “yes”. The Mission Statement of a college or university is not just a paragraph of public relations propaganda; rather, it is a valid description of the institution’s intentions regarding teaching. The Mission Statement is revised continually by faculty and administrative committees to make sure that it accurately reflects what the institution is endeavoring to accomplish. More importantly, the Mission Statement is one of the first documents that is analyzed by accrediting bodies such as Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) to see if the college is actually doing what it purports to do.
As a prospective new faculty member, you should become well acquainted with the Mission Statement of the college or university you are hoping to join. Ask questions during your interview about the Mission Statement; show that you are familiar with its meaning and intent. If you find that you do not agree with the Mission Statement, you’re probably not going to fit in very well as a faculty member of this institution.
The Mission Statement can usually be found as a link on the Home Page of the college or university website.
What do you think are the most serious problems facing colleges and universities today?
Naturally you’ll want your answer to reflect your own views on these topics, but here are some of the ongoing hot-button issues being discussed in academia:
Funding cuts to colleges and universities by corporations and individual donors
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Over the past two years, colleges big and small have seen donors fall through on commitments or hesitate to make new ones” (Masterson).
Faculty obligation to mentor individual students (LPAHE)
There is intense debate on this subject, with teachers taking heated positions pro and con.
Accountability in the teaching profession
As an increasing number of colleges embrace the idea of “customer service”, teacher accountability becomes paramount.
Other issues include:
legal threats to academic freedom (UC Davis)
increased and rigorous assessment of college courses
pay and pension issues (UCLA)
There are many more, of course, but if you can address any of these in a knowledgeable way, you’ll probably be considered an asset to the department you want to join as a faculty member.
What suggestions do you have for solving the student writing crisis?
This question has been asked at every single academic job interview I’ve attended, on either side of the table. It doesn’t matter if you are teaching math—the issue will be raised, one way or another. The crisis with student writing continues, and nobody really expects you to solve it. Any suggestions you can put forward will be listened to with interest.
It’s a good idea to become acquainted with Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), since most colleges and universities do use it. (That means even math teachers have to include an essay question or two on tests!)
Why do you want to teach?
Of course you’ll have your own very personal reasons for wanting to be a teacher. Here were mine:
“I want to teach because I’d like to be part of the moment when a young person discovers an affinity for some subject, the “aha” moment. We all have that little excitement within us when we finally figure out the answer to a question we’ve been seeking, or we realize we’re absolutely crazy about art, or history, or biology, or math. I want to help students tap into that excitement they may not even realize they possess, because once they discover they like learning, their lives will not be the same. To be a part of that process—imparting the thrill of learning—is a wonderful mission in life. Not easy, of course, but definitely worthwhile—and fun.
“I also want to help students achieve their highest potential. This is a difficult challenge because we don’t know what that potential is, and neither does the student. It’s a process of encouragement, gently pushing, more encouragement, and being able to identify what is unique about a particular student. Every student has some individual talent or skill or quality that a persistent teacher can uncover and nurture. That, to me, is the joy of being a teacher—identifying the unique gift of a particular student.”
What attributes do you have that would make you a good teacher?
You can pretty much expect a question such as this—it’s what you’d be asked on any job interview. And typically you’ll be touting your expertise in your given field, your teaching experience (if any), and your ability to present a topic in an interesting fashion. But there’s one attribute you need to mention these days, even if you feel a bit strange doing it, and that attribute is love.
Nowadays, faculty are needed who will love their students, no matter how erudite the subjects these teachers are teaching, or how difficult the students may be. You cannot express any sort of intolerance for students, their foibles or shortcomings, or you will not get the job. Subjects must be taught with compassion, so you might as well mention that you have this during your job interview. If you come off as too cold or dispassionate or removed, the other faculty members will decide that you’ll have trouble relating to the students. So as soon as you can, slip in the word “love”—hopefully you mean it.
Dear potential faculty member, you are needed to share your expertise with today’s hungry students. Bless you for wanting to teach!
LPAHE, Community College Leadership. Retrieved September 27, 2010 from http://ced.ncsu.edu/lpahe/cel.php
Masterson, Kathryn, The Chronicle of Higher Education, “As pledges fall short, colleges face the music”. October 8, 2010, Volume LVII, Number 7
Mouchayleh, Theresa, “Recruiting and retaining new generations of community college faculty” (2009). Retrieved September 27, 2010 from http://www.repositories.lib.utexas.edu/
UCDavis, Davis Faculty Association. Retrieved October 9, 2010 from http://ucdfa.org
UCLA, UCLA Faculty Association. Retrieved October 9, 2010 from http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2010/09/
Wagner, Alex, “Obama makes case for education reform.” Retrieved September 27, 2010 from http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/09/27/obama-makes-case-for-eudcaiton-reform-defend