So you want to teach…

MAPH Alum Kristin Scott shares her very insightful advice on how to get your foot in the door when applying for teaching positions. Thanks Kristin!

Some advice for new MAPH graduates and those looking for their first teaching positions:

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few folks come my way asking about how to get their foot in that often hard-to-open teaching door. I’ve even had a few people stop me out in front of various campus buildings, asking me if I taught, then launching into a million questions about what I would suggest they do to get into this or that department – no joke! I remember being astonished that these folks were literally walking around the campus soliciting advice from the sidewalk; and yet, I can understand why that would be the case. It’s not easy getting the attention, let alone an actual job, from someone in a position to hire. I’ve had some success at getting some really good courses over the last three years, but I also learned some things the hard way. So here’s my ten cents, for what it’s worth:

1. Cold calling, emailing, and letter-sending rarely works. Don’t bother spending a lot of time looking at the job boards at local colleges, either, for adjunct teaching positions, because they get enough applicants and have no need to advertise. And you can practically forget what I call the “black-hole” of most human resources departments. Your best foot-in-the-door is through someone else that’s already in the door. Get to know someone that already teaches in that department and get an introduction to whoever hires. The MAPH alumni listserve and blog are a great place to start. But network like crazy, because I’ve found that most teaching positions are acquired through relentless networking. Example: My first contact (and follow up emails/calls) with the English department (where I’ve been teaching for three years now) led to absolutely nothing – not even a response (like, “got your letter, but go jump in the lake”)! Six months later, however, I got someone in the department to mention me, and I had my first teaching assignment a week later.

2. Get to know the program in which you are interested in applying to teach. See what courses they offer and how you might best fit in. Play up your strengths, but always gear them towards the department’s needs.

3. If you see a gap in the curriculum, you may want to consider approaching the department with a new course that might interest their students and meet their needs (that’s how I got two of my regular courses). For example, I saw that no one in either the English department or Cultural Studies department at my college was offering courses that dealt with cyberspace literature or theories of cyberculture/s, so I sent in a proposed syllabus to each department. I really had no clue what I was doing, as I had never previously created a syllabus from scratch . . . but I did my research, put my best effort into it, and it worked! And one of those proposed courses was my foot in the door with the Cultural Studies department, where I now regularly teach.

4. Have your curriculum vitae and a variety of editable cover letters at the ready. You never know when you might meet someone who wants to see your CV right away. I also recommend that you get your CV online, so that potential employers an have quick and easy access to your information whenever and wherever. Online teaching portfolios are becoming more and more expected.

5. Take whatever you can get. I wasn’t at all wild about teaching a certain first year course; but I, like most new faculty, had to pay those dues. Once in, you can network even more, learn more about the needs of the department, and position yourself for better classes.

6. Offer some new pedagogical approach that you sense might be needed. Case and point: though I was no technological guru when I left MAPH, I saw the increasing need for the use of technological savvy in the classroom, so I learned all I could and began utilizing this technology in my pedagogy (blogs, wikis, various new media applications, etc.). This undoubtedly led me to more classes and a wider variety.

7. If at first you don’t succeed, try again – perhaps even with a different person. Though you want to be careful with this, because faculty politics can be really rough. The first time I contacted a chair of a department (assuming chairs were always the ones to hire), I received a very curt and negative response. What I didn’t know at the time (in this instance) was that chairs didn’t do the hiring of adjuncts, but rather directors of the sub-programs under that department. After a bit of time, I went to the director, instead, and was successful. This just points again to the need to really know the department and its structure.

8. NETWORK!! It was worth mentioning twice.

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