Preparing Your Teaching Demonstration

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A teaching demonstration is one of the most important parts of a job interview at a teaching-focused university, small liberal arts college, or community college. But even for applicants with extensive teaching experience, the demonstration presents particular challenges. It often feels contrived, as actual students may not even be present. If students are there, you won’t have the same rapport with them that you develop in your own classes. The physical setting and institutional norms are unfamiliar, and the format is less scripted and less predictable than that of the job talk.

This Teaching Tools post offers tips and resources for meeting these challenges.

Know What You Are Being Asked to Do, and Tailor Appropriately

You will not be able to prepare a single teaching demonstration for multiple interviews. Institutions and student audiences vary, of course, but so do the types of demonstrations that job candidates are asked to prepare. As you design your demonstration, consider the following issues and ask for clarification if necessary.

  • Who is the audience? Will you be giving a demonstration to students or just to the search committee/faculty? Are the students in an existing class together, or have they been asked to come to a one-off event? If you are teaching in a class, what level is it (e.g., introductory or upper-division)? How many students are enrolled? Ask to see the course syllabus so you have an idea of the topics students have already read and discussed. Find a copy of the textbook or other assigned readings and look over them (but don’t assume that all students will have done the reading before your demonstration).
  • What type of demonstration are you being asked to give? In my own job searches, I have been asked to: 1) teach about my own research as a guest speaker in an undergraduate class; 2) give a five- to ten-minute lesson to the search committee on any topic that demonstrates the holistic approach to anthropology; and 3) present my favorite lecture from a typical course at a colloquium for department faculty and students. Furthermore, I have friends and colleagues who have been asked to: 4) give a lesson in an undergraduate class that addresses the topic on the syllabus and incorporates original research; and 5) demonstrate a ten-minute lesson to the search committee over a Skype video chat. Each of these occasions for teaching comes with a different set of challenges and requires different preparation.
  • When is the demonstration and how much time will you have? Many teaching demonstrations try to do too much. Limit your presentation to a coherent lesson that can easily fit into the available time. Never go over time; students will leave as soon as the scheduled demonstration is over (especially if it’s in a class), and search committees will either cut you off or resent your poor planning.
  • Where will you be giving the demonstration? Will you be in a large lecture hall, a small seminar room, or a conference room with just the committee? What types of media technology are available: Is there a projector (and will you need an adapter to connect to it)? A computer (should you bring your own laptop or a flash drive)? Is there Internet access (wireless or wired)? How are the desks/tables arranged? Will students be able to move around, if necessary?

Don’t Just Lecture

You should not be the only person talking throughout your demonstration. This doesn’t mean that you can’t include a lecture component, but you should also directly engage students in the learning process. A well-planned lesson should:

  • Be designed around explicit learning outcomes. Try not to think about the demonstration in terms of the facts or information you want to present; consider instead what you want students to learn. What should they be able to do at the end of the lesson? What’s the best way to get them there, given time and other constraints?
  • Have a beginning, middle, and end. Introduce the topic or lesson in a way that shows what students will be learning and why they should care. You don’t necessarily need to list learning outcomes, but you might begin with a question or problem that demonstrates the importance of the lesson. Conclude with a brief reflection on why the lesson matters and the next steps you would take if you were teaching a full class.
  • Include active learning techniques and discussion. See Louis Lamphere Beryl’s list of in-class activities for possible options, or check out some of the resources in one of my earlier Teaching Tools posts.

Practice (But Have a Backup Plan)

Gather some friends, colleagues, and, if possible, students, and practice your teaching demonstration ahead of time. Try to mimic the conditions you will encounter in the live demonstration (e.g., a lecture hall, a conference room, online). Ask for feedback about the quality of your engagement, the pacing and flow of the lesson, and whether the learning objectives were met.

While practice is important to become comfortable with the material, an engaged and effective lesson will never be exactly reproducible. Incorporate flexibility into your lesson plan. What will you do if no one responds to your activity prompts? What if everyone wants to talk and you need to limit the conversation? Have multiple options prepared in case you find yourself ahead of schedule or running late.

Finally, remember that projector bulbs will blow out, wi-fi networks will malfunction, and you will lose the dongle that connects your computer to the display. Have backup plans for any technological elements that you intend to use.

Remember that a Teaching Demonstration Doesn’t End with the Teaching Demonstration

Just as the informal parts of your campus visit (dinner, campus tour, pickup from the airport, etc.) are still part of the interview, your interactions with students and faculty outside of the teaching demonstration also matter.

  • Be prepared to answer teaching-related questions throughout your visit. These may take the form of mini-demonstrations (once, in a four-field department, the search committee handed me a hominin skull cast and asked me to identify the species and then explain, as if I were talking to students in class, how I knew that). Other questions I have encountered include: What is your dream class and how would you teach it? How do you engage with students from a variety of backgrounds or levels of educational preparation? What are your favorite ethnographies to assign in an introductory cultural anthropology class? What are your weaknesses as a teacher? What was your most challenging teaching experience, and how did you handle it?
  • Be kind to the students you encounter. Ask questions about their experiences at the institution and listen to what they say. Don’t talk down to or belittle them, and don’t complain about students to other faculty, even in ways that you think are humorous. Making fun of student behaviors is not the way to build rapport with the search committee.
  • Ask questions that show your interest in teaching and that allow you to learn how this department and institution think about students. For example: What do you like best about working with students here? What attracts students to anthropology classes, or to the major? What do undergraduates do after graduation?

Additional Resources

You can find additional advice on teaching demonstrations at The Professor is In, Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Vitae.