Teaching Today

Teach Like You Mean It

Josh DeSantis and Nicole Hesson give tips to job seekers for preparing a top-notch teaching demo.

March 27, 2018
 
iStock/Steve Debenport
 

Between discussions with potential future colleagues, delivering research presentations and interviewing with a provost or department chair, you’ll find no shortage of angst-inducing moments during an interview for a faculty position. With so many potential pitfalls, many candidates neglect preparation for their teaching demonstrations.

Don’t make this mistake. Show the search committee your skills and commitment to teaching with an engaging lesson demonstration. Consider the following approaches to impress the search committee, students and your future colleagues.

Delve. Learn as much as you can about the context in which you will deliver your demonstration. Most search committees provide you with the basic topic on which you will be expected to teach and the required length of time of your demonstration. With some prodding, many search committees will share more. Ask the committee:

  • What year are the students in?
  • Will the students be from the academic department, or is this a general education course?
  • What background knowledge do the students have on the topic?

You can also ask about the teaching space and the availability of technology. You might ask:

  • What is the furniture arrangement in the space?
  • Is there a digital projector? How can I connect my device to it?
  • Are there mobile devices available to the students? Can they bring their own?

Remember that the members of the search committee want to find a successful candidate and, in many cases, are willing to help candidates put their best foot forward during the interview. They don’t want to have to search again. Let them help you by learning as much as you can from them about the demonstration before your interview.

Design. Use what you learn from the committee to refine your topic. In most cases, search committees give you a general idea of what you might teach. Begin by defining the topic more clearly. Ensure that you organize your lesson in a way that is both interesting for you and engaging for the students. Most important, make sure it is a topic that you can present within the allotted time.

Remember that you are planning to teach, not to tell. As you begin to plan the instruction, ask yourself, “What do I want the students to know or be able to do when we finish?” Then plan a question that encapsulates that idea and structure a series of student performances that will position them to attain that understanding by the close of your demonstration. Share this question with the group at the beginning of your demonstration and again at the end.

Effective lessons usually include three basic components: an engaging opener, instructional activities and a closure. The engaging opener should generate interest in the topic. It could be as simple as posing a question and assigning students partners or small groups (think, pair, share) or something more complex, like using large poster paper and markers to generate ideas on different categories of information related to the topic (carousel brainstorming).

The instructional activities portion of the lesson is your opportunity to present new information to students. If your teaching style is learner centered, you might use a cooperative learning approach. That could entail breaking students into teams to explore different facets of the topic and to present what they learn to each other. If you have a more didactic style, you might provide content to students more formally with a presentation; just remember to preplan several higher-order questions or brief activities to keep students engaged. The closure portion of your lesson should again be a short student activity or assessment.

You might also consider other means of elevating student engagement in your demonstration. For example, you can help students stay on topic by creating a graphic organizer for them to record information during direct instruction in your lesson. You can also telegraph your technology skills to the search committee by using an online application for a portion of your lesson. Several free technologies like Nearpod, Kahoot and Poll Everywhere allow you to present information and ask questions of students using their phones.

While you should present content accurately and effectively, it is just as important to engage meaningfully with your students. With thoughtful planning, you can prepare a lesson that helps them understand the material. That is sure to impress any search committee.

Deliver. Most interviews include a short break before the teaching demonstration. No matter how hard you prepare, it is still perfectly natural to feel anxiety in those minutes. That is where the hard work you put in while designing your plan pays off. Use this time to unpack your materials, set up the classroom space and prepare your technology elements.

Remember that your demonstration begins when the first students enter the room, usually one or two at a time. That offers you a great chance to build rapport with them. At a minimum, smile and project confidence (even if you don’t have it in the moment) to the students. Some candidates shake students’ hands or give them folded note cards to write their names, allowing them to use their names throughout the lesson. Building connections with the students at this stage will help you hold their attention throughout the demonstration.

During the lesson, solicit students’ attention by using inflection in your voice and presenting instructions with clarity and sufficient volume. Move out from behind the podium or lectern throughout the lesson, especially during direct instruction. Mentally divide the classroom into four zones and try to spend at least a little time in each while teaching. If your lesson includes small groups or partner discussions, move among the groups while they work. Kneel to students’ levels while you hold your discussion with them. Display genuine human warmth by liberally distributing compliments on good answers and smiles throughout the demonstration.

Don’t forget to end the lesson with your opening question. That shows the students and your evaluators what you accomplished in your lesson.

Deliberate. The search committee will probably ask you to reflect on your demonstration as part of the interview. Be prepared with an answer. No teaching demonstration will ever be perfect. Note some positive things about your lesson -- the students’ engagement level or understanding of the objective, pacing, use of technology and the like. Suggest ways you would improve on the parts of the lesson that didn’t go as planned.

The fact that the committee organized a teaching demonstration for you shows that good teaching is valued at the institution. They are looking for a candidate who understands how to teach. You can show the committee that you are that candidate by delving to learn more about the context, designing an engaging lesson and delivering inspired instruction during your demonstration.

Many candidates choose to play it safe for the teaching demonstration. Resist that urge and teach like you mean it.

Bio

Josh DeSantis is director of the graduate education program at York College of Pennsylvania. Nicole Hesson is an assistant professor of education at the college.

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