Crowdsourcing the Job Market

It’s that time again: when those of us on the academic job market start pulling out the materials that we’ve used in the past, start dusting them off, and revising them. Actually, one should have really have started this process at the beginning of September, but since this is my third year out, I’ve been feeling lazy like my materials are generally where I want them to be.

But then you pull up that teaching statement from last year. The one that you have revised throughout the year as you kept applying for jobs longer than you had anticipated. And you realize that while you can update some of the details to cover what you’ve been doing recently you perhaps can’t see the whole thing all that clearly any more.

That’s where I’m at at the moment, and I’ve done the first thing that any person on the job market should do: sent the document to a few friends who I frequently workshop such things with. I know that they’ll give me careful feedback on the questions I’m asking. But I also know that they’ve been reading this statement with me for the last four years as it’s been worked through different iterations. And while some of these friends are now successfully tenure-tracked, none of us have been on a search committee. How can I be sure that we’ve got the right idea about what I should be doing?

So would it be possible to get newer, fresher eyes on one of the documents in my dossier? Could I make the document available online and get others to comment on what I’ve done? That’s what I wondered aloud on Twitter this afternoon. My impetus for even thinking this was generated by Mark Sample’s decision to make his teaching evaluations public. And if making such details about being a professor public is good for our students and if we can use the Internet to build a great encyclopedia through crowdsourcing (despite complaints to the contrary [I won’t bother linking to those, but see @academicdave on the rebuttal]), can’t we can use publicly crowdsourced work to improve our own writing? Even if it’s oriented toward the marketplace (of employment) rather than a university press?

And after all, this is what we tell ourselves we want to see in academia, right? More collaboration. More use of nascent technologies to change how we do our work. I’m simply maximizing the professional network that I’ve developed over more than eight years to help me become the best candidate possible. Right? Right?

Still, as I write that, I’m aware that this could be seen as a fairly unconventional thing to do. We know that peer review is important to honing our scholarship or to improving our grant applications. We know that every intelligent person on the job market is using a group of friends to do what I’ve been doing. But bringing the whole Internet into the game: isn’t that cheating? Aren’t search committees more interested in the story that I’m trying to tell about my solitary genius than in seeing evidence of my being an ordinary human, one who benefits from others assistance? And even if they know deep down that I’m getting this help, shouldn’t I play nice with our narratives of academia and pretend that I’m not using it? That teaching statements (to say nothing of syllabi, articles, and books) spring from my forehead fully formed?

I’m inclined to think differently. And I’m inclined to think that scholarship is changing and that it has to change. Just look at Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s fabulous new book/digital manuscript, which anyone is free to comment on before she revises it a final time for print publication. We do have the tools to do our research and writing differently. Why don’t we start using them in our need to obtain/fill faculty positions?

My teaching statement is after the jump. Please comment, if you’d like. I’d love to get a job in the academy. And the academy needs those of us who want to see it adapt to the present.

Brian Croxall’s Teaching Statement Fall 2009 [draft]

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  1. #1 by alogemann on October 4, 2009 - 12:32 pm

    In my experience, statements of teaching philosophy should operate on both macro and micro levels—speaking both to your strategies for designing a coherent course and to your ability to develop smart, innovative pedagogy in the classroom. I see a good deal of the latter in this statement: examples of how you taught Pynchon, the one-page summary assignment for McLuhan et al., the assigning students two year blocks of time to analyze in the Am. Lit. II survey, the collaborative timeline exercise, the Whitman discussion (which sounds brilliant, by the way), the thesis statements for DeLillo. All of this is great, however, I get a much less robust sense of the macro level of course design–something about not seeing the forest for the trees might apply here.

    I also wonder whether you ought to have two statements tailored to different types of jobs. As I read this statement, it seems that at times you have a position as an Americanist in an English department in mind, and at others you’re aiming at a position in digital media studies or rhetoric and composition—perhaps in an English department, perhaps not. Would it make sense to target this statement more finely for each potential audience?

  2. #2 by Kathy on October 5, 2009 - 12:42 pm

    Brian, the previous poster has a point but there’s also something else here. There’s no real sense of you — it reads more like a report or a listing of your teaching accomplishments. A Teaching Philosophy can sometimes also be a window into a much more micro moment, a teachable moment. The name of the game, especially this year, is to let them know a little about your personality and that you continue to grow as an educator. You have a very student-centered approach (but don’t use that phrase!) but no real sense of the students in your statement.

    Hope this helps.

  3. #3 by stocktonprof on October 6, 2009 - 11:14 pm

    I fear that I will repeat mainly what other commenters have said. But I agree that, while this is all very interesting (the kind of stuff you want to steal and do in your own classes), there is little sense of you or the students in the statement. (The most interesting word for me in this statement was “dread” because it pulled me in and had a sense of life in it.) Instead, it is more of an overview of compelling pedagogical exercises. Don’t get me wrong. They are very compelling. It’s clear that you reflect deeply on what you want students to learn and how to get them there, and it is also clear that you know what you are doing. In the big picture, that’s what matters most for this document. Still, the beginning reads like an overview of a cv. I think you need to strike a balance between having a professional (or boring) opening and having one that seems too coy or affected. But I do think you need to start with something more indicative of who you are as an educator.

    I also agree that your statement is too broad. Even something as simple as tailoring that list of subject areas you’ve taught in would be helpful. When I was hiring on an Am Lit committee, I would have been slightly concerned to see a mention of World Lit so early on. This is an easy fix, indeed, but that makes it all the more worth doing.

    On the flip side, the students end up sounding like little workers in your statement. Indeed, you seem to have given a great deal of thought to these workers, but the only way I see them here is as dutifully producing papers, doing readings, etc. I’d like to get a better sense of what you hope for your students (obv in an intellectual, not personal, way).

    Finally, once you have crafted more macro language about you and how you view the students, I would then cull the list of examples more—go for depth, not breadth. Keep the examples focused and explain them in a way that shows how they support your overall objectives.

    Again, everything here is impressive and makes me want to steal your ideas! But I also get lost in all of the accumulation of tasks here. Focusing on learning objectives and then explaining very specific activities you do that support those learning objectives would help.

    I’m afraid this all sounds terribly critical of what I think is a very strong statement. There is no doubt in my mind that committees will interpret this statement as coming from an engaged, intelligent, and inspiring (in a good way) teacher. I just think you could punch it up a bit to package yourself a little better—sort of like the way we have to distill our dissertations and make them support a broader view of ourselves as scholars (even though in truth all we’ve been able to think about is that damned diss and getting it published).

  4. #4 by Brian on October 16, 2009 - 12:38 pm

    I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented thus far for your helpful feedback as I’m continuing to refine my statement. This has been a very eye-opening and helpful process.

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