Young Teachers – Communicating Your Experience

by Brian Katz

I recently read about 150 applications for a teaching job. This was the first time I’ve done this, so I wanted to share two suggestions with those of you planning applications in the fall about the stages of development of young teachers (and how a little reading can make you a much more viable candidate).

Most novice teachers are focused on their own actions in the classroom. They focus on preparing the right words to say in lecture and practicing the technical skills of writing and speaking appropriately. I’m not saying that these are inappropriate skills to master, but there are lots of ways for students to get by without learning in this kind of classroom.

After a few years, most people seem to migrate to focusing on the actions undertaken by the students. This is a huge transition, and it can be hard. If your department has a training class for TAs or your university has a teaching certification program, then assisting this transition is probably its major goal. You can demonstrate that you have made this transition in your teaching statement by focusing on the students’ activities and your thinking about the effects of those activities. For me, if I am reading a teaching statement that can’t do this effectively, I would not bother to read the rest of the packet. (Again, this is for a teaching-focused job.)

The next stage that I can see is very uncommon in young (mathematics) teachers: awareness of the research about mathematics education and application of that research when designing courses. It seems to me that math is more weakly connected to its educational counterpart than other fields, especially than the sciences. So, let me suggest that you try to read two or three articles about math education this summer to get started. Sadly, most of the research is not at a useful level (either too technical or about elementary school). So the first place to look is PRIMUS, Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies. If you can connect some of the current research to a decision you make about your class this fall and then write about it in your teaching statement, then you will have set yourself apart from the rest of the pile of applicants at the beginning, and I can almost guarantee that you will get through the first round of cuts.

As a young faculty member who has been through his first pre-tenure review, I can tell you that you will want to be able to connect your choices in course design with current educational research, so getting started now can only help. In addition, some schools value published scholarship about your teaching at similar levels with pure disciplinary research.

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