Festi-visit-us

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As Mike notes, albeit from a different perspective from mine, visit season is upon many of us in Rhetoria. The tail end of this past week saw one visit to the SU Writing Program, and we'll have 3 more over the next couple of weeks.

There are times when I simply don't write here, and times when I basically can't, and visit season is one of the latter. It's an odd process, in part because there are all sorts of confidentiality considerations. Less so for a junior search, I guess, since at some point, we all leave the nest. But still. It's a process where differences among candidates are magnified and hierarchized to a degree entirely incommensurate with reality. For better or worse, every department I've ever been in has engaged in what I can only describe as the process of measuring prospective hires against a highly idealized, and in cases fantasized, image of itself.

Believe it or not, that's not bitterness or anything. Quite the contrary. I think that this is an entirely normal reaction, and while we all might wish for a process where candidates weren't being held to standards that we ourselves might struggle to meet, the length and intensity of the hiring process makes this a tough wish to grant. And even as I recognize some of its absurdities, it's tough to imagine it working differently. I've been an applicant, a member of several search committees (and a co-chair this year), and I've helped prepare our own graduates for 5 years now, and there are elements of the process that frustrate me in each of those roles: hard decisions, lots of rejection, subterranean motivations, etc.

One of the things that no visitor to Syracuse will have to endure this year is something that I myself really dislike: the fake teaching performance. There are many places where, on a visit, you will be asked to "take over" a faculty member's class for a day, and somehow accomplish something productive (and of course, persuasive to the several lurkers who watch you). I've never liked this requirement, and I'm pleased to be able to say that we don't do it here. The artificiality of the guest appearance completely runs counter to my own pedagogical beliefs and styles, which involve at their base a distinction between "teaching to" and "teaching at." Even "teaching to" is a little top-down a formulation for my tastes, but "teaching with" isn't quite right, either. I spend a fair amount of energy at the beginning of the semester getting my classes beyond the point where I feel as though I'm speaking to a room full of strangers--asking a candidate to do so (with a job offer potentially riding on the result) is misleading at best and damaging at worst.

So yeah, that's my mini-rant for the week. Good luck to all those who'll be heading out on visits this semester, and good judgment to all those (myself included) who'll be hosting them.

That is all.

10 Comments

We're doing the same thing right now. Today and tomorrow might be our last candidate. Long days for me too, particularly when dinner is involved.
I've done that fake teaching performance way back. I was asked to teach a poetry class. Poetry? I wanted to say: Folks, I don't teach lit!

--->Disclaimer: I AM A FIRST YEAR PH.D STUDENT

You'll get more of the nuts and bolts of visits soon enough, T, but yeah, this week went pretty smoothly. Even in the best of circumstances, though, it can be a really exhausting process for the candidates. That's one of the things that I try to be mindful of when planning them...

We're just starting to review applications, so visits and interviews (same thing at our cc) are a month away. I like the fake teaching performance, but we ask candidates to teach the committee a mini-lesson instead of someone's class. As silly as I felt as a candidate pretending that the committee was made up of bw students, I'd have felt even sillier as a guest teacher, and, as a student, I'd have resented having to be taught by a guest.

3:09am? I hope there was a Coke can nearby, and some very sparkling paragraphs, to keep you company.

I have two upcoming visits, and in each I have to do a teaching demo on topics I never taught (or even pretended to!) before. Needless to say, I'm QUITE nervous. Most of my fellow grad students on the market have to do these, so I guess it's still the norm...

Joanna, I have much less of an objection to that kind of presentation, although to my mind, it would be even better if it were billed as a workshop (I don't really care for the word "mini-lesson"). I've also been somewhere where we asked them to do a combo presentation (20 min on research, 20 min talking about approaches to various types of courses). To my mind, there are ways of getting at a body's ability to teach that involve a little less of that simulation, which always seems awkward...

And good luck, Cristina.

Yes, I'd like it to be a workshop, too, as the simulation is too artificial for my tastes, and reminds me of being in therapy and being asked to pretend the potted palm was my mother and share my feelings with it. It (situation, not houseplant)only made me laugh. A workshop could include the activity/lesson etc., but would take away the artifice of the committee's having to pretend to be students, with one volunteer as the "bad" or "uncooperative" student. I'm going to bring this up to the committee.

Nice post, CGB. It raises some interesting issues that I became more acutely aware of as grad placement director than I did as a searcher. It seems to me that since the market is (generally) in favor of the departments--and here I'm including literature especially--that search committees think they can ask for all kinds of wildly different documents and performances. And while this may reflect the unique tastes or requirements or culture of particular schools, I think the labor involved has reached a crisis point. I mean, so many candidates--grad students or current faculty--are teaching their own classes already. The whole thing sets me off.

Makes me happy that most of our visitors for assistant posts at Illinois don't even do job talks. Instead, they come in with an offer, and we do the work recruiting them. (This approach of course has its devious and risky sides but it's still pretty interesting.)

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on January 29, 2006 3:09 AM.

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