The Rules of Faculty Club

November 05, 2009

The first rule of Faculty Club: Don't tell your adviser about reading this article. He will tell you that you are wasting your time. Never tell your adviser about anything other than how hard you are working on your dissertation. Make sure to always have a stack of books with you when you visit your professor, demonstrating that you are completely immersed in your research.

If your adviser tries to change the subject from a discussion of your dissertation, shove one of the books, preferably one that is so new that you are confident your adviser hasn't read it, into his hands: "Um, have you seen this yet?" No doubt his frantic attempt to scan the bibliography and see if his work is cited will sufficiently distract him.

The second rule of Faculty Club: Don't tell any of your fellow graduate students about reading this article. They won't understand, either. Only talk to them about your research, since some of them will one day be your colleagues. Never tell a fellow student something that you wouldn't want a colleague to know. Always show your professor and your fellow students that you are single-minded in your devotion to your research.

The third rule of Faculty Club: You must be a teacher to enter the club. Your adviser will not tell you that; your fellow graduate students won't understand that. So enjoy the research nirvana that is graduate school but know that you will be descending back into the cave if and when you are hired by a university. You may have difficulty accepting this rule. If you can't, stop reading this immediately and go back to work on your dissertation. Cease and desist. Only precede to Rule No. 4 once you have fully accepted and understood Rule No. 3. Once you do, then you must not expect to be given any actual guidance from your department on how to be a teacher. You will only be able to obtain those skills through your own efforts.

The fourth rule of Faculty Club: Your students will only know you as their teacher and do not care about your research unless you require them to know about your research. If you require them to know about your research, they will figure out your argument without understanding the complex road that you took to get there. That leads students to believe that the point of education is to tell a professor what he or she wants to hear rather than to think through the material for themselves.

The fifth rule of Faculty Club: Convincing peer reviewers of a journal that your argument stands out from the rest has little to do with getting students to think through a problem for themselves. Students need a ladder to climb up the building rather than a vantage from which to peer down with trepidation at the street below. You must be able to convey on a syllabus the course objective and the road map that you will be employing to get students there.

The sixth rule of Faculty Club: Regardless of your discipline, you must be a philosopher of education. You will profess your philosophy in your job cover letters, in supporting documents in your application materials, in your campus interview, in your annual reports, and in your tenure narrative. Nobody will ever tell you this, but your career will, in part, rest on having a well-thought-out philosophy of education.

The seventh rule of Faculty Club: Teaching is a science. Be as methodical about developing teaching strategies and a teaching philosophy as you are in your research. Every discipline publishes a journal that presents innovative and effective teaching strategies for presenting the subject matter and cultivating the skills of the discipline. Familiarize yourself with those journals. Read at least one book outlining various philosophies of education so that you will have the theoretical concepts to characterize your own approach to teaching and learning.

Do not say in your cover letter that you run a student-centered classroom purely because that was listed in the job description. Everyone says that they teach Socratically even when they have no idea how Socrates taught. Never put something in your cover letter that does not reflect what you actually do and believe. Develop classroom strategies that work for you and be able to explain these in your job applications and interviews.

The eighth rule of Faculty Club: You must have enough teaching experience to handle Rules No. 5 and No. 6. It used to be that you did not need teaching experience to get a university position; that is no longer the case. Even if you get a job without teaching experience, you don't want teaching to be on-the-job training when your tenure decision will require that you have a developed classroom methodology, as evidenced by high teaching scores.

Ideally, by the time you go on the job market, you should have taught at least one section of each of the bread-and-butter courses that you hope to teach in a full-time position. That will allow you to present syllabi for those courses on job interviews and to explain effective strategies that you employed in each one.

Don't get lost in adjunct alley under the mistaken belief that teaching more and more courses will increase your chances of landing a tenure-track job. Teaching experience has a diminishing return. Stay focused on your research while being cognizant that you are preparing for a career as a teacher. Finish your dissertation, publish your research, and get enough teaching experience so that you will not be caught off guard by the untold secrets of joining Faculty Club.

Adam Fulton is the pseudonym of an assistant professor at a university in the South.