promotion · teaching

Promotion on the Basis of Teaching Excellence, Part 1: the package

In a recent post, Tenured Radical argued that one way to reform tenure and promotion would be to make the process more transparent by breaking confidentiality. Hear hear! I’d settle for translucent. Hell, most days I think opaque would be an improvement.

While my March to-do list is a little too full to add “full overhaul of tenure and promotion practices in the global university,” it’s in the spirit of TR’s call that I offer this post on how I put together a promotion package based on teaching excellence.

Background: a few years ago, my university made it possible to apply for promotion to full professor on the basis of excellence in research and/or teaching (the italics mark the radical change). Here’s the wording from the Faculty Agreement:

For promotion to professor, the staff member must demonstrate a strong record of achievement in teaching, research, and service, including excellence in teaching and/or research, or, in rare circumstances, a record of exceptional service.

That was effective 2008, if memory serves, but to date no one in Arts has tried it.

Readers, I’m going for it.

Because I’m in the middle of a year-long process governed by confidentiality, a process that won’t conclude until 9 December 2011, there is a lot I can’t say. But in the hope that what I can say could prove useful, I thought I might offer a few loosely linked posts on this over the next little while. (Let me know if this is of interest to you, right?)

The first challenge was trying to figure out what to send. Research is relatively easy: photocopy your articles, add the books, write a connect-the-dots narrative and send it off. But how do you get arm’s-length strangers to review teaching?

Mindful that teaching is more than classroom practice, I put together a prose document of approximately16 single-spaced pages or 8000 words composed of the following:

  1. Intellectual commitments (most people would call this a teaching philosophy, but I was spooked by my friend Kevin’s argument that “teaching statements are bunk” so I call it intellectual commitments – to the field of cultural studies, postcolonialism and feminism) 
  2. Overview of teaching responsibilities (it’s important for reviewers to know what’s normal in your area/institution: classes of 400? a teaching load of 3 per term? do you teach a bunch of new courses or develop one over years and years?)
  3. Classroom teaching: approach, experience, experiments, goals, strategies (including course design, assignments and grading, projects with undergrads)
  4. Graduate supervision & mentorship (including award and placement info for PhD students and a complete list of all the supervisory committees I’ve served on)
  5. Contributions to the teaching of others (in the department, in the Faculty of Arts, in the university, in the profession)
  6. Scholarship on teaching and learning (research, grants, publications, presentations, adaptation of my materials).

I supported that with the following:

  1. Course outlines: a selection from different levels, areas, and years
  2. Sample assignments and assessment of student work (NB not students’ own work, which I would find ethically suspect, but my word processed comments on essays)
  3. Complete run of bubble-sheet teaching scores (NB complete: I’m always suspicious of selective quantitative data)
  4. Excerpts from students’ verbal evaluations, chosen by my Chair
  5. Peer evaluations of teaching, including analysis of classroom practice, course materials, course management site, and graduate supervision
  6. Self-evaluations (we are required to produce a self-eval of each course: excellent discipline and very rewarding pedagogical strategy)
  7. Letters from grad students, solicited by my Chair
  8. Teaching award descriptions, criteria and application packages (to prove commitment to teaching excellence over a whole career, and not just at the point of applying for promotion)
  9. Teaching-related presentations or publications.

That came to about 5cm of double-sided photocopies.

Then the research dossier, truncated a little (no book reviews, no publications that aren’t peer reviewed, only tables of contents for books, etc) and prefaced by a narrative of approximately four single-spaced pages.

And that’s the package, the physical representation of How I’ve Spent My Time as a Professor, bindered and sent off to – well, obviously, I don’t exactly know who! Which is weird, to say the least, but perhaps the topic of another post.

9 thoughts on “Promotion on the Basis of Teaching Excellence, Part 1: the package

  1. It's wonderful to hear that this is starting to be an option. Thank you so much for documenting the process–it's really important for those of us moving towards the profession to be able to see things like this. Best of luck!


  2. I am thrilled to hear that U of A actually put their money where their mouth is (what does that expression even mean?) when it comes to valuing teaching/teaching excellence, and put it where it counts: promotion. While I would hope that it would also count at the “lower levels” I am not naive, and the U of A has a “reputation” to uphold and drive upward.

    I'm only being partially sarcastic. Having experienced and participated in the inner-workings of the U of A, I am so pleased to see this very positive development.

    Good luck, Heather. I am glad to see that there are letters from your graduate students in the file. Perhaps this can serve as a model for other R1 institutions and a reminder to those who (rightly or wrongly) aspire to be: excellent teaching matters and needs to be rewarded.


  3. @Claire: wriggling!! I love that. @Lee: yes, a positive development – though I find it interesting that people have been reluctant to test it – see also “we are our own worst enemies.” @Matt and all: thanks for the good luck. It is an Extremely.Nerve.Wracking.Experience. (Would be anyway, I expect)


  4. Seriously! I just wrote a long, slightly sentimental thing about how important you were in my career and blah blah blah. So embarrassing. Thankfully, the computer lost it.

    Anyhow, let's just say that long ago a bad teacher sabotaged any chances of me ever catching up on calculus enough to become a brilliant scientist. So I went into the Arts and became a writer, with mixed success. Great teachers and terrible ones have so much influence, not only on their students but on the shape of future scholarship. After all, wouldn't it be a tragedy if one bad teacher prevents the next Marie Curie from some groundbreaking something or other? And aren't great researchers only the result of great teachers shaping one's natural abilities? It only makes sense to reward the good ones and punish the bad ones (or at least make it matter enough that they try harder).

    So, effin' rights for taking it on. It better work.


  5. @thepoorprincessdiaries Excellent point, one that raises something I want to highlight about what Heather has done here. She's shown us that in order to have teaching evaluated and valued appropriately, we need to actively *teach* those evaluators how to do it. To me, that is the huge resource that this post gives us — it describes a package that guides its readers through what matters, what to look for, and what to notice. We all *want* the institution to value our teaching; it's important to remember that, rightly or wrongly, we often need to show it how to do that.


  6. I second Mo's comment. And commend Heather on how well she has done precisely that.Excellent example. Thanks for sharing.


  7. Phenomenal post, phenomenal news, and phenomenal chutzpah for sharing it with us Heather. Thank you. I agree with Mo, JoVE, and tppd: you've modelled for us here not only the need to teach evaluators how to comprehend and compensate (& commend!) the work we do, you have *also* modelled how to do it for us. Again, thank you!


Comments are closed.