promotion · teaching

Promotion for Teaching Excellence, Part 2: early lessons

Tell me, Dr Zed, what have you learned about this promotion business so far?

Well, Reader, I’m glad you asked.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me – or what people did tell me and I forgot/disregarded – or, in a couple cases, what’s just totally friggin’ obvious (but I had to figure it out for myself):

  1. Documentation: Keep copies of your stuff, and do your best to keep it organized. I’m a Type A OCD freak and I still had trouble finding things. (Related: I do somewhat regret using bubble sheet course evaluations as Scrabble scoresheets in a fit of pique over the limitations of quantitative instruments of evaluation in the late 1990s – but whatcha gonna do?) If you have a particularly good class, take a picture of the whiteboard. If you take your students to a conference, jot down their names, and the name of the conference, and the name of their presentation, and the date, etc. Many people recommend keeping copies of student work, but this doesn’t sit well with me so I don’t. The point is, you can only send representations of classroom practice, so make sure you have a good range of them.
  2. Evaluation: Get your teaching evaluated broadly, by different constituencies, routinely. Ask a peer to evaluate your classroom practice, but also consider asking someone to review your use of technology, your class website, or your assignments. If your centralized teaching service offers videotaping, do it – and do it soon, so that you can redo it in the (highly unlikely) event you’re unhappy with take one. If you’re senior, make yourself available to review your junior colleagues’ teaching practice and materials: asking senior colleagues for a “favour” can be awkward and difficult. Evaluating teaching is not a favour; it’s a professional obligation. 
  3. Word process your comments on student writing.
  4. Put full course information on each assignment. Okay, I know: this makes me sound like a dimwit. But especially once I started loading assignments into course management software, I stopped putting the course number and date (especially the date) on every assignment. Yes, the system takes care of that for the students – but you will not believe how mystifying it is to look at a final exam for a course you’re sure you taught, a course you must have taught (or else how did you get your hands on the final?) – but damned if you can remember when. Repetition, here, is a virtue.
  5. Archive your course sites. How? I do not know. But I sure wish I did.
  6. Finding good reviewers takes a lot of time. If you’re being reviewed on the basis of teaching excellence, your field is not exactly eighteenth-century literature or European history or any of the typical ways we think about “fields” or “disciplines.” That also means that good reviewers won’t come to mind readily, and they also don’t always come readily to screen, either. Australia struck me as pretty well organized, university-teacher-wise, but most places won’t have Teaching Councils that organize great university teachers for you. What I found useful was drilling down through the department level of schools that have a reputation for being progressive. I also asked colleagues for recommendations – after all, an excellent creative writing teacher is closer to my field than an engineer who’s brilliant in the classroom – and I followed up leads in pro-teaching articles published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, University Affairs and other professional journals. Still, identifying appropriate reviewers was a major, major task.
  7. Track your administrative service. Every year, consider writing a self-evaluation of your admin work: one page, single-spaced, audience = you. These records will remind you of things you’ll totally have forgotten, and they help resuscitate a sense of priorities and key details. “Oh yeah,” I said, on more than one occasion while putting together my promotion package, “I did do that!”
  8. Rethink the CV. My CV is quite different now than it was before I went into this process. For one thing, it starts with a credo, a paragraph at the top that draws connections between teaching, learning, research, supervision, mentoring and service. That credo tells you how to read the CV, because if you expect the research to speak for itself – well, okay, the research will speak for itself, but it can’t speak for me, if you see the distinction. Talk about what you actually do. That line on your CV might stand in for volumes more than the same line on someone else’s – so spell it out. People won’t read between the lines: they can’t. You have to frame this document for them.
  9. Keep in touch with your graduate students. Talk about a white hat brigade: honestly, I can’t bring myself to read the letters from grad students. Every weekend I say I’m going to; every weekend, my courage fails me – I just don’t believe I am the person they describe. Props to you, if you’re reading!
  10. Have a good Chair. I could not have done this without her support, strategic thinking, and just plain hard work – you can see from last week’s list of the submission package just how much stuff she had to corral. No matter how harrowing this process might be for me – and believe me, I find it harrowing – it’s also a first for her: she is taking a risk bringing the first such case forward. How is “have a good Chair” useful advice? Show your Chair the love! It’s a tough job. 

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that putting yourself forward on the basis of something you actually do well – for me, teaching; for other people, writing books and articles – feels really good. It feels right. As I’m fond of saying: when all else fails, it’s nice to have your integrity to fall back on.

      4 thoughts on “Promotion for Teaching Excellence, Part 2: early lessons

      1. I'm getting itchy from contemplating all the bureaucracy involved in any kind of promotion process.

        Oh dear lord. I was just so happy to get my tenure materials all done — are you telling me I have to keep on with this business for the rest of my life? Ulp.


      2. I wish I had saved (and knew how to archive a few years ago!!). Such great advice in this post above.

        I wanted to propose a couple of ways to archive course sites:

        Skitch. It's free. It's software that capture the screen and then puts it up on Flickr for you.

        Omeka, It's free. It's software that's made for showing an archive online. I'm sure it could be used to show a teaching portfolio.

        There's also Zotero, the free citation add-on to Firefox (and if you don't have citation software… um… where have you been?) It does capture websites, but it's not as nice as Skitch for the task. I do think it would do the job though.

        Also of these you can easily find by Googling, and the download takes just a few seconds.


      3. Heather, I'm curious what you think about tracking email numbers and marking word counts. I've been filing student emails by course for a few years now, and I use the numbers to bolster my self-esteem when I feel like I'm not getting enough accomplished (I may not have that article done but I'm approaching 300 emails with my first years). Recently I've also noticed that I write the equivalent of a 30 page paper every time I mark a batch of first year essays. I find an ego boost in these numbers, but do you think they would be relevant to the promotion process? Or do we assume that everyone is doing the same amount of work?


      4. @Aimee: Nah. You're done.

        @Bonnie: Thanks! Excellent suggestions.

        @SC: Great question, and I'm not sure of the answer. On balance, I worry that simply counting the number of emails obscures the *quality* of your interaction with students. Many of my emails read, “Got it! Thanks.” Many of my colleagues' emails read, “This is a question better discussed in person.” Do you count those? Omit them? Where do you draw the line?

        What was useful for me is a demonstration of quality. I reproduced word-processed comments on a range of assignments: a well done assignment, a failed assignment, a creative assignment, a plagiarized essay, a theory paper, a grad presentation, etc. – all from different areas and levels of courses. What I felt this demonstrated was that no matter what comes at me, I take it seriously and respond with compassion and rigour.

        I think that's the trick to “the same amount of work.” We might all boast the same number of emails, but some are better than others. You want to make your case on the basis of quality. So if you could reproduce a characteristic email exchange, one that shows the care with which you engage your students, that might be more meaningful than a simple number.

        (But for your own ego boost: count away!!)


      Comments are closed.