Teaching demonstration advice
January 17, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I’m applying for a position at a community college that requires a teaching demonstration. I’ve held teaching positions before at the secondary level and never had to do any demonstrations and I'm feeling a bit nervous. Does anyone have advice on how to prepare, what I should expect, and how to get over feeling somewhat silly pretending to teach in front of a large group of people?
posted by a22lamia to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had to do this once, and FWIW, got the job. The only thing I can really remember doing right was that I really focused on not pretending to teach in front of a large group. Instead, focus on actually teaching the large group, even though they're already familiar with the material. For the purposes of the demonstration, they are the students, and you are actually teaching. They should come away from the demonstration having actually learned from your demonstration.

Best of luck!
posted by JekPorkins at 8:45 AM on January 17, 2006

Don't think of it as pretending to teach, approach it as if you are really teaching. Come up with a topic that you can talk about that most people in the room will be unfamiliar with and prepare a "seminar" on that, like you are a guest lecturer. I've done this successfully with topics that are interesting side issues of standard classes that you never really have time to cover, or a case study of some issue in action. If you approach it as a guest lecturer presenting something of broad interest to intelligent adults, expecting an audience to relate as a class would to interesting material, you will know how to prepare and be much more relaxed.
posted by dness2 at 8:47 AM on January 17, 2006

Yeah, echoing JebPorkins and dness2, don't pretend, do.
posted by orthogonality at 8:49 AM on January 17, 2006

There will probably be a small group of senior faculty there- treat them as if they were articularly intelligent and engaged students. Try to pick something that will a) keep them interested, and b) will work on two levels: something that you can work through step-by-step, that a student would understand, but that has some deeper interest for a scholar in whatever field it is you are entering. [Biology? Horticulture?]

I sat in on some tenure-track english professor mock-classes, and I can say that the ones that did the best were using examples that were illustrative of their teaching method [i.e. using leading questions, telling germane anecdotes, &c.], funny, and yet had some depth; the faculty really got into it, asking questions and having a discussion.

I was not in the faculty loop, so I cannot tell you what goes on behind closed doors, but there was some degree of transparency, and I had an in, so I know who voted what- The ones that did the best were younger and more 'hip', but were scholarly enough to satisfy the older-school profs.

Good Luck!
posted by exlotuseater at 8:54 AM on January 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been on the other end, sitting in a group looking to hire new professors and I was part of the student group that gave recommendations on each of the candidates. I think there were five prospective professors that all gave full 50 minute lectures of their choice. The one person that did the best taught a lecture that was close to their research, but was clearly tailored for an intro class to the subject. He was very polished and you could tell he had taught it before. He was organized, it was well-timed, and he even got in a joke here and there. It was perfect.

Like others said, the only criteria for this kind of test is who gave the best lecture and handled the material well -- they're not judging who is the most convincing, so you'll have to get over the fake lecture hump and really, honestly teach that group watching you.
posted by mathowie at 8:56 AM on January 17, 2006

We've been doing some hiring here lately and have had candidates do exactly the same thing. Some general tips:

1. Be Organized. I can't stress this enough. Work from an outline on the board (or a handout, or Powerpoint). Your lecture needs to be about something, and the audience should know from the beginning what they are supposed to get out of it.

2. Be Enthusiastic. Modulate your voice, walk around a bit, crack a joke.

3. Be Interactive. Ask questions of the class. If you begin with a discussion, it sets the tone for the class, that student feedback is welcome and accepted.

4. Multimedia are good--in their place. The easiest thing is to show a picture and get a discussion going. An artifact is better, something the class can hand around. Music is good, if a little harder to pull off. Ditto for a film clip. I would be very wary of Powerpoint, however. Whatever you do, make sure it illustrates, rather than distracts from, your presentation.

5. Appearance. Dress conservatively, be clean, use breath mints. I just recently found out how I got my own academic job in a crowded market. It turns out that the other candidate they brought to campus, whose credentials were as good as or better than mine, smelled like the dickens. People argued over whose turn it was to drive him to dinner, he smelled that bad.

6. Practice. Give them your best presentation, and rehearse it ahead of time. This will give you confidence that will shine through.

7. Keep it brief. If they ask you to teach for 50 minutes, try to bring in your presentation at 40. For the love of God, don't go over.

Good luck!
posted by LarryC at 9:21 AM on January 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I teach with a set of notes at hand at all times. In addition to keeping me organized, it gives me something to look at when I totally blank out on a word or phrase. The sheer act of putting the outline together forces me to organize my presentation.

Having said that, don't stick to the outline at all costs. Be willing to deviate, know what you can cut back on or what you can expand on when explaining things to maintain your time frame.

I like working with images for students to look at, but they won't write unless you do, so keep that in mind. All-Powerpoint can be OK but remember that the medium is too easily abused and can quite quickly end up with massive amounts of text. Real students don't listen to anything you are saying until they have copied the slide word for word.

If possible, run dual displays: Powerpoint or overheads on one screen, overhead projector or whiteboard or chalkboard next to it. Put words on one, put pictures on the other. Students will follow you more easily, because writing things down will make you go more slowly. As a bonus, it shows off your handwriting skills (or lack thereof). Also makes a handy backup when Powerpoint craps out on you.

And if you do use Powerpoint, learn to use and love Presenter View. I can skip one or ten or fifty slides, show them out of order, etc. and the people viewing the slide show see nothing except a smooth transition from slide to slide. They never see that I am skipping anything, which makes the presentation look more planned than it is. Few things are worse than seeing seven or eight slides flash rapidly across the screen because the presenter has more material than he or she actually needed. It's distracting to the audience.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2006

Choose a topic that you are enthused about and very knowledgeable about. If you are excited about your topic, it will show in your teaching.

Don't focus on yourself. Focus on your material and the importance of getting your message (whatever it is) through to your audience. When this is your focus, it takes a lot of pressure off of you--worrying how you look, etc., so you won't be as nervous. Works for me, anyway.

Practice. Live bodies can give you feedback, but taping yourself (video or audio) can also be beneficial.

Speak up and speak slowly. When you're nervous, you have a tendency to speak quickly, which is hard for the audience to follow. When you're scared or intimidated, you tend to speak quietly. If your audience can't hear or understand you, you've lost them.

Visual aides help hold your audience's attention. While these are not absolutely necessary, you will show your versatility and ability to use multiple mediums. Practice with your visual aides, if you're going to use them to make sure that they work the way you want them to, that they won't be awkward, and that they are relevant. Using visual aides just for the sake of having them screams "trying too hard".
posted by Mrs. Smith at 1:50 PM on January 17, 2006

As the other posters have said, be real. DO NOT wink-wink nod-nod. Treat it like a real class.
I introduced myself (quuickly)
Gave a quuick overview of where we were going.
I had prepared handouts just as I really would.
I even gave homework for a (fictional) next meeting and thold them how today's lecture would fit into our next class.

Practice is good. If you are like me, you'll be wound up. You'll want to talk really fast and show off everything you know. Don't.
Look your "students" in the eye. Make sure you divide your attention equally. If you slight any "group" you are doomed.

Good luck!
posted by cccorlew at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ohhh.One more thing...
If you do Powerpoint, or multimedia, make sure it will work. Test on their equipmet if at all possible. Bring your own if you need to. Fumbling at this point sucks. I'd go so far as to say if you can't be SURE you won't have tech problems, don't do it.
posted by cccorlew at 4:38 PM on January 17, 2006

I've had to do this in the past and have coached friends on doing it. One thing that has not been mentioned, that I usually recommend, is this (which may or may not apply depending on your circumstances): if they haven't been specific about what or to whom they want you to teach, come up with a list of variations -- lecture, small class, workshop and a set of topics you'd be happy to teach. Give the list to them, tell them you're confident in your ability to teach any format, and let them choose the style and subject.

Wows 'em every time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:21 PM on January 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

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