Annual Meeting Preview: Applying for Jobs at Teaching Institutions, or, So What Else Can You Teach?

This workshop takes place on Friday, April 5, at the 2019 OAH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and is solicited by the OAH Membership Committee
Twitter: #AM3105

Chair and Presenter: Rebecca Noel, Plymouth State University
• Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Salem State University
Elizabeth De Wolfe, University of New England

Applying for Jobs at Teaching Institutions, or, So What Else Can You Teach?
When You Do Everything Right But Many Things Wrong

To assist graduate students, other early career academics, and faculty who advise doctoral students, the panelists are offering a 90-minute workshop at OAH 2019, Applying for Jobs at Teaching Institutions, or, So What Else Can You Teach? Sharing their insights about what teaching-focused institutions expect, they will lead hands-on activities to help participants prepare for and apply to these jobs.

Your research paragraph lights up like a cruise ship.

From the start of your cover letter, you prove that your research makes a world-class contribution. You establish your theoretical stance, distinguish your findings from others’ work, and parade your elegant prose. The paragraph is over half a page single-spaced, but you’re told the length is worthwhile. You lock down your publication credentials on the second page by abstracting your three peer-reviewed journal articles. You save space at the end by discussing only that specialty seminar you taught, omitting survey TA gigs and the community college adjunct class you taught for money. They’re on your vita. Somewhere.

Your main research field is a direct match for the job. The ad does ask for some fields and skills where your background is weaker. You’re advised to say nothing about those underdeveloped areas in your letter. The research closes the deal.

Your recommenders are all famous scholars. None has seen you teach, but they call you the best student they’ve ever had and deem your research field-changing. Your teaching statement is high-minded and exquisite. Too bad you had to cut the classroom anecdotes.

It all works: you score a Skype interview. You describe your dissertation as gloriously as you rehearsed it and pitch upper-level specialty courses in your research field. It works again: you’re invited to campus. As advised, when on campus, you mask your age, your spouse’s career that would work in the area, your parents’ location two hours away, and the very existence of your toddler. Your advisor says it’s unprofessional if not insulting to mention personal factors that increase your interest in this job, and it could alarm the committee to think you have a family. You also airbrush the embarrassing adjunct stint. Instead, you talk up your research to everyone you meet.

Your teaching demo is a rich, brilliant lecture showcasing your research. Unfortunately you don’t have time for student engagement, but you invite questions on your lecture, and one student asks several.

Start to finish, you did everything your top research university trained you to do. Nailed it in fact.

And that’s why you didn’t get the job.

We know what you’re thinking. In this market, it’s downright cruel to blame anyone for not getting a job. You’re right—you might not have gotten the job anyway. And you could probably have done the job beautifully. But if you unwittingly blocked the committee’s view of your most relevant abilities, wouldn’t you want to know that?

Perhaps you are also thinking, “This is just a humble teaching institution! If a superstar fails to impress them, they must not know any better—some of them barely publish!” But why did a similar institution hire your classmate who cheapened her brand with widespread adjunct teaching and published only one minor article?

We say to you, dear applicant, gently and with great sympathy, that you were playing the wrong game all along. And your advisor was coaching you using that other game’s rules.

The job market is atrocious. It’s high-stakes musical chairs with only two chairs and twenty hungry kids playing. We are not claiming we can add any chairs. That’s a vital but separate challenge.

But we believe we can help applicants hear the right music so as not to be at a disadvantage. We have seen all of the preventable missteps in this extended example (and more) as we’ve participated in and chaired search committees at our teaching institutions. Even though R1-4 schools together comprise only 7% of post-secondary institutions in the United States, too many applicants have not learned how to market themselves for teaching-intensive faculty jobs.

Quite often, a candidate who presented herself like this would not advance to a Skype interview, much less a campus visit. We’re measuring different strengths and filling a different job from those at your R1 graduate school. You’ve convinced us that you are a perfect pumpkin, equal to the best pumpkins in your patch. We can tell because we were sown as pumpkins ourselves. But we’re buying eggplant. Both are beautiful.

Applicants, show teaching-intensive search committees your eggplant excellence. If we’re hiring a versatile teacher who also does research, please don’t sell yourself as a tunnel-vision researcher who teaches narrowly and grudgingly. We are eager to meet your teaching self.


Elizabeth De Wolfe, Ph.D., is Professor of History at the University of New England (Biddeford, Maine). She is the author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories (Kent State Univ. Press) among other works on American women’s history.

Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Ph.D,. is professor and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and Coordinator of American Studies at Salem State University (Salem, Massachusetts). She is the author most recently of Modern Bonds: Redefining Community in Early Twentieth Century St. Paul (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018).

Rebecca R. Noel, Ph.D., is Professor of History at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. Her book on antebellum American schooling and child health is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Posted: January 14, 2019
Tagged: Previews, Professional Development, Conference, OAH Works