Monday, December 27, 2010

Gregory Colon Semenza, Graduate Study for the 21st Century

Graduate Study for the 21st Century, Gregory Colon Semenza, Palgrave MacMillan, NY, 2005.

Educational theorist Mike Rose characterizes student defiance and indifference as parts of a “powerful and effective defense” mechanism that helps neutralize the frustration caused by recognition of one’s own ignorance or feelings of powerlessness: / ‘Reject the confusion and frustration by openly defining yourself as the common Joe. Champion the average. Rely on your own good sense. Fuck this bullshit… books, essays, tests, academic scrambling, complexity, scientific reasoning, philosophical inquiry.’ [Mike, Rose, Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared (New York: Penguin, 1989), 29.] / Ironically, what Rose describes as a coping mechanism for countless students applies with amazing accuracy to those graduate students, adjuncts, and professors who love to bash college teaching: reject the frustration by defining yourself as indifferent to your students. Champion mediocrity for everyone. Forget challenging essays, tests, and so on. Retreat into your own mind. And most important, ignore the fact that you’ve become like the person in the back of the room who merely whines and rolls her eyes. (105-6)

Many otherwise strong candidates blow their chances of getting a job by being unable to answer some version of the following common question: “Which writers on education have most directly influenced your teaching?” Sometimes the questions are more specific: “Where do you fall in the Hirsch/Freire debate?” “Is Allan Bloom simply a crank, or is he onto something?” “What do you see as the limitations of bell hooks’ conception of class in the classroom?” (107)

Read the Chronicle of Higher Education: Yes, I’ve already given you this advice earlier in the chapter. The point is worth reiterating here because the Chronicle features several teaching-related articles per issue. Whether the article happens to be on the developing centrality or technology in the classroom, one obscure teacher’s views regarding critical pedagogy, or a famous pedagogue’s recent work, you will benefit immeasurably from exposure to the terminology and methodological focus of cutting-edge pedagogical writings. For the same reason, you might consider subscribing to a journal that’s focused on teaching in your particular discipline. (107)

Syllabus: Think of the “Course Description” as the first impression you will make on your students. They will infer from your syllabus your level of enthusiasm, the seriousness of your expectations, and the style of your presentation. If you write a boring course description, they will probably assume that you are boring. On the other hand, if the description is merely sexy, with no real substance, they will think you are trendy or a pushover. The key to a successful description is the balance between being provocative and being serious. (109)

Lesson Plan: To begin, the teacher chooses to include “housekeeping” issues so they won’t be forgotten. Next, the teacher summarizes the major issues covered in the previous class, which helps the students to remember where they’ve been and sets a context for the new material. Once the teacher turns to the new material, she takes several important steps: first, she includes specific citation information for the passages she wishes to cover… Also , she uses bold-face to highlight questions for students; the boldface helps her to remember to what end she’s decided to analyze particular passages; in later courses, such reminders will be valuable. After the question, she provides several possible answers; now if students fail to respond or simply respond differently than she has anticipated, the discussion can be shifted in a preferred direction. Finally, the lesson includes information that sets up students for the following class. (112)

Use E-Mail Sparingly: The ease with which students can log onto their computers allows them to act impulsively—to communicate things over the internet that they would never say to someone’s face. As soon as students learn they have earned a midterm grace of “C,” for example, they can fire off an angry e-mail explaining that they have never “gotten anything less than a B before” (never believe this claim) and demanding to know why you are so mean. If you should stoop to the student’s level by responding angrily, the situation can quickly get out of control. Don’t allow this to happen. Explain in your syllabus that e-mail is not a substitute for office hours and that students with questions about graded papers or exams must make it a point to attend your office hours. (116)

Do not agree to read drafts unless you are given considerable notice and an appropriate amount of time to go through them. But do listen to students’ ideas, however inchoate, and help them to develop those ideas into persuasive arguments even before they begin formal work on a particular assignment. If you are to convince students that each assignment is merely a single step in a much larger process of learning, you’ll need to demonstrate your recognition of and dedication to that process. (117)

If you ask students to turn in a three-page paper on Gayle Rubin’s “The Traffic of Women,” it will be helpful for them to know whether they should summarize Rubin’s argument, analyze rhetorically Rubin’s argument, or respond viscerally to Rubin’s argument. … Always read the assignment aloud in class, allow the students to ask questions about it, and invite them to discuss the matter further in office hours. (118)

Whenever possible, try to cast critical feedback in the form of a question, which will be less intimidating and more thought provoking. In your summary statement, address the student by name an, as always, focus on what is necessary for improvement on the next assignment. Even if your marginal comments point to six or seven problems in the student’s writing or logical thought process, try to focus your summary statement on the one or two most significant problems. Students should be able to take away from your comments both a sense of what they should try to improve and two or three concrete suggestions about how to improve. (119)

From faculty observers you should gain two important things: first, honest feedback about your teaching, which can be incorporated immediately; second, a written letter that can later be developed into a formal letter of recommendation for your teaching portfolio and your job application packet. Once you learn which faculty member will observe you, introduce yourself and explain that you look forward to receiving the professor’s feedback. Try to schedule the visit for a day when you are teaching material with which you feel comfortable or which you believe highlights your strengths in the classroom. Provide the observer with a syllabus and any other materials that will help her to contexualize the particular class to be observed. Explain to the students ahead of time that the class will be visited by an observer. (121)

I break the portfolio down into five necessary parts: a teaching CV, the teaching philosophy, student evaluations, syllabi, and faculty/students observations of your teaching (i.e. letters of recommendation). As always, you should strive to be creative and add to this basic portfolio whatever other documents you think might enhance your portrait. (124)

The Teaching Philosophy: People too often tend to ignore the “philosophy” part, which is problematic. What the one-page teaching philosophy should not be is a description of the classes and books you have taught in the past. Rather, you need to think carefully about the pedagogical principles and ideals that inform and tie together every class you teach, however different those courses may be from one another. If your philosophy of education happens to derive from a particular educational theorist (e.g. Freire or Giroux), then share this information, since it will help your readers to ground abstract ideas in concrete forms. If your teaching philosophy derives from more personal or less direct sources, then consider coining a term or a phrase for it, which will serve the same concretizing function. (126) …
Once you establish the principle or the theory, focus on praxis. Since often there is a significant gap in education between the pedagogical ideal and the practical reality, it’s important to show how your ideas apply in actual classroom situations. Provide at least one example of an assignment or in-class practice that shows how your philosophy can be put to use. Avoid vague gestures in favor of clear, detailed statements; for example, rather than reporting that “I ask students to read many controversial books in order to foster debate,” try the following: “by pairing the writings of thinkers as opposed as E. D. Hirsch and Paolo Freire, I encourage students to approach difficult educational issues dialectically.” The more specific you are, the greater the likelihood that your readers will be interested and the more talking points you will generate for the interview. (126)

Sample: Teaching Philosophy/
My basic goal as an English instructor—based upon a philosophy I call “meta-pedagogy”—has been to make students aware of the educational process itself. Students are encouraged to become active participants in the construction of course syllabi, organization of class activities, and the conveyance of knowledge. They are encouraged to consider the implications of educational policy making and pedagogical presentation so that they might become more critical of the practices that affect their own acquisitions and use of knowledge. I have focused on helping them to strengthen their convictions and stressed the importance of articulating those convictions in a variety of settings. /
My experience has taught me that students often perceive educators not as people working to help them, but as obstacles or stepping-stones between them and their futures. I’ve come to realize that such (erroneous) perceptions are partially the result of their detachment from or nonparticipation in the educational system. Most students go to class, take their tests, complete their core requirements, and fill out their evaluations because they are asked to do so but not because they understand the reasons for doing so. However interested they may be in knowing those reasons, the are often conditioned not to ask about the, not to question the purpose or efficacy of traditional or nontraditional pedagogical methods. I have been impressed by the positive reactions of students once they are comfortable enough to ask these “forbidden” questions. For example, the first question I tend to be asked by writing students is “Why do we have to take these classes?” Several years ago, my response was typical of the unsatisfactory answers that are usually given: “Because every job requires written communication skills, etc.” Now I assign interview papers that each student must complete. The student must arrange for an interview with a person in her prospective field (a dean, employee, professor, etc.). She must explain to the interviewee the class she is taking, and then she must question how it will be useful down the road. Without exception, students return to class after the interview more determined to work and appreciative of the concrete answers they’ve discovered. /
I have embraced an interdisciplinary, multi-media approach to teaching in order to stress the connections between fields of knowledge that students often perceive to be unrelated. For example, in “Introduction to Shakespeare,” we move from an in-depth examination of each play to musical and artistic reconstructions of Shakespearean drama such as Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry Fuseli’s painting of the same title. My classes integrate music, film and television clips, and trips to local art collections and playhouses to stress the complex pervasiveness of ideology and the exciting inter-connections between cultural media. Students begin to see knowledge as dynamic and alive, not fixed and static. /
In conclusion, I admit that my greatest fear about meta-teaching is that I will be unable to maintain enough authority to conduct an effective course. After all, my courses teach students how to be critical even of me. I’ve learned that the fear is unnecessary. By focusing students on the learning process, I help them to understand the highly complex factors that influence my assessment of their performances. They begin to feel as though they can understand and control these factors as well. Grades are less frightening as a result. They become markers on a quite accessible pathway to improvement and success. As a teacher, I have tried to empower students while maintaining rigorous standards of excellence. (127)

Next provide abridged versions of your two most impressive syllabi. If you have taught upper-level classes as well as introductory ones, provide one for each type. In addition, provide your potential employers with one syllabus for a course you plan to teach if they hire you. (130)

Since you should try to keep each syllabus fairly concise (no more than two pages), cut all personal information such as your office hour times, your phone number, and your policies regarding such matters as plagiarism, attendance, and lateness. The latter is especially importance since it’s not worth risking that you might offend someone because your policies happen to be more rigid or relaxed than their own. The most important information to include on each syllabus is the course title, course description, required text, required assignments, and the daily class schedule. (131)

Work up a “Content” page for your portfolio, print out the forms on both sides of the page, and staple everything together. (132)

While we have been stressing the importance of the peer-reviewed article as an indicator of one’s scholarly credentials, several other forms of publication are expected of humanities scholars. A book review or a chapter in an edited collection will never be regarded as the equivalent of a peer-reviewed article, but such publications will certainly strengthen any CV. Several common forms of publication in the humanities are listen and described below in descending order from the most to least important. (202) (2)
(1) The Peer-Reviewed Monograph [book]. (2) The Peer-Reviewed Edited (Book)
Collection of Essays. Surely some academics would argue that the edited collection of essays belongs in a lower spot on this list. A strong collection, however, is capable of transforming scholarship in a particular field, and it can also enhance considerably the reputations of both its editor and its editor’s department. … (3) The Peer-Reviewed Journal Article. (4) Chapters in Collections of Essays. Some such essays are peer-reviewed by the editors themselves or by readers from a press still deciding whether or not to publish the collection. Since the assumption of some academics tends to be that chapters in collections are not peer-reviewed even though nearly all of those collections published by university presses are peer-reviewed, you should make absolutely clear (and be willing to show) that a particular essay has in fact been peer-reviewed if that is the case. There are several scenarios by which one of your essays might wind up in a collection of essays, and together they reveal the problems in trying to define what constitutes a peer-reviewed article: (a) You come across a Call for Papers relevant to a particular topic on which an editor is attempting to publish a collection. You send the editor (or editors) the piece, which is read and accepted. Ins this a peer-reviewed article? One can certainly make the case. (b) Responding to a Call for Papers, you send an abstract or proposal for an essay to an editor or editors. They agree to include your essay in the collection on the basis of this abstract. In this case, you would have to stretch the facts to consider the piece a peer-reviewed article. (c) After delivering a conference paper, you are approached by an editor who asks whether you might be willing to include the piece in her forthcoming collection of essays. This should not be regarded as peer-reviewed. (d) Finally, you are commissioned (by phone, e-mail, letter, etc.) to write an essay for a particular collection of essays. In some cases, commissioned pieces should not be regarded as peer-reviewed. In many cases, though, essays commissioned by the editors will have to be accepted by readers at the publishing press. (5) The Peer-Reviewed Note or Query. (6) Book Reviews. The vast majority of book reviews are commissioned by journals so it is unlikely you will land many prior to the publication of your own first monograph. (205)

The first rule of publishing is that the quality is far more important than quantity. Your job prospects and, indeed, your reputation will benefit more from one well-placed, excellently written article than three or four insignificant ones. Further, there is no point seeking publication in a mediocre journal unless you have first been rejected by all of the superior ones. The key is figuring out those journals that are superior and most appropriate for your piece. (207)

…the most cutting-edge articles on Shakespeare tend to appear in Shakespeare Quarterly. More old-fashioned historical ones tend to appear in Renaissance Quarterly. New Historicist ones appear in English Literary Renaissance. Heavily theoretical ones in Representations. In some cases, though, a majority of Shakespeare articles on the particular topic being researched will happen to have appeared in SEL, which would make it a logical choice for an initial submission. (207)

…if the Shakespeare piece is over 6,000 words long, SEL won’t publish it. Or, if you plan to be on the job market in five months, a particular journal’s policy of taking six months (pretty much the norm these days) to respond to a submission simply won’t work. Now there are two ways in which you can discover the sort of information that will allow you to make informed decisions. The first is to consult any one of the “periodical guides” that provides information about journals in your field. These extraordinarily useful guides allow you to search information about journals relevant to your field or topic. The MLA Guide to Periodicals, for example, which lists information about most journals in the fields of English, Comparative Literature, and the Modern Languages, serves as a useful indicator of such guides’ general effectiveness. (208)

Journals often change their editorial policies and, more often, they change editors. You won’t want to offend the new editor by addressing the old one in your cover letter. (208)

Regardless of whether the journal finally prints footnotes or endnotes, manuscripts should always provide endnotes, double-spaced and beginning on a clean page. (209)

Your cover letter to the editor should be a very simple affair. Carrying on and on about your argument makes no sense for a variety of reasons but, most of all, because your cover letter is unlikely to get much further than a secretary’s desk. Your job is to announce what you are submitting, to request publication in the journal, and to provide enough personal information that the editor will know how and where to reach you (209)

Always use your department’s letterhead. You should list your title, “Ph.D. Candidate”. (209)

You will probably receive an acknowledgement that your manuscript has been received within a few weeks after submitting it. If receipt has not been acknowledged after a month, call the journal to make sure the manuscript was not lost in the mail. Finally, you should keep in mind that you cannot submit an essay to more than one journal at a time. (210)

June 12, 2002

The Chaucer Review
Professors Susanna Fein and David Raybin
English Department
117 Chaucer Avenue
The Pennsylvania State University,
College Town, PA 10101

Dear Professor Fein and Professor Raybin:

Please consider my manuscript—“Athletic and Discursive Competition in Fragment I of the Canterbury Tales”—for publication in The Chaucer Review. I have enclosed two copies as requested.
Should you need to contact me, I can be reached at (860) 301-9432 or by e-mail at blahblah. My mailing address is listed below and on the first page of the manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Gregory Semenza
Assistant Professor of English

After receiving the acknowledgement of receipt, you should prepare yourself for months of silence. The MLA Style Manual advises that you may inquire about the article’s status after four months. I usually wait for five months. If your e-mail or letter goes unanswered, try calling the office. (210)

Journal submissions are rarely accepted “as is” because good editors work hard to ensure that the strongest possible pieces are published; it almost always makes sense to request at least some revisions from the author. (212)

Acceptance Pending Revision: Always itemize your significant revisions so that the editor can more easily track and evaluate your changes. (213)

Revise and Resubmit: Whereas an acceptance pending revision amounts to an agreement to publish your work so long as you revise it, and R&R suggests that the piece is not appropriate for publication but that the journal would be willing to consider a significantly revised version of it. (213)

Here’s an extremely short list of the sorts of questions you’re likely to face:
Why are you interested in X school specifically?
How do you approach survey courses?
Name one pedagogical theorist who has influence you and explain why.
How do you deal with defiant or apathetic students?
[Questions assessing your ability to handle direct challenges: Isn’t the use of film just another way to dumb down your students? I see from page 14 of your writing sample that you think x = y. I find this problematic, to say the least. Can you defend your view?
What motivates you? Why did you decided to become an English teacher?

Know that the interviewers also will expect you to ask them questions. Often this is a point where many interviewers screw up otherwise competent performances by asking for answers to questions they should already know. As Hume remarks, your goal is to glean as much useful information about the needs of the hiring college as your interviewers are willing to share; she recommends questions such as the following: What areas would you hope that I might develop for you? And ‘What are you hoping this hire can do for your department? Save questions about financial matters. (256)

Since a majority of questions will focus on how you teach or would teach specific courses, anticipate which courses you are likely to be asked about and work up a sample syllabus for each one. If you happen to be an expert on classical rhetoric, you should be prepared to answer questions about introductory courses, upper-level courses, and graduate courses on the subject. If an interviewer asks you how your graduate course on the subject would differ from your undergraduate course and you answer, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’ the interview will be effectively over. But think how impressed your interviewers will be if you pull out several copies of a syllabus. (257)


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