Teaching and Teaching Portfolios in the Academic Job Search

By Stacey Lynn Camp, University of Idaho

One of the biggest challenges of an academic job search is convincing a hiring committee that your skills and research interests are perfectly tailored to the advertised faculty position. Many advertised positions are ambiguous to begin with, with broad calls that span geographical and temporal specializations. Teaching responsibilities are also sometimes left to the applicant’s imagination, with the candidate charged with the task of deciphering what is expected of them in terms of their teaching and advising load.

Deciphering Teaching Expectations
If it is unclear what a university expects in terms of a teaching load (how many classes you will be expected to teach per academic year) or teaching pedagogy (how you approach teaching), you should spend a considerable amount of time looking into published material associated with the hiring department and its faculty on staff. This information can often be found on a department’s website, where course offerings are usually listed underneath a faculty member’s profile. At my institution, a number of faculty members in my department have published their teaching philosophies in teaching pedagogy journals.

One hint that teaching skills are prized at a university is a request for an applicant’s teaching portfolio, which can be made in the initial job announcement or requested from the applicant once they have made it through the first or second stage of the interview process. If, however, the job advertisement does not require extensive documentation of your teaching experiences, you should still take time to consider and research how many courses you will be teaching in the position, how many students you will be teaching in your courses, what courses you might be able or expected to teach in the department, the textbooks, book chapters, and articles you intend to assign as course texts, and the pedagogical strategies you will employ in the classroom.

Creative Commons license held by Stanford EdTechNo matter where you interview, questions about your teaching will inevitably arise. Even at the most competitive research schools you will be expected to teach a few classes every year, and it is important that you think carefully about how you will undertake course instruction and employ the pedagogical values that you hold dear in the classroom.

If you are one of the fortunate few who make it to the first or second round of interviews for the position, you should ask questions about the teaching and advising expectations and how those balance out with research and publication requirements of the position. These questions are important to the faculty hiring committee, as they show that the candidate has the foresight to consider what their responsibilities will be in this position.

Developing a Philosophy of Teaching
To demonstrate your commitment to teaching, you should consult publications on teaching pedagogy. There is ample literature on the topic that is both broad and discipline-specific in scope; at the very least, it is helpful to be aware of commonly utilized teaching strategies in academia and within the field of archaeology. Recently published literature within our own discipline includes Baxter’s Archaeological Field Schools: A Guide for Teaching in the Field (2009), Burke and Smith’s Archaeology to Delight and Instruct: Active Learning in the University Classroom (2007), and Mytum’s Global Perspectives on Archaeological Field Schools: Constructions of Knowledge and Experience (2012). Citing this literature in your teaching philosophy or mentioning it during interviews shows that you care about your students and you take the role of a faculty mentor and instructor seriously enough to read up on the subject matter.

When I applied for my current position as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Idaho, a teaching portfolio was part of the initial request for applications. My teaching portfolio comprised of qualitative and quantitative data from my teaching evaluations, letters of support from professors who supervised me as their teaching assistant, letters of support from former students, handouts and assignments from my classes, syllabi from courses I hoped to teach at the University of Idaho, examples of graded papers and my feedback on student assignments, a faculty member’s assessment of my teaching in the classroom. and, perhaps most importantly, my teaching philosophy statement.

I knew that the university was a second tier research institute, which meant that my teaching and research experiences would be equally valued in the hiring process. As a result, I spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about my teaching philosophy. The teaching philosophy should not merely be a descriptive compilation of your accomplishments (e.g. teaching awards, good student evaulations, training in teaching pedagogy, etc.); the hiring committee should be able to find that information on your Curriculum Vitae. Rather, your teaching statement should be a coherent, consistent narrative that describes how you approach teaching, how that approach aligns with your research and dissertation project, and how you see yourself evolving as a teacher over the course of the next five or six years as an assistant professor.

Look at the teaching philosophy as an opportunity to explore the ideas, concepts, and methodologies you desire to impart to your students. This involves a bit of self-reflection; some questions you should ask yourself are: what is it that has driven me toward a career in anthropology? What is it that intrigues me about this discipline? What are the two or three key points or methodologies I want students to know when they leave my classroom? How does my work intersect with other disciplines in meaningful and interesting ways? How can I make anthropology and archaeology relevant to non-anthropology majors?

An Example of a Teaching Philosophy in Historical Archaeology
Let me give you an example of how I answered these questions and composed a teaching philosophy that reflected my personal and academic research interests. What I have always liked about historical archaeology is its multiscaler approach to interpreting a site, a community, or a region. By comparing and contrasting multiple data sources, historical archaeologists can identify gaps in historical knowledge as well as discover contradictions between what is said in the documentary record and what is found in the archaeological record. I encourage students to be active participants in this discovery process by giving them data to analyze and deconstruct, and devote nearly half of my Introduction to Historical Archaeology course at the University of Idaho to critically analyzing and assessing the limitations and advantages of using different sources of information, such as photographs, maps, probate inventories, newspapers, oral histories, and, of course, archaeological assemblages.

Thinking critically about where data originated, who produced the data, and for what purposes the data was collected or written is not simply a skill limited to the practice of historical archaeology. In today’s media saturated world, it is crucial that students, as consumers of media, learn how to assess the intentions of media producers and the validity of the data cited by the media. So, to make a long story short, one of my primary teaching goals is to prepare students to be critical consumers of modern day media and to understand how to verify the authenticity of the media’s claims using the tools of historical archaeology. My course readings, my assignments, and my in-class discussions all work together to impart this skill set to students.

Creative Commons license held by user mystuart

Defining Teaching Experiences
For some applicants, the very thought of organizing a teaching portfolio evokes fear and anxiety. This is perhaps especially true for applicants whose teaching experiences have been limited, comprising of undergraduate mentoring in laboratory or field school settings or serving as teaching assistants for classes. At the very least, you will be expected to demonstrate that you have already started to build a strong repertoire of teaching and mentoring experiences that will serve you well in a faculty position

Even if you have yet to teach your own course, you should not discount other types of interactions and “teaching moments” with undergraduates. These experiences come in many forms, such as working with lab assistants, directing field crews, mentoring and advising undergraduates, or serving as a teaching assistant and directing discussion sections. Much of what we do as archaeologists involves hands-on learning and instruction, but it is up to the applicant to draw connections between what initially may be viewed as atypical forms of instruction and classroom teaching.

Concluding Thoughts on Teaching Philosophies
If you are hired for the position, you will be thankful for devoting energy and time to fleshing out your teaching objectives and philosophy. Teaching statements are an essential component of faculty assessment. When I went up for my third year review at the University of Idaho, I revised and edited my teaching philosophy statement that I submitted as a job applicant. I will be revising it once again when I go up for tenure next year.

Thinking through your approach to teaching can also result in research and publication opportunities. I have written on teaching pedagogy in archaeology (Camp 2010), and how giving students the chance to do archaeology over the course of an academic year and outside of the traditional summer field school model can help solve real-world issues facing campuses.

Inspired by positive student responses to my integration of archaeological experience into the classroom setting, I continue to seek new and innovative ways of delivering course content to my students. From my perspective, then, the best teaching philosophies are ones open to student input, self-critique, and continual revision as one grows and matures as a teacher.


Works Cited

Baxter, Jane Eva (2009) Archaeological Field Schools: A Guide for Teaching in the Field. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Burke, Heather and Claire Smith (eds.) (2007) Archaeology to Delight and Instruct: Active Learning in the University Classroom. One World Archaeology Series. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Camp, Stacey Lynn (2010) Teaching with Trash: Archaeological Insights on University Waste Management, World Archaeology 42(3):430-42.

Mytum, Harold (ed.) (2012) Global Perspectives on Archaeological Field Schools: Constructions of Knowledge and Experience. New York: Springer.

Workshops at Leicester

Once again, the SHA is hosting a slate of workshops at our annual conference. In Leicester, we are pleased to be able to offer five workshops that provide numerous different training opportunities. If you’re going to Leicester, take a look at these workshops, which we be held on the Wednesday preceding the start of the conference (January 9th).

(W1) Public Archaeology Toolbox: Project Archaeology Investigation Shelter

Hosted by Sarah Miller and Amber Grafft-Weiss

Full Day Workshop

Project Archaeology is a national heritage education program of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Montana State University.  Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter, a curriculum guide for teachers, was endorsed by the National Council of Social Studies in the U.S.  Professional development workshops are conducted by facilitators who provide training and mentoring to local educators who wish to incorporate archaeology into their classroom teaching.  This full day workshop will introduce SHA members to Investigating Shelter and model classroom activities.  Workshop participants will receive the curriculum guide and “Investigating a Tabby Slave Cabin,” which was developed through a partnership with national Project Archaeology, National Park Service, and the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  Plan to share experience from other public archaeology programs and discuss affordances and constraints of Project Archaeology materials for international partners.

(W2) An Introduction to Cultural Property Protection of Historical and Post-Medieval Archaeological Sites during Military Operations

Hosted by Christopher McDaid and Duane Quates

Full Day Workshop

This workshop will introduce the international framework for cultural property protection during military operations, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict.  We will then address the ways in which the system is challenged by sites from the last 500 years.   Cultural properties such as Leptis Magna, an ancient Roman city in Libya, are granted protection due to their listing on the World Heritage list.  However few of the properties on that list are the types that are the focus of the research of the members of the SHA who desire to study the rise of the modern world.  This focus of SHA means that sites of importance to SHA members are explicitly associated with the expansion of global capitalism, or were associated with the expansion of the European powers, or with the forced relocation of people.  Sites associated with these challenging and controversial topics are not the types of sites that often receive official heritage recognition.  Unless the researchers and their community partners make the importance of these sites known, the international heritage framework will continue to overlook these significant aspects of our shared human heritage.

Topics addressed will an overview of the militaries’ own heritage management programs, the international framework for cultural property protection, how scholars can communicate information to military planners effectively, and reviews of several case studies involving military operations and cultural property protection.

(W3a and W3b) Fundamentals of Archaeological Curation

Hosted by Kelly Abbott

Two half-day workshops, register for either morning or afternoon session

This course is for those with site experience who are looking to refresh their knowledge or for people who are unfamiliar with archaeological conservation. We cover materials and how they deteriorate and practical exercises for protecting and storing finds. There is an opportunity to share your experiences and solve current issues.

(W4) Excavating the Image: The MUA Photoshop Workshop

Hosted by T. Kurt Knoerl

Full Day Workshop

This Photoshop workshop covers basic photo processing techniques useful to historians and archaeologists. We will cover correcting basic problems in photos taken underwater and on land, restoring detail to historic images, and preparation of images for publications. We will also cover the recovery of data from microfilm images such as hand written letters. No previous Photoshop experience is needed but you must bring your own laptop with Photoshop already installed on it (version 7 or newer). While images used for the workshop are provided by me, feel free to bring an image you’re interested in working on. Warning…restoring historic images can be addictive!

(W5) Submerged Cultural Resources Awareness Workshop

Hosted by Whitney Anderson, Dave Ball, Barry Bleichner, Amanda Evans, Kim Faulk, Connie Kelleher, and Sarah Watkins-Kenney

Full Day Workshop

Cultural resource managers, land managers, and archaeologists are often tasked with managing and reviewing assessments for submerged cultural resources.  This workshop is designed to introduce non-specialists to issues specific to underwater archaeology.  Participants will learn about different types of underwater cultural heritage sites, and the techniques used to mitigate impacts at pre-development/pre-planning archaeological assessment stage and subsequent survey, excavation and recording of sites of archaeological significance (also referred to as Phase I and II surveys).  This workshop is not intended to teach participants how to do underwater archaeology, but will introduce different investigative techniques, international Best Practices, and existing legislation (specific examples will focus on archaeological management and protection measures employed in Ireland and the United Kingdom).  The purpose of this workshop is to assist non-specialists in recognizing the potential for submerged cultural resources in their areas of impact, budgeting for submerged cultural resource investigations, reviewing submerged cultural resource assessments, and providing sufficient background information to assist in making informed decisions regarding the underwater archaeological heritage.  This full-day workshop will consist of a series of interactive lectures and demonstrations.  All participants will receive an informational CD with presentation notes, supporting legislation and contacts, and referrals related to the workshop lectures.

Surviving the Academic Job Talk

No pressure

It’s summer. As the mercury slides up the thermometer (WAY up the thermometer),  several events in the archaeological yearly round appear on the horizon. A host of field schools are in full swing around the globe, anxious graduate students are working to complete fieldwork before returning to the classroom, and there is the usual crop of CRM projects that tax the sweat glands and keep sports drink companies in the black.

For those of us exploring the academic job market, this also means that a new round of position announcements lies on the horizon. For each position, a lucky few candidates will get invited to a campus visit, which will entail a job talk.

The job talk can be an intimidating, highly daunting experience. This post is intended to offer some basic guidance that may assist the prospective with preparing for this talk. I draw upon some printed and electronic sources (there frankly aren’t many available on this subject) as well as some interviews with several scholars who have gone through this process recently and met with success.

Do Your Homework

It should come as no surprise that there is a lot of planning involved in the job talk. Think about who is going to be in the room. If you will be presenting at a large university with a graduate program, you can expect faculty, graduate students, and some upper-division undergraduates. With many departmental web pages now carrying faculty photographs, it’s not a bad idea to be able to identify the faculty on sight, which can help you anticipate queries during the Q and A after the talk and anticipate some of the questions that might be posed to you.

In most departments, the attendees are likely to be at least conversant in the elements of archaeology, though may not be as familiar with historical archaeology, and almost certainly not with your particular focus within historical archaeology, so be prepared to walk them along to the point that you can convey the import of your work. James Davidson, of the University of Florida, suggests that avoiding excessive particularlism can help the candidate show how well-rounded he or she is.

Anna Agbe-Davies (University of North Carolina) points out that as historical archaeologists, we straddle a lot of disciplines, meaning that we might wind up teaching in anthropology, history, or American studies departments, each of which will be more or less familiar with your discipline. It is possible that 75% of the audience may have no meaningful understanding of archaeology, and would therefore need more background than a department crammed full of diggers.

If you don’t do this well, you can expect to get questions on the technical aspects of the work only, and you likely lose the chance to have a substantive discussion of what you just presented. You also want to avoid coming off as interested in an arcane corner of the scholarly world. It’s easy to forget how niche your work is when you’re writing the dissertation. Showing the relevance of your work to larger trends in academic thought, within as well as outside of archaeology, is generally a good thing.

Time and Message Discipline: These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Most of the job talks I’ve attended were allocated an hour. You know what happens at the end of that hour, right? People start looking towards the door, ready to leave. If you talk right up to that hour mark, your audience won’t get to ask questions or will have to stay late, which won’t make you look good to a prospective employer.

Darley and Zannah (1986) suggest that it’s best to take about 75% of the allotted time for your talk. For an hour, this would be about 45 minutes, which is long enough to get to the meaty bits of your research, but not so long that you start unduly taxing people’s attention spans. This will leave a nice amount of room for questions, which there will be (see Practice, Practice, Practice, below). Be sure to check with the host institution before you start planning the talk to make sure you know long you have.

Also, keep on message (avoid ramblings and digressions) and keep an eye on the clock (wear a wristwatch in case there’s not a visible clock in the room). These kinds of discipline are crucial to show that you can organize your talk into a digestible, relatable way. Hit the high points.

The Army* encourages presentations (OK, briefings, but they’re basically the same thing) to consist of three major points, each supported by three subsidiary points. While that structure isn’t going to suit everyone, the idea behind that structure is to present the most crucial elements of the material in a fulsome, but necessarily limited manner, as you don’t have the time and your audience doesn’t have the attention span to ingest all the details of your work.


Let’s envision a scenario wherein you’re setting up for your job talk at Awesome State University (Go Fighting Crawfish!). You’ve spent the past week constructing what could be empirically verified as the greatest PowerPoint presentation in history. It interdigitates flawlessly with your job talk, the images and data tables tagging off brilliantly with the speech you’re about to give. The recording of the talk (it will probably be recorded) will play on a continuous loop in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.

You clear your throat, approach the podium, and you get through exactly five letters (“Welco…”) before a pop and hiss signifies the untimely demise of the bulb in the projector… that is affixed to the ceiling of the classroom… fifteen feet above the audience and reachable only by ladder. There’s no chance that bulb gets replaced anytime tonight, and you must now do your presentation without the aid of visuals (I would not advise trying to compensate by doing shadow puppets with a flashlight).

As you can see from my next slide… NOOOOOO!

We’ve all seen this kind of thing happen at conferences. Not so long ago, the slide projector might spit the carousel, or a slide would be in backwards. Nowadays, it might be that the available computer runs OpenOffice or something else not-PowerPoint, and the formatting goes haywire. We can laugh that off because a conference presentation is not a job talk.

This is. Buller (2010:21) observes that candidates can derail their chances for being offered a job by placing their faith in unreliable technology. Never assume that a certain kind of technology will be available, and be prepared for malfunctions. Always take several different formats of your presentation. At minimum, have a laptop with you that has your presentation deck saved on it. Carry additional copies on a flash drive and a CD/DVD (have cuneiform tablets gone out of style yet?). Get these together BEFORE you leave town for the campus visit, as you can’t rely on having the time to make the requisite copies.

I’ll include one other thing that cropped up recently with a colleague’s laptop as she started teaching a class here at Southern Arkansas University. Her brand-new laptop didn’t come with a VGA port. That’s the 15-hole connector on the side of most laptops. Since most folks never use the VGA port, the manufacturer left it out, requiring a special adapter (“dongle”) to add that functionality. Better to find that out before you get in the room to give your talk.

At the most extreme, be prepared to give your talk completely sans power/technology. Buller recommends carrying printouts of essential images or data tables to pass around, should the technology completely fail you. If everything goes smoothly and you don’t need them, they make useful handouts that you can pass along to interested parties at the close of the talk, or useful aids to those with failing eyesight who might have trouble seeing your presentation slides from the audience.

Practice, Practice, Practice (then Practice Some More… and between Practices, Work in Some Practice)

Darley and Zanna (1986) describe the job talk as essentially a performance. Like any play or musical, rehearsal breeds quality and coherence. Know the talk cold. Be able to present it in 16 different languages, and be able to present it backwards in at least 9. Have friends shoot you with paintballs at random while rehearsing so you can practice recovering should you be knocked off your rhythm.

Agbe-Davies suggests that, if you’re a graduate student, get your peer grads together to watch a dry run of your talk. Graduate students can be some of the harshest critics of your work, much more so than faculty, and their comments (politely phrased) can help you anticipate questions that could crop up at the actual job talk or point out shortcomings that you could revise into a subsequent draft of the talk.

Don’t Panic, and Always Carry a Towel

OK, not really. Well, do indeed refrain from panicking, but a towel is not necessary. See Adams (1979) for disambiguation.

If you haven’t sat through job talks at your own institution before, be warned that they can become somewhat tense. Resident faculty may ask some hard, sometimes harsh, questions of the candidate. This is not necessarily intended to expose the speaker’s shortcomings as a scholar, though it might. It could, rather, be a test of the speaker’s ability to carry on rigorous academic debate. One’s ability to match wits with the department’s faculty can significantly add to a candidate’s standing. Matt Liebmann, of Harvard University, encourages us to “NEVER apologize for your work,” and that one’s inclination, when challenged by established faculty, is to become apologetic for its shortcomings. “Deliver your talk with confidence and always stand up for yourself during the question and answer section” (Liebmann, personal communication).

But, don’t fret. You’re not going to anticipate EVERY question, and there is likely going to be something asked that you just don’t have an answer for. Admit that you don’t know, thank the questioner for providing new light on the subject, and write down the question. Whether you get the job or not, you have something to consider in your own scholarship in future. If you have a later job talk elsewhere, you have a chance to prepare for that question, should it come up again. It also shows that you’re engaged with the audience and having a professional discussion with them.

Do you have other thoughts or insights? Post them in the comments section.

Thanks to Dr. Anna Agbe-Davies (University of North Carolina), Dr. James Davidson (University of Florida), and Dr. Matthew Liebmann (Harvard University) for providing insight and reflections on their experience of this process. The above is my recalling and interpretation of their remarks, and I take full responsibility for any mischaracterizations, etc.


  • Adams, Douglas
    • 1979     The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Buller, Jeffrey L.
    • 2010     The Essential College Professor: A Practical Guide to an Academic Career. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Darley, John M. and Mark P. Zanna
    • 1986     The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide. New York: Random House.