Monday, February 2, 2009

Wave Theory for Prospective Teachers

32. Wave Theory for Prospective Teachers

For a variety of reasons students earning an M.F.A. are often relatively uninformed about the process of applying for college teaching jobs. Many seem to think that the jobs announced by the College Art Association in the winter months are the only positions available. Online job search sites are easing this somewhat but academic jobs still don’t come open in the same way that those in other careers do.
Like gardening, job hunting in academia is a lot about timing. Most schools start their academic years in August or September and any new faculty they hire need to be ready to get to work at that time. Luckily for the schools, they usually have many months or even years to prepare for and conduct their selection process. In Art related fields this often involves the College Art Association and its annual conference in February. The jobs available at this time are what I think of as the “first wave” of jobs. It is only the first of four distinct periods of job availability.
The first wave of available jobs are those that have been announced by the most prestigious institutions and by those schools that had the most warning that they were going to have a gap in their faculty. Because they have enough time they can advertise widely and give a large number of applications careful consideration. (Oddly enough, because the selection process is imperfect, all schools hiring new faculty are likely to have to repeat the process within two to three years when the person they’ve hired moves on or fails to meet expectations. Keep an eye out for those return opportunities.)
Anyway, because the first wave of job searches is the most attractive, best organized, and most competitive, the people being hired for those positions are often current faculty at other schools. The searches mounted to replace the teachers who have left for new jobs are the “second wave” of job opportunities.
The second wave also includes institutions that mishandled the deadlines necessary to be part of the first wave and those schools whose authority to conduct a search did not exist until March or April. Whatever the reasons, these schools have to act with greater haste and with less widespread publicity. And, of course, they can’t conduct interviews at the CAA conference. These positions are often less desirable, too, because someone has given them up to take a better situation in the first wave.
Nonetheless, some of the people winning job offers in the second wave of searches are also teachers currently employed at other schools. Their resignations from their previous jobs usually come just before the deadline for signing their contracts for the coming year. At this point in the academic calendar (just after the second wave) everyone with a teaching job is committed to that job for the next year, so you’re no longer competing against other teachers. But vacancies still need to be filled. Resignations, unplanned retirements, illnesses, and deaths occur over the summer months. Further, school administrators may find that a mid-summer shift in finances makes it possible to hire adjunct faculty. This then is the “third wave.”
Because the third wave of job searches occurs so near to the start of the school year it is usually limited to the immediate vicinity of the college or university. Few may hear of it. Advertising is likely to be very haphazard and often relies on word of mouth and a network of phone calls. The pool of applications the school collects is likely to be very small and their expectations of finding someone fully qualified will be low. Some institutions would rather cancel the classes than suffer the indignities of a third wave job search, but many hate having to turn students away from classes they pre-registered for in the Spring and will compromise their standards. For the recent M.F.A. without “three years college teaching experience” this is the best opportunity for getting onto someone’s faculty. Because you’ll be bailing some administrator out of a jam, and because they aren’t expecting much, this is also a great chance to really shine. If you do well enough they may just keep renewing your contract so that they don’t have to go through the trouble of conducting a proper (and expensive) “first wave” job search for the next year.
Do your absolute best. Cut no corners. Remember that your initial difficulties in getting a job were not about your talent or your education. Usually they were about experience. Once you’ve been hired, however undignified the circumstances, you start becoming an experienced teacher. You’ve got a lot to learn and you may only have a single semester to earn good letters of recommendation from your colleagues and department chair. Be attentive, cheerful, competent, and adaptable.
The “fourth wave,” such as it is, is similar to the third but precedes the start of the Spring semester. To take advantage of the third or fourth wave of job openings; make some kind of contact with the departments of every school you could reasonably commute to, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities that can not be predicted, have all your application materials up to date, and be ready to start quickly.

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