Teaching Tip 55: Explain Your Qualifications

Related to yesterday’s post, it may be that new teachers (especially) would find it advantageous to explain to their students the qualifications, experiences, and credentials they have acquired over their lifetime that gives them the right to be a college student’s instructor of English.

Tell the students you have a PhD in X-related field. Explain (in the elevator version) your dissertation if it is related to the course content. List how many classes of this course you have taught. Give them the names of the universities and colleges which you have graced with your presence (either as a student or as faculty).

I am Dr. Davis. I earned a PhD in rhetoric and composition from Purdue University, one of the premier institutions in rhetoric in the United States, and have taught Freshman Composition to over 1400 students.

My dissertation is all about writing and how that writing is perceived by the very specific audiences. I define both the community of X, of which many of you are members, and the genre of Y and then discuss how the two impact each other.

I have taught college English at two SLACs (small liberal arts colleges)- one inner city and one large town, one of the Big Ten, three community colleges of very different populations, and one small public university.

If you have other academic experience that is related, also tell them that.

I have published one book on L and have a contract for another book on M. I have published thirty articles, chapters, reviews, and creative pieces in the last three years.

Also in the last three years I have presented 35 different professional papers at a variety of venues, including 15 national and international conferences.

I am presently the N Conference chair on O-topic and serve on the Executive Council for the regional conference P.

If you have other, non-academic, experience that is related to the course you are teaching, let them know that as well.

I have edited three technical manuals for computer programs, forty graduate theses, an international magazine on Q, the brochures and announcements for R, and worked as a secretary overseas in my second language for two years.

I have also been the Director of Business Writing for the university.

I think it is okay to overwhelm them with information. Make sure they know they are speaking to an expert (to start with).

If you are new to the faculty, what do you say?

I earned a bachelor’s from X in Y and Z. I then received a master’s in A, with a concentration in B. I am finishing a PhD in C, with a second field of D. That means I have taken E# of courses in C and F# in D. It also means that professors who only teach graduate students have agreed that I am qualified to earn this degree.

My dissertation is on G and its impact on H population, and I am specifically analyzing how I and J work within the K.

I have been in three courses on pedagogy, how to teach, and have taught as the instructor of record for several semesters now. I was hired by this university from a pool of L# of PhDs and other professionals. (If you are tt say so and explain what that means in a way that makes sense to the students. Such as, I have been hired at the mid-level of instructors with the understanding that if I am successful I can work at this university for the next fifty years and teach your children!)

Why do this?

It is better to let the students understand that you are qualified and how than to have them think that you are just as bad as their worst high school teacher. (They will think that!) It also staves off a lot of “How do you know? You are just a beginning teacher?” comments.

Apparently, it is also useful in staving off the use of Ms or Mrs rather than the appropriate title of Dr for women academics.

4 thoughts on “Teaching Tip 55: Explain Your Qualifications”

  1. I’m not sure I agree with this one! Perhaps it depends on the student population in question, but I can’t imagine how I might deliver this information without coming across as defensive and insecure as I watched the students glaze over.

    As an adjunct, I find it important to convey to students that I have a Ph.D. (I teach at an institution where no one uses “Dr.”), otherwise they assume I’m a grad student/TA, but I usually do it in the course of a tongue-in-cheek riff on the first day about why they have to call me by my first name because none of the available titles work. Of course, this too is not an approach that would work for everyone. (I have the age and gravitas to carry it off without diminishing my authority).

  2. I would not necessarily do all of the suggestions, which I did not make clear. However, I will say that I have not been challenged on my right to teach a course, as some of my other colleagues have been. Nor am I ever called Ms, as many others complain about.

    In my thinking about those two things, I think a lot of it stems from my “Here is who I am and what my expertise in this area is” talk the first day of class.

  3. I respectfully disagree. Students know I have a Ph.D., It’s on the syllabus. Telling them about my qualifications isn’t nearly as powerful as showing them I am qualified but being interested, helpful, competent, and able to help improve even the weakest essay. I do share with them how I myself struggled with writing in graduate school. Message: This is a skill that can be learned.

  4. Yes, telling them about your qualifications isn’t as powerful as being interested and competent. It’s also good that it is a skill to be learned.

    However, in the population at my last school, street cred was important. Those classes and degrees gave me street cred in the classroom.

    In the population at this school, the students have been privileged and assume they know as much or more than the teacher. Also place all female teachers with their elementary-high school teachers, so Ms. Davis.

    I make sure the students understand that I know this stuff well. Then I teach them. I find that it helps.

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