AWP Nugget: Tips for Writers Looking for the Tenure-Track Teaching Job

BOSTON — You love to write. You need to earn a living. Why not teach what you love?

I took this shot at a noon panel (not the one I'm blogging on here). It got more crowded after this. Hey AWP, why does this happen every year with you?
I took this shot at a noon panel (not the one I’m blogging on here). It got more crowded after this, people squatted on every inch of floor, standing against the walls, crammed in door frames. Hey AWP, why does this happen every year with you? Book bigger rooms!

You’re not the first person to think of that. Every person with an MFA has entertained that fantasy, and many more writers beyond that. Here at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2013 conference, four writing instructors–University of Indianapolis’ Kevin McKelvey and Salvatore Pane, Rhode Island College’s Robert Long Foreman, and Gonzaga’s Keya Mitra–offered tips on landing a tenure-track teaching gig, even if you haven’t (yet) published a book.

  • Have a completed manuscript but haven’t found an agent or publisher yet? List it on your curriculum vitae as “under submission,” Foreman said. It shows you can write a book-length work, and that designation is common in the academic world.
  • In a job interview, Pane said, don’t talk about your writing so much as your philosophy of and passion for teaching. It’s about pedagogy.
  • In the interview, they are looking to see if you’ll be a good teacher, but also if you’ll fit in and be easy to work with. A little homework about who you are interviewing with beforehand will allow you to find a way to connect with them on a topic that interests them.
  • Go ahead and apply for a teaching job in an area that you are not completely comfortable with–it could lead to something more suited for you–but don’t pursue something for which you’re truly unqualified. Pane primarily was a CNF writer, but applied for and won a fiction post. He now teaches a lot of non-fiction, however. (He said he’d never apply for a poetry position, feeling completely unqualified to teach that.)
  • Your curriculum vitae should be short (at most four pages, probably less), should not contain every little thing you’ve done, and should read like a conversation.
  • Letters of recommendation are critical. Mitra said she always submits more than is required. McKelvey said at least some should be a contact you’ve worked with recently, and also that variety in the type of relationship to you is good–a colleague, a former instructor, etc.
  • Don’t be choosy about classes. For every graduate-level creative writing class you get to teach, you’ll be facing a lot of freshman comp classes. It’s part of the life.
  • Build up teaching experience through community centers, middle- and high-school outreach programs, and adjunct work to build your experience level.
  • Look for jobs online, such as the AWP website, the Modern Language Association (MLA) website, and in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Be prepared to apply for a lot. The first interview likely will be by phone or Skype. A follow-up interview might be done at the AWP or MLA conferences.

While I’ve taught with literary centers and professional organizations, I’ve never taught in a formal university environment. I will confess to not having a curriculum vitae, and clearly need to learn more about that if I choose to pursue university-level teaching. I also need to figure out exactly how to word my teaching philosophy. I know stimulating intellectual curiosity and idea interchange is part of it; it’s what I try to do with this blog as well.

Any tips you would add to this list?

A reminder that I am looking to organize a massive meet-up of writers I interact with online at next year’s AWP in Seattle (see my post about this). I’m encouraging every Artist’s Road reader to attend, whether you’re published or not, professionally trained or not, or housebroken or not. (Well, there’s perhaps less flexibility on that last one; we’ll be out in public, after all.)

3 thoughts on “AWP Nugget: Tips for Writers Looking for the Tenure-Track Teaching Job

  1. charlotterainsdixon

    I’ve taught in an informal university environment. The program I’m affiliated with in Nashville is the best of both world–a large university backs us up but we’re for the most part independent from them. This suits me just fine. While part of me is interested in teaching at a more formal program, I know that I’d chafe against the bureaucracy. So I guess I’ll just continue my private teaching as well. Thanks for this rundown, though, it is quite informative.


    1. Hi Charlotte, yes I’ve heard you rave about the Nashville program, and how they feel like family. (I think that was in the dedication of your novel.) When you’ve got something that works, stick with it!


  2. Pingback: AWP Nugget: What You Missed at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference | The Artist's Road

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