Twice a year I have to conduct what amounts to a job interview without the interview part. It's an opportunity and a burden all at the same time. Thirteen students have applied for positions as teaching assistants in the freshman seminars. Five positions are available. One of them is mine.
We get to select our own assistants out of the pool of applicants, and it's always a daunting task. The students provide written statements about what they hope to contribute to the class, a leadership resume, and samples of their lesson plans and essay writing. Some of them I've had in class; many of them I haven't. You'd think that those I know might have an edge with me, but in practice I've selected a number of assistants over the years without firsthand experience of their academic skills. I feel like I should consider everyone on their own merits and not eliminate anyone from consideration based on what classes they happened to take up to this point.
So from the material they provide, I have to decide who will serve the freshmen best; who will mesh with my pedagogical values most adroitly; and whom I'll be able to work well with. All of that involves predicting an uncertain future. Even if I happen to know the applicant as a student in a previous class, there's no guarantee that our experience together forms enough basis for this new decision.
My task isn't to select the best of the applicants, but the one who will be the best partner for me in the classroom. Or perhaps it's the one to whom I can teach the most. At any rate, there will only be one each semester. I have to live with my choice, and so does the student who ends up with me, and the freshmen who will be in our class. It's a moment that defines a semester for all of us. So far I've chosen well ten times. Tomorrow I'll try to make it eleven.