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Five Principles for a Dynamite Teaching Statement

Five Principles for a Dynamite Teaching Statement

Just because you have never written a statement of your teaching philosophy does not mean you do not have a philosophy. If you engage a group of learners who are your responsibility, then your behavior in designing their learning environment must follow from your philosophical orientation…. What you need to do is discover what [your philosophy] is and then make it explicit. - Coppola 2000, 1

If you want to write an explosive teaching statement that leaves your hiring committee in awe, there are at least five things you will want to consider in relation to your teaching and learning: introspection, impact, content, methods, and assessment. These five categories consistently appear throughout the many resources available to those writing a statement of teaching philosophy.

This blog is an overview of the insights generated during the Futures Initiative fellows workshop on statements of teaching philosophy, held on Wednesday, April 6. Critical contributors to this conversation include Cathy N. Davidson, Katina Rogers, Patrik Svensson, Frances Tran, Lauren Melendez, Mike Rifino, Kalle Westerling, Allison Guess, Lisa Tagliaferri, Fiona Barnett, and Michael Dorsch.

 

Resources

●Jenny Furlong’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development has amazing guides for all of the materials necessary when going on the academic job market, including this excellent one by the University of Michigan.

●Karen Kelsky, “Just Say No to the Weepy Teaching Statement” and “Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness” in The Professor is In.

●See also this guide by Umeå University, recommended by Patrik Svensson.

 

Topics for Discussion

●What is the purpose of a statement of teaching philosophy?

  • In our conversation, we discussed how statements of teaching philosophy serve as a window into your classroom and teaching practices. It should connect your teaching to your research, be specific to the type of job you are applying for (ex. community college vs. private liberal arts college), and be tailored to the specificities of your discipline.

●Our conversation began with a discussion of Frances Tran’s statement of teaching philosophy. In our brief “crit session” we addressed the following questions: How is it organized? What are its strengths? What piqued your interest (what questions do you have or want to know more about)? What sense do you have of Frances as an educator? Several themes emerged in our conversation:

  • How you can move between specific, tangible examples and your theoretical attitudes towards teaching and learning
  • The possibility of including a sense of what challenges you face as an educator, and look forward to addressing as you continue to teach
  • The importance of audience awareness, especially as you consider what knowledge you assume your reader to have vs. what you want to spell out
  • You might want to convey a sense of what makes you unique in your experience and/or in the positions you'll be applying for?
  • Avoid cliches like “student-centered classroom.”cliches like “student-centered classroom.”

●If you are holding a workshop or critique session, you may also want to discuss the following questions, all of which we touched on throughout the workshop.

  • What types of jobs/schools are out there and how might you tailor a statement of teaching philosophy for these different situations?
  • What are some possible ways to organize a statement of teaching philosophy?
  • Is there anything that should deliberately be avoided in the statement of teaching philosophy?
  • How can you make your statement stand out?
  • How can we draw on / draw out insights from pedagogy in other spaces: as event organizers, activists, theater directors, coders, etc.?
  • What language do you use, for instance, to describe students? Is this consistent with the pedagogy you describe?

 

Exercises

Below are a series of questions that you can answer when preparing to write your statement of teaching philosophy. They are drawn primarily from the resources I link to above, and from the conversation among members of the Futures Initiative. In our workshop, we did brief three minute free writes in response to some of our favorite questions. Questions are provisionally grouped into five categories that I saw emerging: introspection, impact, content, methods, and assessment.

 

1.Introspection

Before diving into the nitty gritty details of what it’s like to be in your classroom, it may be helpful to take a step back and reflect on your relationship to teaching and learning.

●Why do you teach?

●What do you believe or value about teaching and student learning?

●If you had to choose a metaphor for teaching/learning, what would it be?

●How do your identity/background and your students’ identities/backgrounds affect teaching and learning in your classes?

 

2.Impact

I’ve used the term “impact” to describe the importance of connecting your research (desire to learn) to teaching, and the changes you want to see in the world.

●What about my research topic is important and new and thrilling (!) enough to be shared? With whom? Why? What will it do for them?

●What motivates me to want to share what I'm learning with others?

 

3.Content

Questions related to content often ask you to consider your teaching in relation to your discipline.

●What motivates me to learn about this subject?

●How do your research and disciplinary context influence your teaching?

 

4.Methods

Once you have stated some of your key beliefs about the impact of teaching, it is important to show evidence of how these play out in practice.

●How do you utilize multiple pedagogical approaches in your teaching?

●How do you engage students in the subject matter?

●How do you work with students with various levels of prior knowledge and different learning styles?

 

5.Assessment

Almost all guides to the statement of teaching philosophy recommend that you describe how you assess students’ learning, how you know when they’ve learned what you’ve taught. See also common goals, pg. 1330.

●What do I expect to be the outcomes of my teaching?

●How do I know when I’ve taught successfully?

●What is your approach to evaluating and assessing students?

●What knowledge, skills, and perspectives do you hope students take away from your course?

●How do I learn when students have learned and what they have learned?

●How do I help them understand that content is forgotten but the ability to learn, the ability to become an expert, the ability to be curious, the ability to pursue what one loves, is priceless and THAT is the key to success?

 

Exercise from “Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement” by Helen Grundman

●Choose a truly excellent teacher who taught you at some point in your life. Sit down with a friend or colleague and describe exactly what it was that made this teacher excellent.

●Make a list of characteristics of what you think of as good undergraduate-level teaching. Consider the aspects you included in your description of the excellent teacher you had. Should any more of these be added to your list? When your list is complete, put stars by the characteristics that you plan to try to adopt as your own.

 

Inspiration

Just a few examples of statements by educators who inspire us.

●José Muñoz: “Helping others come into their own as not only speaking subjects, also professing subjects, is the ultimate stake of my pedagogy.”

●Jade Davis: “Don’t fail better, make failure more work than success.”

Mission Statement by the Humanities Department at LaGuardia Community College: “The Humanities Department nurtures the creativity and fierce independence of our students through courses that encourage you to interpret the world through unconventional lenses, and never blindly to accept the status quo. Your curiosity and our stellar faculty are a perfect match to develop your talents.”

 

Have more thoughts or resources? Please join the conversation and post to the comment section. 

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