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Writing a Statement of Teaching Philosophy for the Academic Job Search

Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

Message Number: 
998

As these recent job ads illustrate, requests for teaching philosophies are common in the academic market. In fact, a survey of 457 search committee chairs in six disciplines (English, history, political science, psychology, biology, and chemistry) found that 57% requested a teaching statement at some point in a job search (Meizlish & Kaplan, in press).

 

Folks:

 

The posting below is an excerpt on some key points to pay attention to in writing a teaching philosophy statement.  It is by Chris O'Neal, Deborah Meizlish, and Matthew Kaplan* and is from the Occasional Paper series (#23) published by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) [http://www.crlt.umich.edu/] at the University of Michigan.THE FULL ARTICLE CAN BE FOUND AT:

http://www.crlt.umich.edu/publinks/CRLT_no23.pdf Copyright 2007 The University of Michigan. Reprinted with permission.

 

Regards,

 

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: The Need for (Em)powerful Teaching

 

Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

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Writing a Statement of Teaching Philosophy for the Academic Job Search

 

       Domestic Environmental Policy and Politics.

       Lehigh University's yearold Environmental Initiative seeks an Assistant

       Professor for a tenure track positionŠ To apply, please send a

       cover letter, current curriculum vitae, syllabi and other

       evidence of teaching style and  effectiveness, a statement of teaching

       philosophy, a sample of  scholarship (if available) and three letters

       of reference.

 

       Assistant Professor (tenure track) Specialization in African and Post

       Colonial LiteraturesŠ. Send letter of application, curriculum vitae, statement of teaching

       philosophy, graduate school transcript, and three letters of recommendationŠ Northeastern

       Illinois University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.

 

       LSU's Department of Chemistry (chemistry.lsu.edu) anticipates filling one or two tenure-track

       positions in the fields of NMR Spectroscopy  (Ref: Log #0184) and Physical Chemistry (Ref: Log

       #0186), broadly definedŠ. Applications should consist of a research proposal, a statement of

       teaching philosophy, and a curriculum vitae (including  address). Applicants should arrange for

       submission of three letters of recommendation.

 

Introduction

 

As these recent job ads illustrate, requests for teaching philosophies are common in the academic market. In fact, a survey of 457 search committee chairs in six disciplines (English, history, political science, psychology, biology, and chemistry) found that 57% requested a teaching statement at some point in a job search (Meizlish & Kaplan, in press). These results differed slightly by institutional type, with master's and bachelor's institutions requesting them more often than doctoral institutions. Results also differed by discipline. Surprisingly, requests for teaching philosophies were most frequent in the natural sciences. But the overall message is clear: job applicants in all fields may be asked to submit a teaching philosophy (see also Bruff, in press; Montell, 2003; Schönwetter, Taylor, & Ellis, 2006).

 

Teaching philosophies can serve several purposes (e.g., self-reflection, introduction to a teaching portfolio, communication with students), but we focus here on those written for academic job applications. Such statements communicate a job candidate's approach to teaching and learning to a faculty considering whether to make that candidate one of their colleagues. Since a committee cannot possibly observe the teaching of every applicant, the teaching philosophy helps search committee members imagine themselves in each candidate's classroom. What is it like to be one of this instructor's students? Why does she make the pedagogical decisions she does? As a student in this classroom, how would I spend my fifty minutes on a given day? How does the instructor address the challenges and resources of teaching in his particular discipline? Does her teaching style complement our department's philosophy of instruction?

 

This Occasional Paper is designed to help experienced graduate students write a statement of teaching philosophy. The paper contains four sections. First, we offer suggestions for making a philosophy of teaching explicit and getting it on paper. Second, we discuss research on characteristics of effective statements. Third, we introduce a rubric that can guide the development and crafting of a teaching statement that search committees will value. Finally, we address questions that job candidates often raise about this sometimes perplexing document.

 

Advice for Getting Started

 

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 orientationŠ. What you need to do is discover what [your philosophy] is and then make it explicit. (Coppola, 2000, p. 1)

 

Beginning the teaching philosophy is often the hardest part of writing one. The motivations behind the decisions we make in the classroom can be surprisingly elusive when we try to put them on paper. Since there is no single approach that will work for all writers, we offer three strategies for getting started:

 

1. Goodyear and Allchin (1998) found that thinking about the "big" questions of teaching helped instructors

articulate their philosophies:

* What motivates me to learn about this subject?

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

* How do I know when I've taught successfully?

 

2. In workshops and seminars at U-M, we have found that some graduate students prefer to approach a statement by thinking about more concrete and manageable "fragments" of teaching that can then be assembled into a holistic essay. The following questions are designed to get you started:

* 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 research and disciplinary context influence your teaching?

* How do your identity/background and your students' identities/backgrounds affect teaching and learning in

your classes?

* How do you take into account differences in student learning styles in your teaching?

* What is your approach to evaluating and assessing students?

 

3. Finally, some instructors find it most useful to begin by simply looking at examples of others' philosophies.

CRLT has posted sample statements from a variety of disciplines at <http://www.crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies

/tstpum.html>. When looking at others' philosophies, you will likely note considerable variation, both in terms

of content and format, and you will likely find some approaches that resonate with you. While there is no

single approach to a teaching philosophy, Figure 1 provides some general guidelines for those statements written for the academic job market.

 

 

Figure 1. Some general guidelines for writing the teaching philosophy (adapted from Chism, 1998):

       * Keep it brief (1-2 pages).

       * Use a narrative, first person approach.

       * Make it reflective and personal.

       * Discuss your goals for your students, the methods you use to achieve those goals, and the

          assessments you use to find out if students have met your expectations.

       * Explain your specific disciplinary context and use specific examples of your practice.

       * Showcase your strengths and accomplishments.

 

Once you've articulated a first draft, you can begin shaping and polishing it for the search committees who will be reading it. In the following section, we discuss characteristics of successful teaching philosophy statements and provide a rubric for evaluating a teaching statement and aiming it at the right audience.

 

What Constitutes a Good Statement?

 

In their survey of search committee chairs, Meizlish and Kaplan (in press) found broad agreement on the

desirable characteristics of a statement of teaching philosophy. Specifically, chairs described successful

teaching statements as having the following characteristics:

 

* They offer evidence of practice. Search committee chairs want to understand how candidates enact their

teaching philosophies. In particular, they want to see specific and personal examples and experiences rather

than vague references to educational jargon or formulaic statements.

 

* They convey reflectiveness. Search committees want to know that a candidate is a thoughtful instructor. They are interested in candidates who can discuss their approach to instructional challenges and their plans for future pedagogical development.

 

* They communicate that teaching is valued. Search chairs appreciate a tone or language that conveys a

candidate's enthusiasm and commitment to teaching. They are wary of candidates who talk about teaching as

a burden or a requirement that is less important than research.

 

* They are student- or learning-centered, attuned to differences in student abilities, learning styles, or

levels. Search committee chairs want concrete evidence of a candidate's attentiveness to student

learning (rather than just content) and awareness of and ability to deal with student differences in the classroom.

 

* They are well written, clear, and readable. Search chairs draw conclusions about candidates from all

elements of the application packet. Candidates can be undermined by carelessness in their teaching

statements.

 

Note again  that the full article can be found at:

http://www.crlt.umich.edu/publinks/CRLT_no23.pdf

 

 

References

Bruff, Derek (in press). Valuing and evaluating teaching in the

mathematics faculty hiring process. Notices of the American

Mathematical Society.

 

Chism, N. V. N. (1998). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement.

Essays on Teaching Excellence 9(3). Athens, GA: Professional and

Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.

 

Cohen, S. A. (1987). Instructional alignment: Searching for a magic

bullet. Educational Research, 16(8), 16-20.

 

Coppola, B. (2000). How to write a teaching philosophy for academic

employment. American Chemical Society (ACS) Department of

Career Services Bulletin.

 

Goodyear, G. E., & Allchin, D. (1998). Statements of teaching

philosophy. In M. Kaplan & D. Lieberman (Eds.), To Improve the

Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational

Development, Vol. 17 (pp. 103-122). Stillwater, OK: New Forums

Press.

 

Gurin, P. (1999). Expert testimony in Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger, et al. &

Grutter, et al. v. Bollinger, et al., in The Compelling Need for

Diversity in Higher Education. Retrieved August 20, 2007 from

http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/legal/expert/gurintoc.html

 

Kaplan, M. (1998). The teaching portfolio. Occasional Paper No. 11.

Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Research on Learning and Teaching,

University of Michigan.

 

Kardia, D. (1998). Becoming a multicultural faculty developer:

Reflections from the field. In M. Kaplan & D. Lieberman (Eds.), To

Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and

Organizational Development, Vol. 17 (pp. 15-33). Stillwater, OK:

New Forums Press.

 

Meizlish, D., & Kaplan, M. (in press). Valuing and evaluating teaching in

academic hiring: A multi-disciplinary, cross-institutional study.

Journal of Higher Education.

 

Montell, G. (2003, March 27). What's your philosophy on teaching, and

does it matter? The Chronicle of Higher Education, Chronicle

Careers. Retrieved January 15, 2007, from

http://chronicle.com/jobs/2003/03/2003032701c.htm

 

Schönwetter, D. J., Taylor, L., & Ellis, D. E. (2006). Reading the want

ads: How can current job descriptions inform professional

development programs for graduate students? Journal on

Excellence in College Teaching, 17(1&2), 159-188.

 

 

*Chris O'Neal is Senior Consultant for Institutional Initiatives at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). Deborah Meizlish is Coordinator of Social Science Initiatives at CRLT. Matthew Kaplan is Managing Director of CRLT. They have Ph.D.s in Biology, Political Science, and Comparative Literature, respectively.