A teaching philosophy statement can be described as a short personal essay in which you outline your conceptualization of effective teaching and explain how you embody this conceptualization. It gives you an opportunity to explain to readers the kind of teacher you are, what students in your classes can expect of you and the ways you structure your courses.
You want to find a way to balance a broad ideal about teaching with detailed descriptions of how you put this ideal into practice. As someone reads your statement, they should be able to imagine what it is like to be a student in your class.
As you write your teaching philosophy statement, keep in mind that it is a personal essay. This means you should write in the first person (i.e., use “I”), use an active voice (i.e., use “I believe” rather than “It is believed”), support your claims (i.e., give specific illustrative examples), and have a clear structure.
Your teaching philosophy statement should have an evident introduction where you outline what is to come in the remainder of the document. You may want to start by giving a one sentence description of your beliefs about teaching and learning. Think of this sentence as the crux of your philosophy: it is a broad statement that forms the framework for and on which you elaborate in the rest of the document.
If you are unsure how to summarize your beliefs about learning and teaching in one sentence, try to answer one of the following questions:
- How does learning happen?
- What role do you, as a teacher, play in helping student learning?
- Is there a metaphor or quote you can think of that epitomizes what you need to focus on as a teacher?
Once you have done so, tell your readers what they can expect to read in the rest of the statement. For example, you may want to list 2-4 practices you engage in as a teacher that best illustrate your practical application or embodiment of the philosophical statement you use to summarize your teaching. You can then use these practices to structure the rest of the teaching philosophy statement.
This part of the philosophy statement gives readers a chance to imagine what it is like to be taught by you. Think of this section of the statement as an explanation (with specific examples) of how you put your beliefs about teaching and learning into practice as you engage in various tasks as a teacher. If you are not sure what to write, here are a couple of suggestions:
- How does your approach to some of the following practices reflect your philosophy: course design, interactions with students, classroom teaching, work with TAs, undergraduate and graduate student advising, office hours policies, classroom policies, providing or asking for feedback, or designing assignments? Choose two or three of those to highlight as a way of allowing readers to imagine what you are like as a teacher.
- If you had to break down the philosophical statement you gave above into two or three descriptions of you as a teacher, how would you do that? Once you have broken it down, you can structure the body of the statement according to each of the smaller segments. Explain to your reader how you practice each of these smaller pieces.
As when you write a paper, the conclusion serves two functions:
- It reminds readers of what you have said up to this point by giving them a quick summary of the document.
- It gives you an opportunity to gesture beyond just what is included in the philosophy statement.
The second of these functions is a bit more difficult to do. Keeping in mind that you are writing this for a specific audience at a particular department, and that it is often part of a broader teaching dossier, think of the ending as a way to “hook” your audience, illustrate why they want to hire you, and continue to read the rest of your dossier. You can do this in several ways.
You might simply say something to the effect that the teaching materials you use further illustrate your philosophy and then include those teaching materials in the next part of the dossier. Or if your teaching philosophy statement is a stand-alone document, you can use the conclusion to mention your future teaching goals (e.g. a course you would like to develop, a certificate program you are completing, an area of your teaching that complements the strengths of the department).
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