Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Teaching Philosophy

Job searchers, you have one of these, right? While all of your job letters should outline your basic thoughts on teaching and your interest in specific courses, inevitably at least one of the schools you apply to will require a separate statement of teaching philosophy. Since most of us have not been educated as educators, formalizing a philosophy is a real challenge, and it is tempting to ignore this aspect of your application until the last minute. Don't! Particularly because the schools that want a statement are most likely schools that value teaching. A lackluster teaching statement could quash your application.

What to do? In 4 Steps to a Memorable Teaching Philosophy, James Lang attempts to inject the sad teaching statement with a little zing and personality. The problem with these documents is that they are usually so generic:
"The same basic ideas and buzzwords appear in just about every teaching statement I have ever read. Everybody cares about the students, wants to challenge them, runs a student-centered classroom, relies on a mixture of lecture and discussion or other techniques, puts students first, is available to students outside the classroom, loves teaching, has learned a lot from students, integrates research and teaching, and so on and so on."

In my own statement, I share personal stories: my mother was my English teacher in a rural town outside Cleveland, and she was masterful at injecting the study of Shakespeare with enough soap opera drama to keep small-town kids engrossed; my 6th grade biology teacher Mr. Thompson was a genius who acted like a clown in class, and he kept sneaking me worms during dissection because he saw how interested I was in the inner workings. Teachers who inspired me to inspire my own students by paying attention. Get personal about your classroom experiences, as a student and a teacher.

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