Beyond the Teaching Statement

I recently traded application materials with a good friend who, like me, will re-enter the job market this fall. We read over each other’s standard cover letter, CV, etc., both to proofread and, at least in my case, to steal a glimpse at the competition. My friend is an articulate and passionate communicator, and I know her teaching to be engaging and effective. She’s the type of professor I always hoped for as a student and most respect as a colleague. I’d like to take one of her classes now.

What surprises me is how few of her pedagogical talents come through in her statement of teaching philosophy. On the page, her excitement about what she does in the classroom seems idealistic, hyperbolic, artificial. In short, it mirrors most of the teaching philosophies I’ve read.

I began this summer excited about the proposition of rewriting my own statement, in light of what I believe has been significant maturation in my teaching over the past few semesters. I’ve started studying pedagogy more seriously and, partially as a result of that study, find that I enjoy the work in the classroom more than ever before.

Since I think my teaching is becoming one of my greatest strengths as an academic, I want some way of sharing that with a search committee. What I’ve found, though, is that it can be difficult to avoid what one commenter on this blog described as the “meaningless drivel” of teaching statements. As much as my statement attempts to capture the specific ways my teaching has developed, to open the door on my classrooms, there simply isn’t enough space to give a search committee much real insight. The document naturally gravitates toward generalizations and platitudes.

I’m not ready to give up on the usefulness of the statement, but I’m also trying to find other ways to share my pedagogy in an application packet. I have asked a couple of my recommenders if they could give special consideration to my teaching in their letters, and I’m looking for ways to put more evidence of teaching expertise on my CV (contributions to panels on pedagogy, guest lectures, etc.). Still, bullet points seem a poor way of capturing, or even suggesting, what a teacher does. My recommenders have seen me in the classroom only a few times and know almost nothing about the teaching that happens outside, in office hours and on student papers.

How much can one really learn about a professor’s teaching from an application packet? If you have served on search committees, what stands out as signs that a job seeker is a strong teacher? As an applicant, how do you go beyond the brief teaching statement to introduce a committee to your pedagogy?

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