Several of the comments on my last post (about the importance of summer preparation for those entering the fall job market) singled out the statement of teaching philosophy as one of the more challenging documents to prepare. In doing so, they reminded me of how many bad drafts I wrote as I tried to put my own statement together. One of the problems was that I had a great many ideas about how my subject should be taught, but in many cases those notions were vague and untested. I had spent the better part of the last decade as a student of the field, and in grad school, designing my own courses for the first time, I had been increasingly mindful of my pedagogy and that of my professors. Like most graduate students, however, my practical teaching experience was rather limited. The challenge was to craft a document that in two pages convincingly accentuated my strengths as a teacher while also addressing that common weakness.
There is a lot of good advice online about crafting a statement of teaching philosophy (one of the best articles is Gabriela Montell’s “How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy”). I won’t try rehash that wisdom here, but I would like to briefly address how relatively inexperienced teachers can dramatize their enthusiasm for the profession and give a sense of their ongoing pedagogical development.
Some of the most important help I received came from junior faculty who generously allowed me to read the pieces they had used in their own applications. In their statements, I found examples not only of the essay’s form, but also of how they answered the question of experience and preparedness. One woman cited a particularly meaningful course she had taken on pedagogy in the literature classroom. Others referenced the strategies they had observed in their best professors. Such points tended to lead to incisive summaries of their mission as a teacher, but even more effective were descriptions of specific experiences in the classroom, interactions that demonstrated the teacher’s ability to improvise and experiment in order to find new ways of compelling the students’ interest. It was important for me to realize that while we can’t control the circumstances of a cold teaching demonstration, in our statements of teaching philosophy applicants have an opportunity to welcome the search committee into their classroom at exactly that moment when they’re doing their best work, the work that speaks to their ultimate potential as a teacher.
Another thing I realized as I read those model statements was that a sense of humility (is anything more difficult for a graduate student?) can help an applicant present him- or herself as someone who is focused more on dynamically engaging their classrooms than in reaching some unrealistic standard of pedagogical perfection. Phrases like “my still-developing philosophy” or “I’m learning that ...” humanized the applicants and showed them to be teachers who will continue to challenge themselves.
What else should graduate students keep in mind as they render their teaching philosophy in a brief statement? How have you seen younger job seekers effectively negotiate the question of their inexperience? What signs point to an exciting teacher-in-the-making?