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Developing Your Teaching Statement

Through the exercises that follow, you will develop your own, individual, teaching statement. (These exercises, and a few others, are published in Ellis and Griffin, 2000.) Although the teaching statement is often called a statement of teaching philosophy or a statement of teaching interests, these terms are somewhat misleading. It may help you to think of your teaching statement as a persuasive essay, the purpose of which is to persuade your readers that you are an excellent teacher, and would make a valuable addition to their department. As with any persuasive essay, the more concrete examples you can give to support your statements, the more persuasive it will be.

In preparation for writing your essay, take some time to gather your thoughts.... The three exercises below are designed to help you reflect on your experiences as a student, and your experiences and aspirations as a teacher. You can work your way through them at your own pace; you may find it helpful to give yourself a few hours or days to mull over some of the questions. You also, of course, can choose to skip any questions that don't seem applicable to you, or jot down any thoughts that come to you as you answer other questions.

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The Self-Reflective Interview

These questions are adapted from page 55 of Teaching with Style, by A. Grasha, 1996, Alliance Publishers, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • What is a "personal best" achievement for you as a teacher during the past year?
  • Who is the best teacher you have ever known?
    • What personal qualities made this person a great teacher?
    • How do the qualities of this person appear in your own instruction?
  • If you could give others a gift-wrapped box that contained the best qualities of your teaching style, what items would that box contain?
  • If you could put the worst qualities you have as a teacher in the trash, what would you throw away?
  • What is one action you need to take to give up one or more of the latter qualities?
  • If you wrote a book about teaching, what would the title be? What are three points about teaching that you would make?

Exploring the Philosophy Behind Your Teaching

These questions are adapted from pages 27-35 of Mastering the Teaching of Adults, J. Apps, 1991, Kreiger Publishing, Malabar, FL.
  • Why do you believe your students want to learn? Describe them as learners in any way you can.
  • What are your aims for teaching?
    • What do you hope to accomplish when you teach?
    • What do your aims say about you as a teacher?
  • Does your subject matter affect your beliefs about teaching or learning? If so, explain how.
  • Create a list in response to the following prompt: "When I teach, I:"
  • Look at the list you just wrote, and reflect on why you do what you do.
  • What do you believe about learning? How would you describe it? What are your sources for your beliefs?

Critical Moments

This exercise is adapted from Good Talk About Teaching, by Parker Palmer, 1993, Change, v.25 (6), p. 8-13.

Think about a course you have taught. Draw an arrow from left to right across a page of paper and fit along the arrow the "critical moments" that you experienced as the course progressed. Moments that occurred early in the course would be on the left. A "critical moment" occurs when a learning opportunity either opens up or shuts down for your students, depending on how you respond. Sample critical moments could include the first day of class, the first "stupid" question, the first graded assignment, or the first time the class really understands a complex concept. Pick 3-4 moments that really stand out for you and describe how you responded to them—for better or for worse. If your response was not ideal, what would you do another time you encountered a similar situation?

On to your Teaching Statement

When you have spent some time reflecting on your role as a teacher, and have thought about some of your best teaching moments, you are ready to write your teaching statement. Write a persuasive essay about you at your best: What makes you a great teacher? Why should someone want to hire you to teach their students? Remember to use specific examples to illustrate your points.

When you have a draft of your teaching statement completed, ask a few people to critique it for you. If you can find someone who has been on a hiring committee recently, great. Better still if you can find someone who has been on a hiring committee for the kinds of jobs you are seeking. Your advisor and the career center at your university are other good resources for feedback.

References

Apps, J. (1991) Mastering the Teaching of Adults. Kreiger Publishing: Malabar, FL.

Ellis, D.E. & Griffin, G.A. (2000). Developing a teaching philosophy statement: A special challenge for graduate students. Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development, v. 7, pp. 85-92.

Grasha, A. (1996). Teaching with Style. Alliance Publishers: Pittsburgh, PA.

Palmer, Parker (1993) Good Talk About Teaching. Change, v.25 (6), pp. 8-13.