December 29th, 2009

What to Look for in Teaching Philosophy Statements



What should faculty reviewers look for in a teaching philosophy statement of a candidate? Correspondingly, what should those applying for academic positions put in a teaching philosophy statement? The author of this article suggests models of teaching and learning. Of learning, he writes, “Candidates should demonstrate knowledge of models of how students learn, how best to encourage learning, and how to assess whether learning has occurred.” (p. 336)

It is equally important that candidates be able to discuss how they would apply their written philosophy in different teaching situations such as in the lab, an introductory course, or a senior seminar. The importance of the philosophy statement and of teaching itself is reinforced when candidates are asked to discuss them with those conducting the interview.

As for what a new faculty member should put in the teaching philosophy statement being used as part of an application packet, the author makes a number of recommendations. Along with ideas about how students learn, those activities that the candidate believes promote learning, some recognition of variations in approaches to learning, and a discussion of factors related to learning (such as motivation) should be included.

Also important is the kind of feedback that will be provided to students, and how their learning will be assessed. Content that relates to teaching, including expectations for students, preferred learning environments, favored instructional methods, and the nature of relationships with students that foster learning, should be discussed.

The author recommends that teaching philosophy statements include references so that the candidate can demonstrate a knowledge of literature relevant to college-level teaching and learning. The philosophy statement should show that the candidate is interested in teaching and expects to grow and develop further as a teacher.

Teaching continues to be an important (if not the most important) part of virtually all academic positions. As the author points out, search committees often are more comfortable assessing the research history and potential of candidates than they are evaluating what kind of teacher the candidate will be. Careful analysis of a teaching philosophy statement, coupled with follow-up questions on its content, can provide much revealing information about a candidate’s potential. To ensure that all candidates start from the same place, it is appropriate to provide a list of areas that review committees would like the teaching philosophy statement to address.

The article referenced below proposes a structure and a series of questions that can be used as a starting place. It also contains a link to a sample philosophy statement that follows the proposed structure. If an institution wants to show a candidate that it takes teaching seriously, one of the best times to convey that message is during the interview process.

Reference: Eierman, R.J. (2008). The teaching philosophy statement: Purposes and organizational structure. Journal of Chemical Education, 85 (3), 336-339.

Excerpted from Teaching Philosophy Statements Prepared by Faculty Candidates, The Teaching Professor, June-July, 2008.

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