May 22nd, 2008

Faculty Candidate Philosophy Statements


Frequently now, candidates for faculty positions are being asked to provide teaching philosophy statements. Bob Eierman reports that that request appears in 40 percent of the ads for chemistry positions that he looked at in a professional publication advertising positions in that field. Another 20 percent of the time the request is for a statement of teaching plans or interests.

It’s yet another sign that folks are trying to take teaching seriously in the hiring process. Given the amount of time devoted to teaching in most faculty positions, that couldn’t be more appropriate.

I do have some questions though. Can you write a teaching philosophy statement without much or any teaching experience? If you do, is that statement anything more than an amalgam of how you’ve been taught and think you might want to teach?

And then there’s the problem created by writing a teaching philosophy when the goal is getting a job. Does that give you the freedom to really explore what you think or believe about teaching? Or are you constrained to prepare what you think might be the “right” or “politically appropriate” philosophical statement?

And finally, there’s the potential disconnect between writing and doing. Just because you say you endorse strategies that engage and involve students doesn’t mean you will use active learning strategies when you teach. And, we are certainly not to the place where what you wrote in a teaching philosophy statement used in the hiring process is going to be grounds for dismissal.

Eierman’s points out that those reviewing candidate credentials in chemistry have some pretty clear guidelines that can be used to assess research potential. The criteria for evaluating teaching potential are far more eclectic and individually determined. Eierman’s solution is summarized in the June-July issue of The Teaching Professor.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if that first teaching philosophy statement followed a new teacher across those first years of teaching? What if new faculty had the opportunity to share and discuss statements with each other as they read statements of teachers recognized for their excellence in the classroom? What if for one of their reviews on the way to tenure they reacted to that initial statement and then for the promotion and tenure dossier wrote a new philosophy statement in light of the first one?

The need to constantly hold a philosophy statement up against practice. To let what we do shed light on what we believe. To let what we believe shed light on what we do.

—Maryellen Weimer

  • Dispersemos

    Asking for a statement of teaching philosophy is indeed common, but it has always seemed to me like a perfunctory request. As a grad. student, I was encouraged to follow exemplary models of a teaching philosophy statement as opposed to writing a genuine, personal reflection on how I approach teaching.As a new faculty member, I learned quickly that my teaching philosophy, as long as it contained the right key words and referenced currently accepted methods, was not subject to any scrutiny. This has been followed by several years of almost no in-depth conversations regarding teaching with colleagues. My colleagues are great – we just don't talk about teaching.As I prepare my tenure dossier now, I feel more able and free to include genuine reflection on my teaching practice, but I know this section of my personal statement will matter far less in the review process than students' evaluations of my courses. This is truly frustrating, not because I distrust student evaluations, but because I believe that evaluation of my teaching should be performed mostly by colleagues in the profession.

  • OC

    It makes no sense to expect a newly minted Ph.D. with little or no teaching experience to have a "teaching philosophy." To the extent that this will signal to the candidate that "we value teaching" then it is good. However, if this is just lip service and the school really do not value good teaching then this is dangerous. Especially, if the teaching philosophy in the institution is "the prof should minimize the effort in teaching so that s/he can maximize their time doing research." The only way to assess whether institutions value goo teaching is through their decisions in the promotion process, and not through a teaching philosophy statement. For that, it is important to learn what is the definition of good teaching in that institution (see….

  • Derek

    I conducted a survey of mathematics faculty hiring committees in 2006, asking them how they evaluated the teaching effectiveness of their candidates. My work was based on the work of a group at the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching who conducted similar surveys in six other disciplines. (See below for references.) Our surveys included several questions about the use of teaching philosophy statements.Here's an interesting result from my survey: "The most frequently cited characteristic of successful teaching statements, cited by 36% of survey respondents, was specificity–examples drawn from teaching experience that connected philosophy with practice." (Bruff, 2007) This characteristic showed up in the Michigan survey results, as well.I think this addresses a couple of your questions. It is indeed difficult to write a successful teaching statement without having some teaching experience. And one way to prevent a "disconnect between writing and doing" (as you put it) is to have candidates connect their philosophy and practice via classroom anecdotes in their teaching statements. I think this argues for giving doctoral students (at least those in mathematics) the chance to gain teaching experience before going on the job market.See my paper for other characteristics of successful teaching statements, at least in the field of mathematics, as well as some other recommendations for candidates, graduate departments, and hiring institutions based on the survey results.Bruff, D. (2007). Valuing and evaluating teaching in the mathematics faculty hiring process. Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 54(10), 1308-1315.Meizlish, D., & Kaplan, M. (in press). Valuing and evaluating teaching in academic hiring: A multi-disciplinary, cross-institutional study. Journal of Higher Education.