May 22nd, 2008

Faculty Candidate Philosophy Statements

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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