March 11th, 2008

Toward a Coherent Philosophy of Teaching


I love reading pedagogical literature. You never know what you will happen onto next. This afternoon I found an article in Pedagogy (it’s a pedagogical periodical in the field of English) written by a group of graduate students describing their experiences in a required professional development seminar on teaching literature. The article is full of insights, many wise beyond the limited teaching experience of the group, but I was particularly taken with how they described one of their assignments, which asked them to write (with annotated bibliography) a philosophy of teaching.

“Writing the teaching philosophy turned out to be challenging for many of us. We faced the difficult realization that our teaching hopes did not always match up to what actually goes on in the classroom. In the beginning of the course, some disclaimed, ‘I’m not sure I have a teaching philosophy.’ It’s not that we didn’t have ideas and preferences about teaching—these emerged quite vividly in our weekly seminars—but the task of justifying these strategies and making them cohere often made clear the extent to which they didn’t always cohere. To borrow a metaphor from Frankenstein, it was as if we laid out our collection of body parts on the table and found, given the missing limbs and duplicate livers, that they didn’t make up a whole teacher—certainly not one we’d want to take a class from.” (p. 182)

I wonder if that disparate collection of body parts, variously assembled, doesn’t depict what a lot of teachers have taken to class for years. As a profession we have not looked closely at our beliefs individually or collectively as colleagues teaching a shared curriculum. Can our beliefs be related to each other coherently? Even more telling, do they in any way explain what we do in the classroom?

Reference: Bauer, D., and others (2007). Forging a pedagogical community. Pedagogy, 8 (1), 179-193.

–Maryellen Weimer