Teaching Philosophy: Some Thoughts

stud-illus-bigA professor wrote in The Chronicle about his experience with trying to figure out what to put in a teaching philosophy.

He had never had to write one and then, suddenly, for his promotion to full professor he needed one. So he surfed the net and looked.

The first insight was that, as a literary genre, these documents are as drab as they are predictable. The majority are dominated by abstract appeals to unobjectionable ambitions. They ritualistically invoke a desire to teach “critical thinking,” but offer little concrete guidance as to how that might be accomplished. Their authors disavow assuming the status of “expert.” They appeal to collaborative learning, embrace “diverse learning styles,” bring their own research into the classroom, disdain established canons, incorporate marginalized voices, recount personal teaching epiphanies, and acknowledge personal mentors, most of whom would be unknown to the committee members reading the file.

I think that if the length is limited, it is indeed not useful. If I must make a teaching statement in two pages, I’m going to use bromides because that is all that will fit. I can’t tell you how I work in my classroom without having length.

I will say I don’t say anything about collaborative learning, or diverse learning styles, or participatory learning, or disdaining established canons, or incorporating marginalized voices, or acknowledging personal mentors. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I don’t think so.

Instead, I tell what my views of writing and literature are in terms of the classroom. How do I present them? I even give specific examples. Just enough to whet the appetite, not an entire tome. So when I read this paragraph, I felt vindicated. This is what I do. Too bad my philosophy isn’t online.

Rather than write statements that offer unobjectionable but not very useful bromides, why not start to recognize the craftlike attributes of teaching? This promises to be a more useful strategy because the knowledge possessed by artisans is knowledge in practice. Artisans must think concretely about how to work with assorted textures, forces, and tensions inherent in their materials, deploying skills developed through repeated practice and working with tools designed with specific uses in mind.

I did find a discussion where I put up a post that dealt with an interesting approach to teaching statements. I still think it is a good one, though I don’t follow it.

[T]eaching statements could provide an opportunity for instructors to formally reflect on their aims, strategies, and tactics in the classroom. They could conceivably tell us a good deal about each individual while also providing pragmatic tips that could be used by other instructors.

I think that I do that. I also think that math prof Robert Talbert’s statement is an excellent and unique model. It was one of the ones which I felt made sense when I was writing mine. It was a philosophy statement and discussed how his philosophy looked in the classroom.

I am considering posting my teaching statement here. The problem is that I don’t want to be outed and I don’t want potential bosses to think I plagiarized either. And I do change the teaching statement some to fit the job I am applying for.

Go read all of Kevin D. Haggerty’s article and see what you think. Just because my philosophy of education isn’t like what he talks about doesn’t mean most aren’t.

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