Teaching Philosophies

Teaching Philosophies, like Cover Letters for the academic job market, tend to have a standard formula for organizing and presenting your teaching information. Coming from a university that prides itself on its pedagogical theories (as ISU does), your teaching philosophy should be strong, reflect your own pedagogical studies. Not all schools will require teaching philosophies, and it may even be possible that no schools you apply to will require them, but that’s a rare scenario and so you should be prepared with one when you go on the market — and well in advance — since teaching philosophies are sometimes the most difficult genre to “get right.” When you are asked to send one, you may only have a few days to do so, so work on yours early and run it by several faculty members in different areas of expertise (since faculty from all areas of a department may be on a search committee). Writing a teaching philosophy is also excellent practice because you’ll often need one (or some version of one) for when you apply for third-year review and/or tenure, if you’re on the tenure track, no matter what kind of school you get a job at.

Generally speaking, teaching philosophies have the following four parts, although you may find successful examples that break from these trends (if you do, let me know, because I have yet to find any):

1. Introductory paragraph. This opening paragraph summarizes your personal philosophy of teaching. In it, you will introduce a theoretical framework that you draw on to support your teaching practices. (iow, the purpose of the teaching philosophy is to show that you actually have researched and reflected on your teaching practice). The theoretical framework can be an area of pedagogy (critical, cultural, feminist, etc.), a combination of them (critical, cultural, AND feminist, etc.), or something else altogether (e.g., I call mine a “Happenings” pedagogy, based on Geoff Sirc’s book called English Composition as a Happening, which I mix with a multiliteracies framework, based on The New London Group’s work. Keep in mind that mine is longer and less formal than yours will likely be, but the basic outline of the formulaic structure is the same).

It’s likely that you DO have a philosophy, but you may not yet have articulated it (which is the hard part). The workshop will help you with this part, if you’re having trouble. The things to keep in mind with this paragraph is that you need to (1) describe, (2) define, and (3) justify/explain what your philosophy is and why you use it, but it needs to be in broad terms (i.e., applicable to any kind of class you might teach), because you’ll reserve the specific examples for the next two paragraphs.

2. Teaching example from Class #1. These two example paragraphs are often where students run into difficulties — they stay too “meta” and don’t get concrete enough. The point of both the teaching example paragraphs is to show how you enact your philosophy (from paragraph #1) in actual classroom practice as well as to show search committees what you can (and want to) teach.

Generally, you’ll have two different courses you’ll want to talk about (to show your teaching breadth — luckily, while at ISU, you’ll have the chance to teach LOTS of different classes, which isn’t the case for PhDs at most universities, so this is where you’ll stand out!). You should choose classes that reflect your area of expertise as well as the kind of job you want. For instance, if you want to teach at a small school where you’ll be asked to teach one section of first-year composition every year, make SURE to include an example from having taught English 101 or 101.10. And if you’re writing your dissertation about women and gender studies, then make sure (in your second example) to include an example from that class which you’ve likely taught as part of your required Teaching Internship. (Right? Makes sense, huh. Show your breadth and depth! They’ll hire you in a heartbeat!) Which course you put in the second paragraph and which in the third paragraph (below) will depend on what you want to emphasize. This may be a nuanced matter that we can talk more about in the workshop.

Now, another way you may want to think about picking which classes to write about is by choosing which assignments in your classes went really well and that exemplify your teaching philosophy. Some job market candidates may want to pick an assignment as “small” as an in-class discussion about a particular book/novel they assigned students to read so as to showcase the course concept, why you chose the book/novel you did, and how you led the discussion (or didn’t, according to your particular pedagogical style) — all in a way that allows you to pinpoint how you use your teaching philosophy in practice. (iow, make sure to explicitly connect your practice back to your theory, as discussed in the first paragraph of your philosophy!). However, the majority of these teaching example paragraphs should be pretty specific and practice in nature — describe how and why you gave the assignment you did, what the outcomes were, what the students learned from it, why you wanted them to learn X from it, whether they did or not, whether they liked it or not (especially if you can include teaching evaluation comments as evidence). This will usually all make you look good, although sometimes powerful philosophy statements can also come from failed teaching experiments. Be careful of those, because they can backfire.

The trick is you only have a paragraph to explain each class/assignment. And these paragraphs are only about 250 words or less.
3. Teaching example from Class #2. Repeat above, using a different class example. Make sure it makes sense how you transition between the two examples. For instance, if you provide a “small” example like the discussion mentioned above, then show a “bigger picture” example (like a final project/paper, etc.) in the second teaching-example paragraph. And both should explicitly refer back to your overall philosophical approach, as outlined in the opening paragraph.
4. Conclusion. The conclusion simply allows you to summarize your examples in relation to your philosophy. (It gives you a little more room to do so, iow.) It also allows you to point out particular areas of teaching that you’d like to focus on in the future — not necessarily classes you’d like to teach (although that may also be applicable), but stuff like: “I’ve reflected on my own teaching and have learned X about successful strategies, but I also want to explore Y.” — So it’s kinda like a mini-dissertation about your teaching practices where you present future research possibilities. The conclusion also gives you a chance to summarize the range of courses you’ve taught and show that your philosophy applies to all of them (which, hopefully, it does… and if it doesn’t, perhaps either your philsophy doesn’t work in all cases, or you need to examine how to better choose your classes and/or descrbe your philosophy so that it does fit all the cases you want to talk about. Again, we can talk about this in the workshop.

Finally, you can google all sorts of example Teaching Philosophies and follow their models. Keep in mind that the TOTAL length is two single-spaced pages, including name and title/description. No more!