For a number (how large a number I can’t say, but I am positive that this is true for some number) of job market candidates, writing a statement of teaching philosophy is a daunting task. First of all, candidates have to decide whether or not they have any teaching philosophy at all. Then they need to either explain that philosophy or make one up. Unfortunately, search committees these days are unlikely to accept a candidate who says, “I’m a good teacher. Trust me on this.”
Personally, I didn’t realize that I had a teaching philosophy until I actually sat down to think about the classes I had taught. While I had the benefit of having taught a lot of different classes, anybody who has taught should be able to think about why they arranged their class(es) the way they did and anybody who has not taught should be able to think about the qualities of their best classes as students and how they can replicate those qualities in their own courses. This is only the beginning of the actual writing process, but it obviously helps if you know where you’re headed before you leave the station.
A recent post by James Lang over at Inside Higher Ed details four steps to creating a memorable teaching philosophy. Some of his advice echoes my own experiences, but while my focus was largely on writing something about my teaching, Lang places his emphasis on writing a statement that will not bore search (or tenure) committees to tears. He concludes:
If you follow my advice, you’re probably still going to end up with a teaching statement that looks pretty similar to the rest of them in some ways. Every fingerprint has swirly lines, and every teaching philosophy will very likely include whatever buzzwords and catchphrases are making the rounds in academe.
The best you can hope for is that, if you take the time to craft a good one, the same principle that applies to fingerprints will apply to teaching philosophies: They may all look the same to the untrained eye, but the experts can tell them apart.