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The Teaching Philosophy

The Statement of Teaching Philosophy (often shortened to “Teaching Philosophy”) is a written reflection that uses specific examples to articulate and demonstrate your beliefs about teaching and learning. Your statement details the ways your day-to-day practices reflect and inform your approach to teaching. The process of articulating your beliefs about teaching and learning in writing will help you to better (and more efficiently) design syllabi, assignments, and class activities.

Teaching philosophies are frequently required for job applications and for tenure or promotion packets. They also serve as a central reflective document in teaching portfolios.

Depending on your audience and purpose, the length of your philosophy will vary. While most teaching philosophies are one to two pages, tenure applicants may be asked to expand their statement to five to eight pages.

General Guidelines

Offer concrete examples. Illustrate how you enact your beliefs about how people learn and what the role of a teacher is in promoting learning in the classroom by pointing to specific assignments, activities, and experiences.

Daniel Makagon (College of Communication) shows how an assignment he designed promotes dialogic learning:

"For example, an Intercultural Context assignment in Intercultural Communication exemplifies my desire to have students participate in a larger dialogue and debate about core issues raised in the class. This assignment asks students to present artifacts that highlight some aspect of historical or contemporary intercultural communication. A small sample of their presentations shows a range of issues that, taken together, reflect the diverse and complex matrix of intercultural communication: a video clip from a news broadcast about racist gangs in prisons and how racial tensions will affect prisoners when they are released, a song that used rap music to put forth Christian messages, an advertisement that presented intercultural relations as contexts for consumption [...] In short, the students were able to share a variety of artifacts that addressed issues big and small, exemplifying and extending the intercultural communication theories about race, gender, religion, and globalization (among others) that we analyzed in course materials.”

Make connections to your discipline. Define what it means to be teacher within your area(s) of expertise. As you write, remember that you are not only making a claim about issues related to teaching and learning, you are also supporting your point of view with personal experience and, if possible, outside scholarship. Show how your teaching, research, and professional activities inform one another. Draw specific connections between these areas in your teaching philosophy.

Anna Kathryn Grau (School of Music) makes a case for the importance of music in the humanities and in liberal arts education more generally:

 “Liberal arts education works to make students aware of other points of view, of otherness, both historical and contemporary. The study of music deserves a place in this context, alongside the other humanities. I believe musicology has a crucial, though often overlooked, place in expanding our understanding of how our culture evolved. In the study of music history, we demonstrate to students the historical and cultural contingencies of things often perceived as universal and transcendent. General liberal arts students benefit from incorporating thought about music and its history into their general course of study, while musicians can enrich their own experience and professionalism through better understanding not only of the technical elements of their material, but of its social and cultural role throughout history. For this reason, I am particularly interested in the opportunity to teach music in an interdisciplinary context. Especially in general curriculum courses, the engagement of students with music and listening skills often correlates closely with their ability to see music as part of a larger social-historical picture. "

Make it personal. Avoid making generalizations about all teachers and learners. The more specific your philosophy is to you and your practices, the more valid and compelling it will be because you are not asking your reader to agree to universal claims based on your anecdotal experiences.

Trent Engbers (School of Public Service) explains why grappling with ethical questions is central to his pedagogical goal of encouraging students to consider new ways of thinking:

“My favorite application activities are embedded with ethical questions about the world of public managers and elected officials. The controversial nature of ethical questions engages students in debate with each other and students find that despite their knowledge of 'truth' there is always someone who sees it differently. Following application, I set the context for the next lesson so that ideas build on each other and lead to higher levels of expertise.”

 Getting Started

Here are some questions to consider in your teaching philosophy:

  • What attitudes do you feel you must hold (or avoid) to be a successful teacher? How have these attitudes impacted your teaching?
  • What are your beliefs about learning? How do you think people learn best? What has informed your beliefs about learning (scholarship, experience, teaching mentors)? How are your beliefs about learning reflected in your teaching?
  • What do you hope to accomplish when you teach? What are your learning goals for any given course? Are there some learning goals that exist in virtually all of your courses? Do you change learning goals depending on whether or not the course is for majors or non-majors, undergraduates, or graduate students?
  • How do you assess what students need most from you as a teacher? How do you assess if students have fulfilled the course goals?
  • Give an example of a particularly successful assignment, unit, or course. What made it successful? How does your example represent your beliefs and values about teaching and learning?
  • Give an example of an assignment, unit, or course that didn't work. Why wasn’t it successful? What changes did you make based on that experience to turn it into a successful assignment, unit, or course?
  • What type of feedback do you get from students? How has student feedback influenced your beliefs and practices about teaching?

More Examples 

  • Paul Booth, associate professor of Media and Cinema Studies in the College of Communication, sets out a clear framework, provides examples in support of that framework, and articulates how the learning spaces he creates lead to concrete outcomes for students.
  • Edward Evins does double duty as both a First-Year Writing Instructor and a University Center for Writing-based Learning tutor. His tutoring philosophy exemplifies the best practices of a philosophy statement and has an engaging design connected to an overarching metaphor. 
  • Carolyn Martineau, Senior Instructor in Biological Sciences in the College of Science and Health, begins her philosophy with a clear list of key driving elements, and then she supports her mission statement with connected examples. 

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