Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What the heck is a statement of teaching philosophy?

A lot of these faculty applications will request a statement of teaching philosophy. I have no idea what that is, but I'm guessing that you will at some point deploy the words "dialectic" and perhaps "pedagogy."

A few questions for those who are so kind as to answer in the comments:
  • How important is this document? 
  • Do you have any helpful leading references? (Are any of these guides useful?)
  • How much time and effort should you put into this thing? 
  • Why do faculty search committees ask for this? 
Readers, your thoughts? Guidance for those who want to do this? 

18 comments:

  1. I'm fond of Karen Kelsky's guides at The Professor Is In (an example of many posts on the subject of teaching letters http://theprofessorisin.com/2013/01/18/the-weepy-teaching-statement-just-say-no/ ). She's not a scientist, so take the advice with a pinch of salt. I quite like her snark, but it seems to be an acquired taste.

    I think in most cases the "teaching philosophy" is the same as a teaching letter: explaining how you go about or plan to go about teaching. I guess to demonstrate that you understand the kind of classes/student body you'll be dealing with at a particular school.

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  2. Say something thoughtful about whatever teaching you've done. Say something enthusiastic about whatever teaching you hope to do. And for the love of Zeus, say "active learning strategies." It's what they want to hear.

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  3. See http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/careers/career-services/career-pathways/higher-education/curriculum-vitae/teaching-philosophy.html . It's usually about 2 pages long, talks about not only how you would teach (Socratic method? Flipped classroom? instructor-centric vs student led?..... ), but also what classes you could teach, and what new classes you would develop for that institution. They want to know what teaching experience you've had, and what you find to be the keys to teaching success in teaching. They may look for some evidence of mentoring experience as well. The search committee wants to know that you have thought about these things, and are going to be a dedicated and thoughtful teacher, not someone who sees teaching as a necessary evil so they can do their research.

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  4. From my experiences as a job seeker and a search committee member, you want to explicitly tell the committee what courses you would prefer to teach and what courses you would be able to teach. Go through the school's course catalog and provide specific course numbers (e.g. "Chemistry 40" instead of "Inorganic Chemistry"); this will show that you've done your proverbial homework. Certain schools may very well be focusing on filling a gap in their teaching capabilities, so this could end up being important.

    With respect to the more philosophical aspects, it is generally most important to write something coherent. A good philosophy portion might be ignored, but a bad one gives the impression that you are a poor communicator and might cause committee members to wonder whether it was you or your advisor who wrote all of those well-crafted papers on your CV. No one can reasonably expect a highly refined teaching statement from someone whose sole instructional duties have been TA assignments. When in doubt about what is required, ask the provided contact. That's one of the reasons why it's listed.

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  5. Few things will annoy a chair more rapidly than very narrow course preferences. The chair has a schedule to fill and doesn't need you to make his/her job harder than it already is.

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  6. My thoughts in writing an informed teaching statement http://proteinsandwavefunctions.blogspot.dk/2015/08/writing-informed-teaching-statement-for.html?m=1

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  7. http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-Statements-Are-Bunk/64152/

    1) How you learned chemistry
    2) What you learned from teaching chemistry
    3) How you would apply 1 and 2 to the place to which you're applying.

    Agree with Iron Chemist. It's a good chance to point out that you've done due diligence in researching the job. If they say they want someone to teach biochemistry (or as they call it, CHEM 247), then a paragraph about your approach to teaching biochemistry is a good thing to have in there. If they say "and upper-level courses in your speciality" then you damn well better have a bit about what upper-level course you'd teach and how it complements the existing offerings ("look, nobody else is teaching NanoBioMed Chem right now!") If it's a regional commuter state school satellite campus, then it gives you a chance to point out how you would address the unique needs of that sort of student body (I went to Southwestern Northern State, so I know what it's like!). If their department webpage is emblazoned with pictures of their fancy new Mass Spectrometer, then it would be good to mention how you'd use it in class.

    As others have said, it's also a good chance to show that you're familiar with pedagogical language. Don't go overboard with it, though. Bullshit is easily seen through.

    A page and a half of boilerplate leaves you room to write 2-3 quick blurbs about the specific courses whose numbers you've gotten from their course catalog.

    And, of course, if you're just starting to ask this on 13 October, then better luck next year.

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  8. Most "teaching philosophy" statements I've read are pretty bad. Here's what I think should be in a good one:

    Don't take "philosophy" too literally--focus on more practical matters: what courses you'd like to teach and how they mesh with your background and your research plans. Show a little thoughtfulness and self-reflection about what makes effective pedagogy, illustrated with examples from your own career as a student or teacher. Demonstrate that you are actually interested in teaching, and that you can be flexible (both with teaching methods and course assignments) as needed. Where possible, customize your statement with each institution's actual course numbers.

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  9. As a follow-up, remember that you are writing this for chemists, as opposed to general education types. Don't use terms that will make a reader go to the dictionary and/or snicker. The earlier comments about outlining new courses that you could teach are excellent pieces of advice.

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  10. No discussion of educational philosophy is complete without at least one inclusion of the word "rubric".

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    1. And mention it 3 times so you get credit for a Rubric cubed

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  11. Hi Iron Chemist,

    Can you say what the highest level degree is which is offered by your employer? Some educational institutes appear to place greater value on prior teaching experience than others. Accordingly, I used differently tailored teaching statements in my applications.

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    1. Ph.D. I'm in a graduate program that would be consistently ranked somewhere between 50 and 100. That's a wide range, but I rather like my anonymity.

      I agree that you should most certainly tailor your statement for the institution. I'll reiterate an earlier point of mine by saying that contacting the committee ahead of time to see what specifically they're looking for in the document is a great idea. Some places will want a narrative of your previous teaching experience, other places will be more than happy with a list of courses that you could teach.

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  12. How about an honest one?

    I'm a big important researcher, and teaching undergrads is beneath me!

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    1. That's why there are teaching peons, ops I meant adjuncts and grad students.

      The salary differential -on a per hour basis- between Professor Prestige, Vice Chancellor Vacuous and those who actually do the bulk of the teaching should be on the agenda for the pseudo-academic conference planned for San Diego. After all, the boundary between unemployment and underemployment is a fluid one.

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    2. Funny how universities who pride themselves on "a higher calling" are so willing to do something so wrong. like paying one set of people (adjuncts) 1/2 to 1/3 of what another group of people (lecturers, or faculty) get for the exact same job of teaching a class. Making the position temporary makes sense, but to pay a fraction what you pay others for the same job is extremely unethical.

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  13. As a chemistry faculty member and department chair at small liberal arts college, the statement of a teaching philosophy is taken seriously. Prospective colleagues want to learn as much as possible about how each applicant intends to reach students in the classroom and the lab. Sure, we want to know what you can teach, but the the hiring committee would expect that if you've done your PhD in physical chemistry, that you could teach undergrad p-chem and general chemistry. The question is, what else could you do? Have you looked at the curriculum to see what others are teaching outside of their areas of expertise? The cover letter and cv should outline any relevant teaching experience. At a small college, an applicant should expect to teach a class as part of the interview, so if the teaching philosophy on paper doesn't match what gets done at the interview, that would be a red flag. Also, we've had applicants plagiarize a teaching philosophy and send it in with their application materials. Yes, we google to see if applicants are expressing their own intentions or that of others. I would tell any potential applicant not to use buzz words unless you know what you're talking about. Most of us at these small teaching institutions take education seriously. Faculty at teaching intensive colleges attend the ChemEd conferences and many of us are involved in pedagogical reform. We wouldn't be at a small college if we didn't take student learning and education to be an important job, and we would expect the same of our future colleagues.

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    1. Thanks for the warning.

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