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Are Teaching Statements Bunk?

Posted by on Thursday, February 25, 2010 in News.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education opinion piece, Kevin Haggerty of the University of Alberta asserts that teaching statements are bunk.  He argues that most teaching philosophy statements, written for the faculty job market or for promotion and tenure committees, are filled with platitudes about teaching so vague that they don’t communicate anything about the quality of the writer’s teaching.

The essay has generated much discussion on the Chronicle Web site, including a comment by CFT assistant director Derek Bruff, who has conducted research on the uses of teaching statements by faculty hiring committees.  Here’s what Derek wrote:

In their 2008 study, Meizlish and Kaplan surveyed hundreds of faculty hiring committees in six different disciplines. They found that teaching statements containing vague platitudes are not valued by hiring committees. Instead, committees value teaching statements that link teaching philosophies to specific teaching practices and experiences. Stories and anecdotes from the classroom–ones that illustrate one’s experience implementing one’s teaching philosophy–carry a lot of weight.

So the comments by whip2038 (#9 above) are spot on according to the research that has been done on this topic. I’ll add that I replicated the Meizlish & Kaplan study in mathematics and found very similar results. My study is available online through the American Mathematical Society:

Reference: Meizlish, D. and Kaplan, M. (2008). Valuing and evaluating teaching in academic hiring: A multi-disciplinary, cross-institutional study. Journal of Higher Education 79(5), 489-512.

What do you think?  Are teaching statements bunk?  Or are they useful in evaluating someone’s teaching when written well?

Photo: “pen and paper,” LucasTheExperience, Flickr


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