Need help crafting a teaching statement?
by Jessica Riviere, CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow
You’re not alone!
The CFT frequently has requests for help from TA’s and instructors who need to write a teaching statement, but don’t know where to start. Many of these requests come from individuals who have been TA’s with very little teaching experience; who want to strike a balance between concrete examples and abstract principles in their statements but have little experience to draw from. We tend to think that getting started is sometimes the hardest part of writing, and a teaching statement or teaching philosophy is no exception! So with that in mind, here are a few tips to help you make those first steps.
Know your audience
In their helpful guide (scroll down to “How do I get started?”), the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence offers this as their first piece of advice. Who are you writing for? What is the purpose of this document? Different answers give you different starting places. Teaching statements can be very effective tools to reflect on your own understanding of teaching and learning, and how you see them as part of the work that you do. Will you be writing this primarily for your own benefit? Will you be writing this for a search committee? The teaching statement is becoming a more and more important document in many faculty searches. With that in mind, how will you tailor your writing statement to the position you are applying for? The first time I was given the advice to tailor my statement to a job, I balked. “It’s a representation of who I am! How can I change that for a job?!” Of course you shouldn’t change who you are for a job, but you can change what parts of your teaching you highlight. Will you be mostly working with undergraduate non-majors, or will you be advising dissertations? Which brings me to my next point…
Think about teaching experience broadly
You mentioned you’re worried you don’t have any teaching experience – “just” as a TA. Don’t sell yourself short! TA’s do lots of work that helps student learning, in many venues. Gabriella Montell asked similar questions in her article “How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy.” Did you hold office hours? A review session? What about a guest lecture? How did you think about what was important when you were getting ready for these assignments? Were you “just” grading? Think about what you’ve learned from that experience about giving students feedback and aligning graded assignments with course material. Do you “just” work in a lab? That’s lots of teaching experience! Think about the instructions you give at the beginning of a lab (like a mini lecture) and all the one-on-one conversations with students as they work. How do you answer their questions to encourage their learning? Do you mentor other, younger graduate students in the lab? What about advanced undergraduate majors who are working on a thesis. All of those short conversations with them are teaching moments. Don’t forget about your own experience as a student. Were you inspired by a really great college professor? By the example of your advisor? You can even draw on bad experiences you’ve had as a student – without talking about it in detail, of course! Think about what you were missing in that disappointing class, and what you will do differently as a teacher to avoid it in your classrooms. See? You’ve got plenty of material, which brings me to my next point…
Don’t say it all
A teaching statement isn’t a comprehensive record of everything you’ve ever taught or are ever going to teach. It’s a chance for you to try and represent in words the kind of teacher you are in the classroom – just a glimpse, not an autobiography. Now that you’ve got your mind working on what kinds of teaching experiences you’ve had focus on the two, at most three that are the most important to you. Keep asking – why is this important? What was happening in that interaction that was so valuable? Asking these kinds of questions will help reveal some of your core beliefs about teaching, which is really at the heart of this kind of essay.
“Revising?” you might ask, “I haven’t even started writing yet!” That’s alright. It’s important to remember, though, that a teaching statement is a document you can come back to again and again to reflect on how your teaching changes over time. Just as you would rewrite sections of your dissertation when you learn more information about your topic, you should revise your teaching statement when you learn more about yourself as a teacher, or want to ask yourself different questions about who you are in the classroom. In addition to being a good introduction to the genre of Teaching Statements, The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan has a great tool for evaluating your own Teaching Statement. Use it not just to see where there might be room for growth in your statement, but what that gap means for your growth as a teacher, as well! You can also check out our guide on revising a teaching statement.
Further, you might consider meeting with a CFT staff person to review your teaching statement. The CFT provides a wide range of confidential consultation services to individuals at any stage of their teaching career and would happy to discuss your teaching statement with you. Call our offices at 615-322-7290 to schedule a consultation.