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Need Help Revising A Teaching Statement?

Posted by on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 in News.

CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow, Beth Koontz, reflects on how to revise a teaching statement as the job-market season begins.

So, for whatever reason, you have written a teaching statement. However, that teaching statement may be from a long time ago, or it may not be an accurate representation of your experience since then. For me, that early-career teaching statement sure was easy! As a new graduate student I thought it was quite clear what good teaching looked like in my discipline: good teachers engage students, encouraged critical thinking, and turn students into producers of knowledge. Well, here I am four years later, and after a variety of conference presentations, semesters of grading tests and essays, and designing my own courses and lectures, my formerly strong sense of what good teaching is has devolved into a fuzzy sense that the best college teachers do all kinds of different things, depending on the context. So how do we hone in on a few types of our “chosen” teaching approaches and practices, especially when they all seem like such a good idea?  How do we write teaching statements that are different from every other applicant?

Be real: authentic and reflective.

This is probably the hardest part of writing a teaching statement, but also the most valuable. Even if you haven’t taught much, critically reflecting on how you learn best or what outstanding learning has looked like in classes you have witnessed will help you to establish what your teaching philosophy is. Don’t forget to personalize your teaching statement: hiring committees won’t remember that guy who wanted to personalize learning in his 101 course, but they will remember that guy who struggled with dyslexia himself, and therefore makes time in every class for students to verbalize their thoughts so that those who struggle with texts can still contribute. Check in with yourself — formative experiences in your own intellectual development structure how you teach and learn, and discussing those shows you can relate to your students and actively reflect on teaching and learning. Edit your essay to make sure you are “present” on the page. Have you answered some of these personal questions?

  • Why did you want to become a _____________? Why would a student in your class want to follow in your footsteps?
  • What motivated you as a learner? What motivates your students?
  • In 10 years from now, what do you want students to remember about your class or discipline?

Reverse outline: see what you said.

Often we think an idea is stated or implied in our writing, but that idea is not conveyed to the reader. Go through each paragraph and write the main point in the margins After you have collected these main points, evaluate whether these points flow logically, and whether your statement actually includes everything you meant to say. Here are two excellent resources on reverse outlining and other useful revision techniques.

Don’t be a meanie.

As you reflect on best teaching practices in your discipline, you will undoubtedly form a list of bad teaching practices. Without naming names, it’s often productive to discuss relevant debates in the teaching of your discipline. If you do this, make sure to address any counterpoints to your position, cite your sources, and demonstrate an awareness that teaching is context-specific. For example, even if you feel strongly that pure lecture is a guaranteed snooze-fest and will never lead to student understanding, acknowledge the economic value of this practice and show how you would make a traditional lecture more exciting. Did you:

  • Cite authority supporting your critiques?
  • “Spin” negatives into a positive, showing you have given thought to/ practiced strategies for overcoming the teaching challenges you have critiqued?

Give it a title/ theme.

Your teaching statement does not need a title. However, the mental exercise of coming up with one will force you to think about a theme or sentence-long description of your philosophy. Remember that you are telling a story (the story of why and how you teach). Just like grant reviewers, hiring committees are tired and busy. Make their job easier by sticking to a central plot-line. You understand the complexities of teaching and learning processes and have myriad examples of those, but you will have time to talk about those after you get the job interview. Can you summarize in one sentence or a few words what your basic teaching philosophy is?

Back it up!

No, your teaching statement is not a research paper. However, if you say that you will use backwards design in developing your syllabus, then you probably need to cite Wiggins and McTighe (2005). If you suggest that you will use a particular model, cite authority showing how that model has been used successfully. Your teaching statement must give credit where it’s due, just like any other writing you produce. It’s good to show the reader you are familiar with scholarship of teaching and learning broadly, and within your discipline. Consult mentors in your field to find out more about disciplinary conventions for page length and how to cite authority in your teaching statement.

That said, this is your teaching philosophy. Situate your teaching philosophy within broader scholarship, but allot most of your text to showing the reader how you practice what you preach. Did you:

  • Cite any ideas that are not your own?
  • Clearly mark any ideas that are your own?
  • Show the readers how controversial teaching practices went in your classroom?

Specifically articulate your goals and strategies.

If you have used the word “pedagogy,” or “pedagogical,” you can probably go ahead and cross through that and write more descriptive characterizations of your teaching approach. If you have articulated fuzzy or generic goals like “fostering critical thinking,” or “engaging students through hands-on activities,” you can cross through those, unless you go on to specify detailed examples. If you say that your lab experiment will allow hands-on learning and actively engage your students, make sure you detail exactly what students will be doing and articulate how that activity will further your specific learning goals, which are x, y, and z. Have you specifically explained:

  • Goals for student learning or learning outcomes and objectives?
  • What kinds of courses and students you will teach?
  • What teaching methods and assignments you will use (projects, lab assignment, traditional lecturing, tests, etc.)?
  • How you will evaluate student learning?
  • How you will measure your own efficacy? How often?
  • How your class furthers the mission or institutional objectives of the university you are applying to? Of higher learning, generally?
  • How you will be engaged with the university/ community outside of the classroom?

Make it memorable!

All job applicants want to foster critical thinking. We all want to engage students through hand-on, active learning, and to make learning memorable. To show the hiring committee that we are conversant in pedagogical literature, we need to drop some key phrases and concepts from the scholarship of teaching and learning. But after you say that you find mixed lectures or flipped classrooms the best techniques for engaging students, make sure you provide a memorable example of your experience with this. What did students have to say? Was it a flop the first time?

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education by James Lang  discusses tips for writing teaching statements that are memorable.

Another way that you can check whether the language you are using is memorable is to feed your text through a word cloud generator, like to see how often you use key terms. Chances are, if your word cloud is memorable and unique, so is your teaching statement!

Get a helping hand.

If you’re starting from scratch, check out our recent blog post on crafting a teaching statement.

Further, you might consider meeting with a CFT staff person or a departmental colleague while you revise 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.



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