Philosophy of Teaching Statement
The process of identifying a personal philosophy of teaching and continuously examining, articulating, verifying, and refining this philosophy through teaching can lead to change of teaching behaviors and, ultimately, foster professional and personal growth.
A philosophy of teaching statement is a narrative that includes:
- A personal vision for teaching and learning.
- A description of teaching strategies or approaches implemented.
- Justification for those strategies, focusing on evidence-based practice.
An effective teaching philosophy demonstrates that an instructor is reflective and purposeful about teaching, communicates instructional goals and corresponding actions in the classroom, and points to and weaves together themes, materials, and activities outlined in the other sections of the portfolio.
General Formatting Suggestions
There is no right or wrong way to write a philosophy statement, which is why it is so challenging for most people to write one.
A teaching philosophy is generally 1–2 pages, double-spaced, in length. For some purposes, an extended description is appropriate, but length should be determined by content and context.
Use present tense, in most cases. Writing in first-person is most common.
Most statements avoid technical terms and favor language and concepts that can be broadly appreciated. A general rule is that the statement should be written with the audience in mind. It may be helpful to have a disciplinary peer review the statement to provide guidance on any discipline-specific jargon and issues to include or exclude.
Describe in detail teaching strategies and methods. It is not possible in many cases for a reader to observe instruction. By including very specific examples of teaching strategies, assignments, discussions, etc., the reader can visualize the learning context described and the exchanges between instructor and students.
Make the statement memorable and unique. If the document is submitted as part of a job application, readers on the search committee are reviewing many statements. What sets this one apart? Often that is the extent to which it creates a vivid portrait of a person who is intentional about teaching practices and committed to their career.
“Own” your philosophy. The use of declarative statements (such as, “students don’t learn through lecture,” or “the only way to teach is to use class discussion”) could be detrimental if reviewed by a search committee. Write about individual experiences and beliefs or focus on research that informs the teaching practice described to appear open to new and different ideas about teaching. Instructors often make choices as to the best teaching methods for different courses and content: sometimes lecture is most appropriate; other times service-learning or active learning are most effective, for example.
The following samples are written by winners of the Graduate Associate Teaching Award at Ohio State, and are examples of various formats you may choose to use.
Tim Jensen – Department of English
Philosophy of Teaching Statement
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of English
Winner of the 2010 Graduate Associate Teaching Award
As an instructor of rhetoric and composition courses, my aim is to motivate students to begin a personal exploration toward effective, ethical communication. This can only happen if they feel genuinely inspired by the improvement made within the short period of a quarter and confident in their ability to learn more—if they feel, in a word, empowered. To these ends, I practice and continually refine pedagogical strategies that reveal how power, knowledge, and discourse are inextricably woven together with the arts of persuasion, more formally known as rhetoric.
I anchor my pedagogy in three interrelated principles, outlined below around Latin maxims. These dictums are not mere flourishes; were you to take my class, you would hear them repeated regularly. Forming the foundation for specific teaching strategies and the constant evaluation of those methods, these principles never allow me to forget that the best teacher is one who adopts the perspective of a perpetual learner. To lead by example, then, I am always seeking to further my own skills in listening, collaboration, and application of knowledge to everyday practices.
Audi Alteram Partem
Like the development of any other skill, critical thinking requires practice, whereby repetitious acts form patterns that become easier to perform, eventually becoming natural, almost instinctual. I employ the strategy of audi alteram partem— translated as “hear the other side”—to cultivate this habit of critical inquiry and analytical thinking. For example, instead of qualifying and modifying a student’s comment in class discussion, I will simply respond with the phrase, often kick-starting a fast and loose version of the dialectical process: one student’s comment (thesis) is followed by a counter-perspective (antithesis), resulting in a new claim (synthesis) for the class to think about. Students soon see the pattern develop and try and beat the game, so to speak, by providing a counter-argument alongside their initial comment (“I know you’re probably gonna say that…”). As a methodology, audi alteram partem encourages the exploration of claims and their structures of reasoning and evidence, all in an organic, conversational manner. The positive effects of this strategy are consistently visible in students’ analytical essays, where evidence shows them grappling with arguments from a variety of perspectives. My larger goal, though, is to foster the natural trajectory of this thought pattern so that students go beyond small claims to examine larger cultural mores. One recent student email demonstrates this move: “Did you know that in China some pay their doctors only while they stay healthy?! Holy Audi Alteram Partem! Docs only get rich by keeping people from getting sick – we should drop that into health care reform!”
Although it is rewarding to see class conversations quickly gain momentum and capture student interest, my use of audi alteram partem is primarily driven by a belief in the pedagogical principle of critical listening, by which we develop more quickly intellectually and socially by listening to multiple perspectives and logics. In short, I teach rhetoric—the art of persuasion—by teaching the art of listening. Because I am here to learn, too, I practice critical listening by soliciting informal feedback from students through brief emails that simply “touch-base,” scheduling multiple one-on-one conferences, and keeping an “open-door” policy, where I promise to meet with a student at their convenience, in terms of time and location, to the best of my ability. To be an effective instructor, I must listen attentively to students in order to discover their unique learning styles and the particular motivations guiding their education.
To cultivate a thriving atmosphere for critical listening and intellectual exploration, all of my courses place great emphasis on the pedagogical principle of docendo discimus—the idea that “we learn from teaching.” To draw on the diversity of insights and experiences of students, it is my responsibility to create an environment where we can all teach each other. My strategies for doing so have taken several years to develop (and are still evolving), perhaps because they are counter-intuitive at first glance: to animate the self-discovered, self-appropriated learning that can truly influence individual behavior, I emphasize the class as community; to generate a respectful, supportive, and enthusiastic atmosphere, I disperse authority rather than consolidate it. This means, of course, that participants must leave behind the passive role of “student” and adopt a more active orientation that highlights responsibility and accountability. Enacting this principle is more challenging than retaining the traditional roles of student/teacher, but I have found that the results are always worth it.
For example, I recently asked those in my section of ENG 276 (Introduction to Rhetoric) if they would like to include a peer-evaluation component in their first project, and the majority voted in its favor. From there we radically democratized the entire process: in one class session we surveyed sample assignments using a variety of rubrics, exploring the value of different terminologies and evaluative frameworks. Then, with the help of a detailed online survey I designed, they submitted responses on those elements they found most productive, why so, and how they would like to see the peer evaluation integrated. (This particular group chose to have five individual peer reviews be averaged together in determining 20% of their final grade using a holistic, comment-heavy rubric.) Docendo discismus in action, then, looks like this: students actively, voluntarily choose to become teachers, explore options as a community, and democratically determine the language and structure of their own learning process. This is just one example among many energizing, ever-evolving attempts to empower students by encouraging them to perceive themselves as valuable teachers. There are smaller instances, such as calling for volunteers to lead discussion, and more involved cases, like having former students visit a current class to talk about how they succeeded at a particular project—without me in the room to moderate or influence. Though it may seem paradoxical, I have discovered through trial and error that the best way for students to cultivate a sense of ownership in their education is through the radical sharing of knowledge.
Non Scholae Sed Vitae Discimus
At the core of my pedagogical philosophy is the principle, “we learn not for school, but for life.” To awaken students to the persuasive forces at work on their attitudes and behaviors is to awaken them to their responsibilities as citizens, friends, family members, and principled human beings. The experience of working with several hundred students, however, has significantly altered my approach to communicating the value and importance of a heightened rhetorical consciousness.
Over the past three and a half years, I have moved away from a top-down method of inculcation, where I repeatedly, explicitly declare the importance of rhetorical education, to a bottom-up, micro approach. Using this strategy I focus on seemingly banal, everyday occurrences in a casual tone and exploratory atmosphere. For instance, I will often use the first few minutes of class to nonchalantly describe a random encounter which brought to mind a previous class discussion or reading, encouraging others to help me pull it apart and think through it. It only takes a few class sessions before students seek to supplant my examples with their own, which I encourage. The conversations that follow, which often have that infectious tenor of “class hasn’t really started yet,” are as light-hearted as they are incisive. Only after allowing this to continue for several weeks will I begin to explicitly drive home the importance of sensitizing ourselves and others to surrounding rhetorical forces. Consistently evaluating my teaching methods has led me to this approach, which I find favorable for a variety of reasons: it creates a database of examples I can use to ground theoretical principles using familiar contexts; it tacitly encourages students to look to their own lives for examples of rhetoric; and it carves out a space where students have the opportunity to learn within a context framed by their own concrete experiences.
I have discovered that the most effective route for making my courses valuable and practical to everyday experience is my communication with students throughout the composition process. Because of the importance of feedback, I have selected a representative example for the instructional materials section, where I elaborate my approach to positive, practical feedback.
In outlining the pedagogical principles that guide my teaching style and strategies, I aim to show how these maxims constitute a powerful frame for viewing the world. I teach by these principles because of my ardent conviction that they provide a path for bettering oneself and one’s community.
Glené Mynhardt – Department of Biology
Philosophy of Teaching Statement
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Biology
Winner of the 2010 Graduate Associate Teaching Award
I spent the first thirteen years of my life in South Africa. Growing up in one of the most beautiful and species diverse countries stimulated a natural desire for me to want to study biology. When my family moved to the States, I remember having to make several cultural adjustments. Many were changes on a personal level, but becoming familiar with new ways of learning was especially challenging. High school was relatively easy for me, but being a college student required much more effort. Despite a strong desire to learn, and a passion for biology, the typical lecture setting at the very populous institutions where I gained most of my educational experiences was not ideal. During my sophomore year in college I sought something outside of coursework to test whether I was really cut out for biology. I began volunteering as an undergraduate research assistant in an insect systematics laboratory, and began sorting through large jars of insects that were stored in ethanol. The amazing diversity of insects found in one jar was so fascinating that I would spend around eight hours sorting through these samples. My time in the lab allowed me to get involved in field work, learn different sampling techniques, and become familiar with how data were processed. I finally got to experience the dynamic, fun nature of science! Learning had become so much more, because science wasn’t just an isolated subject in a textbook – it meant using real processes to study real phenomena.
I have established two primary philosophies as a teacher: to get students to think about science as a process, and to individualize their learning experiences, the former of which I learned as a student myself, and the latter of which became evident as an effective teaching strategy.
Progressing through graduate school allowed me to define learning as a personal process of growth. Being able to ask questions and actually attempt to answer those questions was extremely motivating. The same ideas flowed into my classrooms, where I urge my students to think about very basic questions they have, and to begin questioning all those “facts” in the textbook. It was only after I had begun teaching at The Ohio State University that I became acutely aware of my initial failures as an undergraduate student. I realized the interactive, intellectually stimulating classroom environment was lacking in most of the courses I took. I learned about my own potential, but only after I had already experienced years of education! Because of this, I have made an effort to be not only a mentor, but a teacher in learning, by providing my students with opportunities to learn in ways they are most likely to benefit from. Since the first moments as a teacher, I realized how precious the time was with my students, and how I wished to help them find their love for biology, just as I did, by being involved and invested in more hands-on methods of learning. Just like me, most of my students already know that they like biology, but I want them to begin understanding the process of scientific thinking rather than learning definitions without context to real data. In order to achieve this, I continually aim to involve students by using a variety of methods in all of the classes I teach.
Involving and motivating students presents its challenges, but my goal of individualizing learning creates an open and comfortable classroom environment where students can feel free to ask questions, make mistakes, and challenge themselves. It is by breaking down the barriers to learning that students can face their own misconceptions. My background as a struggling undergraduate has given me a great measure of sensitivity to each student’s learning process. I firmly believe that students enter the classroom with expectations to learn and advance their knowledge, which I assessed in my own classroom one term by asking two of my 30-student honors labs to write down their personal definition of “learning.” I was not surprised to see that all of them carried the same underlying message, that learning is the process of gaining new knowledge or perspectives that change the way we think about the world. In order to keep students motivated, I have found that it becomes imperative to be a creative teacher, by utilizing various active learning methods like group discussions, peer teaching or presentations, and “muddy points” cards, the latter of which allows students to write down what they think they don’t clearly understand. Students rarely admit that they don’t know anything, so using methods that allow them to bring their misconceptions or misunderstandings to light provides an opportunity for me to determine whether my teaching is effective. Another tool that I find equally effective in the classroom is to establish rapport with my students by making it a point to get to know my students, not just by name, but by asking them to think about their personal goals as potential future scientists. I also ask them to rate biology on a scale from one to ten to gauge the level of enthusiasm and perception students have for science. Based on this information, I am able to get to know my students and approach them in different ways to personalize their learning. This is reflected positively in my evaluations, where students always feel that they can approach me, ask questions, or even challenge their own thinking. In addition, several of my previous students loved my biology courses so much that they now teach as undergraduate teaching assistants, and several have pursued graduate school to further explore their interests.
Getting students involved in learning often means being inventive with one’s teaching methods and has encouraged me to use various active learning techniques in the classroom, and presents another way to individualize my students’ learning experiences. Each class session includes the presentation of a basic concept, a real example of why the topic is relevant, and some challenging questions about how the topic applies to students’ lives. If students are learning about the structure and relative location of arteries and veins, I usually ask them why western societies wear wedding bands on the left ring finger. They are amazed to learn that some societies do so because the aorta branches directly to the left arm, which directly connects the left ring finger to the heart. They are able to make connections between structure and function, and make ties between science and culture. I have found that when students are presented with these linkages between science and “real life” they are able to question their personal beliefs in a scientific context. In other words, students are thinking like scientists and are being engaged on a personal level. In the example of the ring finger they are also able to think about anatomy and function as the underlying process, rather than memorizing the end-products of science. My goal is to have students leave the classroom with an attitude of inquiry, something I think is necessary to be a good scientist and a good citizen. Encouraging students to question what they know results in fruitful and revealing classroom discussions and has allowed me to identify common misconceptions. For example, most students know about the process of electron transport within the energy-providing mitochondria in a cell. I ask students to think about bacteria, which do not have mitochondria. How do bacterial cells achieve this process without mitochondria? By deconstructing larger concepts into smaller pieces, students become really successful in understanding how universal or unique biological “facts” are in different systems. Given my background as a struggling undergraduate, the way I teach has made me a more successful teacher, because I finally understand what it means to learn meaningfully.
The personal journey that I have taken as a teacher has extended beyond the classroom, into areas that I never imagined. I have had humbling opportunities to help other TAs with their teaching, which has been remarkably insightful and informative. My roles as a teaching fellow, orientation facilitator for the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (UCAT), and as graduate UCAT consultant, have brought teaching to the forefront of my graduate career. The same qualities, which are meaningful to me as a teacher – making the classroom process-driven and individualized – are echoed in my role as a mentor to other teachers. The classroom is a dynamic space, where each teacher can do the things he or she wishes to do. It is the place where another undergraduate student can struggle, fail, and learn how to excel. It is the place where I started as a student, the place that could have taught me so much more than what I learned. Years after struggling as that student, I am a teacher, a mentor, and a researcher, but only because I found something meaningful that taught me something about biology and science. That is what I aim to create for my students.
James Collier – Department of Communication
Philosophy of Teaching Statement
Graduate Teaching Associate
Department of Communication
Winner of the 2012 Graduate Associate Teaching Award
More than anything, I want students to recognize my genuine passion for teaching and interest in them as individuals. I want my classes to be challenging but fair, valuable beyond their time at Ohio State, and fun. I am obligated to provide a high quality experience, and strive to be the teacher I want as a student. To accomplish this, I integrate things I have learned in my own classes, student evaluations and a variety of studies and books I have read about teaching on the university level.
First and foremost, I want to challenge students and push them out of their comfort zone. I tell them the first day: if school is not challenging, their investment of time and money is trivialized, to the detriment of their value to prospective employers. Being demanding yet fair is by far my most difficult task. There are always gifted, self-motivated students who will rise to any challenge I offer. What about those less driven, or less able? It says little of me if I set the bar high and then watch dispassionately as students sink or swim. That is not how I work. I implore them to make a consistent effort, with the promise I will provide support for anyone who demonstrates as much. Many of my students struggle early. I reassure them as a class, and privately: ‘Don’t panic, don’t quit; as we progress through the quarter, this will become more and more normal.’ This reassurance does not work like magic, but eventually it does take hold. My rules are simple: Don’t panic, don’t quit, come talk to me. I always find a way to reward effort. This includes extra credit opportunities, but never ‘free of charge.’ I trade points for knowledge. On my Carmen site, I post an entire section of additional readings of interest. Students know up front that at the end of the quarter, they can do additional reading and take a quiz. I credit any points they earn toward prior quiz grades, allowing them to make amends for earlier disappointments. Ultimately, most students trust me and buy into the system. My grades are relatively high; not because I give students anything. The grades are earned. In addition to challenging, I want my class to be interesting and fun.
My methodology entails heavy reading (approximately 100 pages per class period) and abbreviated lectures (approximately 30 minutes). Research demonstrates that reading improves vocabulary and language use, which improves writing skills – all of which improve public speaking skills. All are premium job skills. I adopted shorter lectures based on student feedback. Students find interaction and discussion more interesting. To ensure that students read with a sense of purpose, every class begins with a brief quiz. We review the answers in class, and as we do, I expand on the content and add detail by referencing other sources. This tends to spur interest and further discussion as we walk through the quiz. In addition, I allow students to ‘negotiate’ with me. In other words, I allow them to ask if what they put is sufficiently accurate. Sometimes I say no, sometimes I give half credit, and sometimes what they write is not at all what I was looking for, but I am so impressed with the level of detail they absorbed, I give them full credit. This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the class because, while the heavy reading and daily quizzes can seem daunting, students quickly realize that they are empowered to make their case and earn credit. This is my way of acknowledging that creating each quiz is not an exact science, nor are the items I select the definitive aspects of the reading. The give-and-take of these exchanges inevitably leads to laughter, inside jokes related to prior quizzes, and mutual respect between us. The level of enjoyment these ‘negotiations’ generate is most notable at the end of the quarter when I offer the extra credit quizzes in my office. Students arrive sporadically over the course of two hours, take the quiz and leave due to time constraints. Almost all of them say something to the effect of ‘this is not as much fun without the negotiations; I miss that.’ To hear this is priceless because many of these students struggled a bit throughout the quarter, and to hear them lament the fun being over is truly amazing. In addition to being interesting and fun, I want to be organized and responsive. This manifests itself in three ways: 1) daily game plans; 2) e-mail response and personal meetings; and 3) immediate grading.
During the last 5 minutes of each class, I review the up-coming readings. I tell them why we are covering this material and how it connects to prior readings and our larger plan moving forward. I provide a general guideline to what they should focus on, and what they can gloss over. By articulating these connections, I help them organize their thoughts and synthesize the readings. It also alleviates the sensation of being pounded by wave after wave of readings. As mentioned earlier, I know that a certain portion of the class will struggle early on. I allow for time to meet with students after class, am very diligent about responding to e-mails quickly, and devote 4 office hours per week for personal consultations. Students always know that I am there for them. Without question, the organizational aspect that students most appreciate is my quick and detailed grading. Quiz grades are posted by late afternoon. Rather than extensive papers at mid-term and final, students write 5 papers between 600-700 words in length at a time of their choosing – giving them freedom to manage their time. I grade and return these papers with detailed comments the same night they are submitted. To earn their participation points, they post 10 opinion paragraphs between 200-230 words in length on our Carmen discussion forum. I read and post these grades the same night. The final component of the class entails a group presentation where each student presents a media sample related to the current content and poses discussion questions to their classmates. These grades are also posted immediately, along with my comments. All told, students know their grade in real-time, where they stand, and why. This is a show of respect and organization they really appreciate.
I have done many things to further my development. Last fall, I shadowed one of our full professors for an entire quarter, and wrote a 1500 word essay about my observations for class credit. I wanted to pursue the teaching specialization minor but realized I could not fit the class requirements into my other class and teaching schedule, as well as pursue all my research projects. Nonetheless I learned a lot by watching a seasoned veteran for ten weeks. Last October, I conducted a two hour workshop for new graduate students who were scheduled to begin teaching later in the year. This was mutually beneficial because the preparation and subsequent discussion forced me to reflect on my own teaching, triggering new ideas. Upon request, I have served as a guest lecturer in six undergraduate Comm classes. I was also invited to give a two hour lecture on the political history of the Middle East and Central Asia for graduating Air Force ROTC cadets. This opportunity came because a former student recommended me to his superiors. I am currently writing and producing a series of television shows with a group of students majoring in television production. I work directly with their advisors to ensure the project warrants class credit. I am also helping a former student on his undergraduate thesis project. He has enlisted my help in acquiring sources, and also for editing the paper. I also make an effort to read books and studies that examine teaching on the university level. These include Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa; one study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and one by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. All told, my passion for teaching leads to opportunities to teach more, which enhances my skills and creates further opportunities. I am never ‘good enough’ and am always seeking opportunities to hone my skills and contribute to others, including fellow graduate students.