How to write a teaching philosophy statement: 10 helpful questions to get you started

Originally published by under my maiden name Kathrin Viehrig on http://brachahkathrinviehrig.com on Feb 27, 2020

how to write a teaching philosophy statement

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Teaching philosophy statements are an important part of hiring and tenure. They are also good for reflective teaching practice. As Stephen Brookfield writes:

““Teaching is about making some kind of dent in the world so that the world is different than it was before you practiced your craft. Knowing clearly what kind of dent you want to make in the world means that you must continually ask yourself the most fundamental evaluative questions of all — What effect am I having on students and on their learning?”” (Stephen Brookfield (1990) The Skillful Teacher ,  pp. 18-19)” 10

But what exactly is a teaching philosophy statement? And how can you write one?

A teaching philosophy statement contains your beliefs, values and practices as a teacher1,13,15,14,9. It should give “a clear and unique portrait of [you] as a teacher” 14

Yet, a teaching philosophy statement is not a theoretical document. You should discuss specific examples as evidence “of what you do in the classroom to support those beliefs”13, see also 14,9. Examples can be “experienced or anticipated”1,14 . They should help the reader visualize you as a teacher 8,10,11,12. The reader should get a sense of what makes you different from other teachers.

A teaching philosophy statement is not a static document.  It is changing over time, as you learn from new experiences, new situations (e.g. different student ages and class sizes), new mentors, ideas, requirements or readings1.

Questions to get you started when writing your teaching philosophy statement

There are a lot of different how-to pages on the internet. Common parts of a teaching philosophy statement include 1,8,9,10,11,12, 13, 14, 15, 16,17:

1. So, why do you want to teach?

Show why being an educator matters to you. Think about your “why” in general, but also about why you teach at that level and that specific subject.

2. How did you become who you are as a teacher?

This shouldn’t be a rehash of your CV or resume. Instead, you could talk about role models and lessons learned from your past experiences – training, experiences as a teacher, reading or even childhood experiences. It can also describe how and why your thinking and practice have changed and what evidence you have for your progression.

3. What is your context?

This helps the reader to visualize your examples better. Think about the  type of institution you teach at, class sizes, level and subject-specific elements.

4. What are your core beliefs and values about teaching and learning?

For instance, you can talk about: What is a good teacher and adviser?  What responsibilities students have and what is your role? What are your values? (e.g. equality)  What promotes and what hinders learning? What makes a good learning environment? What challenges does your field have for students? What are your beliefs about diversity?

5. What goals do you have for your students?

What do you want your contribution to your students’ education to be? You can use specific examples for certain courses, but also think beyond to more general goals (e.g. learning how to learn). How do you reach these goals and how you know that you did?

6. How do you teach based on these beliefs, values and goals?

This can include a wide variety of examples that show how your beliefs, values and goals show up in practice. What are the methods, student activities, assignments, assessments and evaluation strategies you often use? How do you mentor students? How  do you create learning environments? What steps do you take to help motivate your students? How do you help students to overcome challenges ? And so on. You can, for example, put yourself into the shoes of an observer – what would s_he see?

7. In what way does your teaching relate to diversity?

While this is included in the earlier questions, because it is so important, I decided to list it as its own question. Describe how your diversity beliefs show up in practice and which steps you take to create an inclusive learning environment, from the way your syllabus is designed to how you vary your approach for students with different abilities, identities, backgrounds, concepts or learning styles. Some employers require a separate diversity statement.

Writing a diversity statement

If you have to or want to write a diversity statement separately, they  are usually short, about 1 to 2 pages. 19.23  Of course, if you have a separate diversity statement, it should fit with your teaching statement.

Diversities you can address are e.g. “race, ethnicity, and [socio-economic status], [] age, religion, academic preparedness, disability, gender expression”20, sexual orientation19 or nationality see also 22.

Tell your story and how it has shaped who you are.”If you have overcome obstacles to get to where you are, point those out. If, in contrast, you are privileged, acknowledge that”18 . You can, but don’t have to, disclose your identities – it’s seen controversially.20, 22 If you don’t have personal experiences (or don’t want to disclose some of them), you can “cite statistics or studies” to help your arguments18.

Discuss your values 19,20.

Show examples of how that impacts your practice in different areas:

  • Research: How is your research “address[ing] issues of diversity, inclusion, or equity”? 20 This could be related e.g. to the topic and/or to the participating groups 20 . Another point is sharing your research “with the community or public in a way that promotes access to scholarship?”20  see also 19 , 22
  • Teaching: Think about past, current and future teaching, tutoring and mentoring experiences. How do you “help [diverse students] identify and overcome barriers to success”20, see also 18? Which strategies “to recruit and retain students from marginalized and underrepresented groups” 20 do you use? Are you “using inclusive language in the syllabus and classroom”20? How do you address diversity in course design, creating your classroom atmosphere, course content and course readings?20 see also 19, 22
  • Service: Another area is service – from volunteer work to professional committees.19, 20

Highlight how your experiences will help you in the position you are applying for 19,20 . Be specific19. Like a teaching statement, tailor it to the institution you are writing it for 19, 20

How do you want to grow? How do you want to contribute in the future? 19, 20

Examples to get you started: 21, 22,23

8. What are your interests and goals as a teacher?

A teaching philosophy statement should show that you are willing to learn and change. You can describe goals you have to improve as a teacher, strategies for reaching them,  indicators for knowing when you reached them and examples of past goals reached. You can also include a discussion of things that you are still struggling with, special interests you have (e.g. using specific digital media or certain methods) or things you want to try out.

9. How do you link different aspects of your career?

What is the relationship between e.g. your research and your teaching? You can also describe whether you include students in your research or links to your professional development or colleagues.

10. “[H]ow do you advance your field through teaching”?1

Beyond the individual students you teach, does your teaching have a wider impact? This can include, for instance, methods or published teaching materials that you have developed and that are now used in other classrooms.

You can also draw on literature. For instance, “Are there discussions in academic journals or in professional organizations about shortcomings in the education of students today or unmet needs in the discipline and do you have ideas about how to address those shortcomings and needs?13 

Or, put differently, “How do you want to make the world or at least [] education better?13 

Linking the answers

What relationships emerge between your answers? For instance, don’t “simply list[] teaching techniques or experiences, but [] describe how these techniques or experiences have contributed to [your] beliefs about what constitutes effective teaching”17.

 

Preparing your teaching philosophy statements

Yes, that’s plural – statements, not just statement!  You will have to write different versions of your teaching philosophy statement depending on what it’s used for. For instance, some elements will be different depending on whether you’re applying to a religious school or a state school, a school with small classes or large classes, a technology in teaching grant etc.8. As one recruiter says: “Just like cover letters, teaching statements should be tailored to the institution; if yours isn’t, we’ll toss out your application”12.

To help you when writing a specific teaching philosophy statement, Canada’s Western University recommends that you keep a comprehensive file1. That file can then be used to write the specific statement.

Another thing that can help you to prepare your teaching statement is looking at examples that are shared on the net. Even just looking through a few of them, you will see how different teaching philosophy statements can be.

To get you started, you can look e.g. here: 1 , 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6,  7 , 9, 15

 

Putting it together

Teaching philosophy statements are short (about 1-2, sometimes up to 5 pages)1.9,10,12,13,14,17, 16

Resist the temptation to squeeze everything tightly together. “Include generous white spaces between paragraphs to allow for ease of reading.”17  Even if that means you can’t include detailed answers to all of the questions above.

Write in the first person 1.9,11,12,13,14,16,17.

Write for people beyond your field. Don’t assume that they know discipline-specific terms17.

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