Your Teaching Philosophy Statement

Ellen Carusetta, Faculty of Education, UNB Fredericton
August 2006; Updated August 2010

Some General Ideas about Teaching Philosophy

A statement of teaching philosophy answers two questions: "Why do I teach?" and "How do I teach?". It should communicate the goals of your teaching and your corresponding actions as a teacher. It becomes the central point of your teaching portfolio; and around it you arrange a collection of artefacts that support this philosophy both directly and indirectly. Your statement about your teaching philosophy gives the reader of your teaching portfolio a context within which to understand and assess your teaching activities.

A statement of teaching philosophy is a very personal statement - one which people often have difficulty writing. It derives from your basic values and beliefs about yourself and your teaching. We all have a philosophy by which we live although many of us never stop to put this philosophy into words and some of us remain blissfully unaware of it. However, most of us can articulate the values that contribute to this philosophy. And while our values tell us who we are and who we want to become, our statement of philosophy goes one step further by telling us how we would like to become this person.

A statement of teaching philosophy is usually brief - only one or two pages long - and presents an integrated view of some of the values we hold about various aspects of teaching such as:   

  • how we think learning and teaching happen;
  • how we understand learners, their differences and what motivates them;
  • how we interact with learners;
  • what we think the primary purposes of education, teaching and learning are;
  • how we view the primary role of the teacher or instructor;
  • what teaching and learning methods we value; and
  • how we think evaluation of learning should be conducted.

Teaching philosophy statements should avoid technical terms and jargon, and favour language and concepts that can be broadly understood. If the statement is being submitted with an application for a new position, it should be written for a specific audience; otherwise it should be written for a more general audience. It should be reviewed and revised every year to reflect changes in your understanding of your own teaching.

The statement should be reflective and personal. What brings a teaching philosophy to life is the extent to which it creates a vivid portrait of you as a person who is intentional and authentic about teaching practices and committed to your vocation as a teacher. The best way to write your statement is to write it as a narrative, in the first person singular (I, me, mine). Avoid using impersonal pronouns (you, one, it) because such pronouns create confusion for the reader. In some fields, a more creative approach, such as a poem, might be appropriate and valued. But in most situations, a straightforward, well-organized statement is preferred. Include examples to illustrate your points.

Those with little experience as teachers should write about their future plans and desires for their teaching. Those with experience should reflect on how they have taught in the past and how they plan to improve in the future.

Writing Your Teaching Statement

You can begin the process of writing your statement in different ways, all of them designed to help you assemble a set of ideas about what you value in your teaching practice - what is most important to you. I have listed several different approaches to this task. Select one or two that seem best suited to your style of thinking and use them to generate lots of different information. You will use this information to write an integrated statement. Do not use the questions you answer as headings and do not use just the answers - they must be combined into a logical narrative.

Option 1:
Generate a list of single words or short phrases that represent what you value most about yourself and your teaching. Examples of such words and phrases might be:  

  • Equitable communication
  • Good relationships
  • Independent thinking
  • Patience
  • Strong work ethic

Next, take each one of these words or phrases and write a statement around each that reflects its importance in your teaching. In the examples provided below, the first part of each is a general statement and is turned into a teaching statement by the second part:

"I value independent thinking and encourage students to both critically analyse the ideas of experts in the field and develop their own ideas."

"I try to be open to new or different ideas or perspectives although I sometimes find it very difficult. I try to see the value in students' ideas before responding to them."

"I recognize that how I react to a situation depends largely on my past experiences. I plan to seek out new experiences to change some of my more negative reactions."

"I believe that knowledge is power; and the purpose of my teaching is to help students learn the knowledge and skills that will help them feel empowered."

"I believe that learning should be fun and that learners should be as active as possible while they are learning."

Option 2:
Another way to write your statement of teaching philosophy is to develop answers to questions such as: 

  • Why do I teach? Where does my passion for teaching come from?
  • What techniques do I use in the classroom to encourage student learning?
  • What do I expect to be the outcomes of my teaching?
  • How do I know my students are "getting it"? How do I know when I have taught successfully?
  • What values and attitudes do I consciously attempt to impart to my students? What values and attitudes do I unconsciously impart?
  • How do my approaches to teaching reflect who I am?
  • What code of ethics guides my teaching and my relationships with my students?

Option 3:
Another approach is to identify the assumptions that underlie your understanding of teaching and learning processes. Think through the answers to the following questions:  

  • What are three assumptions I make about teaching?
  • What are three assumptions I make about learning?
  • How does each of these assumptions appear in my courses?
  • How does each of these assumptions facilitate/guide my teaching?
  • How does each of these assumptions hinder my teaching?

Option 4:
For those who are really stuck trying to generate information about your teaching, you can consult the resources listed below. Each will give you some information about your teaching that could then be used in combination with some of the answers you generated to previous techniques. Please note that the information generated from each of these four tools is useful in some ways and a hindrance in others.  

  • The Teaching Goals Inventory, developed by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross (Classroom Assessment Techniques, 1993). Follow the directions. The results will indicate which of six clusters of teaching goals - higher-order thinking skills, discipline-specific facts and principles, work and career preparation, student development and personal growth, basic learning skills, and providing a role model for students - are most typical in your courses.
  • The Teaching Perspectives Inventory, developed by Daniel Pratt (Five perspectives on teaching in adult and higher education, 1995). Click on "Take the TPI" and follow the directions. The results will indicate which of five teaching perspectives - transmission, apprenticeship, nurturing, developmental or social reform - are most typical of your teaching.
  • The Teaching Styles Inventory by Anthony Grasha (Teaching with style, 1996). The results indicate which of five teaching styles - expert, formal authority, personal model, facilitator, and delegator - are most typical of your teaching.
  • Instructions for developing a statement of teaching philosophy for working with adult learners, prepared by Roger Hiemstra (1988), helps the reader translate personal values and philosophy into practical action. A paper is available here.

Conclusion

Make your statement concise, specific and vivid; organize it around one or two main ideas and limit the length to no more than two pages.

Be concrete; avoid writing in an abstract manner about general principles. Include brief examples of how your approach to teaching plays out in your courses.

Whenever possible, be discipline specific, especially if you are writing your statement for inclusion in a job application. Keep up-to-date with pedagogical journals in your field.

Read widely enough to frame your views wisely. Avoid too much educational jargon but show that you have a good understanding of teaching issues in your particular discipline.

Reflect carefully on your experience as a student and an instructor. Consider both your positive role models and those instructors whose mistakes you swore you would never repeat.

Make your statement unique to you. Write in the first person singular. Think of your statement of teaching philosophy as an opportunity to express something about who you are that readers will remember.

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