Basic information about writing successful teaching philosophy statements for the academic market.
The Teaching Philosophy Statement is a concise and specific personal essay that describes your core approach(es) to teaching and learning and expresses how you understand your role in the classroom.
Basic Stylistic Conventions
The statement should be single spaced and one-two pages in length (unless otherwise specified for a particular job ad). In the essay, you’ll use the first person (“I” pronouns) and stick with the present tense (I do “x” when I teach “y”), whenever possible. You should limit technical jargon that may not be accessible to everyone on the committee, and be sure to define any needed technical terms clearly. The tone should be professional but conversational. In terms of formatting, it’s a good idea to match the rest of your job market documents (If you’ve written in Times New Roman 12pt for your CV and your job letter, then stick with that for this document as well).
Note that a teaching statement is not simply a list of your past teaching experiences or a list of what you can teach at the job you are applying too (these items will find there way into your job market materials through your CV, teaching portfolio, and other documents). It is also not an article on teaching, or a commentary on the general state of teaching today.
Purpose and Audience
When you write your teaching philosophy statement for an application for a faculty position, think about the reasons a search committee may request the document and try to anticipate questions the committee may have about your teaching, such as the following:
- Is this candidate qualified for the teaching responsibilities of the position?
- Does her approach to teaching suggest that she would be a good “fit” for our department and our students?
- Does this candidate want to teach? If so, why?
- If I were to step into a classroom and observe this candidate teaching, what would I see?
- How do this candidate’s research interests shape their teaching?
- What will this candidate add to our department? What will our students gain from their classes? What will our department gain in terms of specific courses, new opportunities for students to develop their skills and knowledge, and interesting pedagogical approaches?
- How does this candidate respond to the perennial challenges of teaching, such as motivating students to learn, evaluating student work, maintaining high standards in the classroom, and juggling teaching with other responsibilities?
What a Teaching Statement is Not:
- A list of your past teaching experiences and/or a list of what you can teach at the job you are applying to (Instead, do this more subtly by weaving in examples from your previous teaching that might highlight the ways that you are especially qualified for the teaching in this new position.)
- A summary of all your student evaluations (This goes in a teaching portfolio. That said, if students consistently describe you in a way that is critical to your overarching teaching philosophy, choose a representative example or two that can demonstrate evidence of how your philosophy plays out in your teaching practice.)
- A summary of feedback from colleagues and mentors (See second bullet point.)
- An article on teaching
- A general philosophy about the state of teaching today
What Do Successful Statements Do?
Successful statements are forward and backwards looking. They draw on your previous teaching experiences with an eye towards the kind of work you may be asked to do in the role that you are applying for. They also demonstrate a narrative of progress, illustrating the ways that you’ve reflected on past experiences and intend to grow as a teacher in the future.
The best statements provide a clear and specific-to-you opening that guides the essay that follows. They also highlight concrete examples of specific course topics, assignments, assessments, and teaching methodologies that demonstrate how the overarching principles involved in your teaching philosophy are at work in particular contexts. They include representative examples which describe the breadth of your teaching experiences, relying particularly on those experiences which have most informed your practice.
Successful statements are also student-centered–they explain not just what you will do but also what students do in your courses. They are also attuned to the particular challenges associated with teaching in your discipline.
What Kinds of Experiences Can Be Drawn on?
Choose teaching experiences which showcase most clearly your teaching philosophy. If you haven’t had many opportunities for formal instruction, draw on your years of experience as a student and the informal teaching situations that you’ve be a part of: mentoring, leading study groups, community service, tutoring, etc. Explain how these experiences will influence your approach to teaching a college-level course.
The Center for Teaching and Learning offers teaching philosophy statement workshops each semester for those at WashU on both the Danforth and Medical campuses. Consult our events page for more information. In addition, the CTL also offers the Jump-Start to Writing a Teaching Philosophy Stat Program, a month-long guided peer review opportunity that builds on the material from the initial workshop, while helping to facilitate the drafting and revision of the teaching statement. The Jump-Start program offers the opportunity for graduate students and postdocs to work in guided small groups to begin and advance the writing process. This program takes place in the fall and in the late spring each year.
Individual consultations with our staff on writing, revising, or tailoring your statements are also available for Washington University faculty, graduate students, and postdocs.
We also encourage graduate students and postdocs to consult with faculty advisors, mentors, and peers in your discipline about your teaching statement. Those in your discipline can provide specialized feedback that will help you improve your statement’s effectiveness and clarity.