ask scatterplot: teaching statements

This whole trend toward obtaining “teaching philosophy” statements from candidates for jobs and promotion to tenure befuddles me, as I tend to think of them as empty exercises. But there must be people who think they are meaningful, else this would not have been a trend. I have never written one, having managed to get tenure long before such statements became required, and am not quite sure what to say to my students when they ask my advice about how to write a good one. So I’m asking scatterplotters. Do you ask for statements of teaching philosophy from job candidates at your insitution? Do you read them and take them seriously? And, if so, what are you looking for in them? What distinguishes a good statement from a bad one? What should a job candidate think about in preparing at teaching statement?

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/ --Pam Oliver

4 thoughts on “ask scatterplot: teaching statements”

  1. Um, reading that article just made me think even more that this is a meaningless exercise, on the level of coming up with something to write for a college entrance application. Think about why you liked some teachers and not others? Make sure it is well written? Avoid generalities? Avoid empty statement? Give examples? Ground it in your own discipline. Duh! Aren’t these generalities in their own right? Do they contain any content at all beyond specifying what it means to write well? Is this anything other than a writing exercise? Really?

    Look up the institution’s web site and fit your answer to them — OK this is specific, it says don’t write a general statement, write for some particular job. But if you are writing it for a particular job then this isn’t your generic teaching philosophy, is it? This suggests the function is some kind of hoop to jump through to prove you have bothered to think about that specific institution. But then I don’t know why these have become required parts of tenure packets at research universities.

    I’m serious. Is there anybody out there in scatterplotland who really believes in these things and wants to defend them? Please don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of thinking about teaching. But do these essays serve any function at all in an evaluation process?

    My current theory is that there was/is a social movement to validate the importance of good teaching, and requiring these essays is a symbolic response to this movement.

    I’d like to hear from anyone who says: “Yes, I read and evaluate these. Here’s what I’m looking for and why.”

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  2. While I can’t say whether or not people actually read teaching statements, it does seem that departments want to hire individuals who will be good teachers at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. A teaching statement seems like a quick way of evaluating whether a candidate has spent any time at all thinking about pedagogy or more general issues like how to balance student demands for “interesting” classes with the need for them to actually learn something.

    The best advice I’ve seen about writing a teaching statement is to explain what you want your students to gain from your classes, why you want them to gain this, and then explain what you do in the classroom to facilitate this. Rather than saying you want students to become “active learners,” then, a good teaching statement might say that you want students in your intro courses to gain a strong sense of basic sociological concepts that they will be able to take with them whether they ever take another sociology course or not. Because students retain more information when they take an active role in learning, you use assignments in which students apply class concepts to the lives of characters in a movie that gives them practice thinking like a sociologist about things like poverty, race, sex, etc. Then, in your “evidence of teaching effectiveness,” you include some of these assignments to show that you actually do what you say you do.

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