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Recent cognitive psychology graduate Michelle Verges, PhD, used this quote from William James, the father of American psychology, as the launching point for her teaching career, in which she's cultivated interactive classroom activities and an enthusiastic teaching attitude.

So when Verges--a University of Georgia graduate who began working in August as an assistant cognitive psychology professor at Indiana University South Bend--interviewed with potential employers in academia, she used the quote as the theme of her philosophy of teaching statement, a written summary of her beliefs about teaching, her teaching objectives and goals for student learning.

The philosophy of teaching statement--which is included in the teaching portfolio that details a teacher's experience and classroom activities (page 17)--is an introduction to who you are as a teacher, says James H. Korn, PhD, a psychology professor at Saint Louis University who conducts workshops on crafting teaching statements and teaches a class on preparing to teach psychology. Generally, the essays run about two pages in length.

The philosophy of teaching statement is the most requested teaching-related component of the dossier.

More employers are asking for teaching statements too. In fact, the philosophy of teaching statement is the most requested teaching-related component of the dossier, according to an article in press at Teaching Psychology by psychology graduate student John Clifton and psychologist William Buskist, PhD, of Auburn University. The researchers analyzed 1,259 U.S. psychology faculty position advertisements in the October and November 2002 and 2003 issues of APA's Monitor on Psychology and the American Psychological Society's Observer.

"The philosophy of teaching statement is becoming a more standard component of the dossier," says Buskist, who conducts academic workshops on this topic for APA's Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology).

Besides using the teaching statement to help land a job, you might also use it as a chance to reflect on the type of teacher you want to become. Not to mention, you might need one later in your career if you're up for a teaching award, tenure or promotion, Buskist says.

To write one, experts recommend students reflect about their values and personal views on teaching, write freely about their beliefs on education and continuously update their statements throughout their careers.


REFLECT

To stimulate reflection before writing the teaching statement, Buskist suggests students undertake the following tasks:

  • List up to five core values you possess, such as a respect for others, strong work ethic or sense of humor.

  • Briefly describe the ways you display these values in your everyday life.

  • List up to five qualities you admire in the teachers you've had.

  • Describe the extent to which you possess these qualities and use them in the classroom.

Using a similar approach to his workshops, Korn has students recall the best and worst teacher they've had or create a composite of several good or bad teachers and identify their characteristics. Korn also suggests students write the word "teaching" and then brainstorm words, phrases or pictures that reflect teaching. Then, he tells them to examine how those items are related so that an image soon emerges about their views on education.


WRITE

The next step: Just write. Korn recommends students write in first person using jargon-free language without stopping to criticize ideas.

"When writing it for yourself as a form of reflection, go until you're tired of it," Korn says. Some may choose to write it as an essay with an introduction, middle and end, as a numbered list of principles or as a narrative, Korn says.

To create an underlying theme for her philosophy statement, Verges reviewed her handouts, syllabi and lecture notes from the classes she taught as a teaching assistant, and she incorporated student quotes from her teaching evaluations to show how she reached some of her teaching goals in creating an active-learning environment.

"Teaching statements are as unique as the people who write them," Buskist adds. "That reflects the idea there is no one way that makes a master teacher a master teacher. [The teaching statement] centers on the core values as a person and on your personality and how those personality traits and values are expressed in the classroom."

That said, Buskist and Korn have students write their statement before they've even read others' teaching statements. They want the students' statements to be a true representation of the students' views on teaching, not a hodgepodge of borrowed ideas.


REVIEW AND EDIT

After you have a rough draft, review your essay for places to tighten it to about two pages. Also, check to make sure your essay clearly communicates your ideas and offers enough details to illustrate your point, experts say. For example, if you say that you want to help students think critically, you might add details on how you assess students' critical-thinking skills via essay questions and class discussion.

Although there are no mandatory components of a teaching statement, Buskist and workshop collaborator Stephen F. Davis, PhD, of Emporia State University, suggest students may address the following questions:

  • How do you think learning occurs?

  • What is the role of the teacher, and how do you plan to provide feedback and assessment to students and account for different learning styles and abilities?

  • What are your main goals for students?

  • What actions can you take to reach these goals, such as how do you plan to develop instructional materials, mentor students and conduct classes?

  • What are your plans for professional growth as a teacher?

Next, share your statement with professors and peers, which may help avoid a common problem that Korn sees with statements--poor grammar and misspelling. They also might be able to help with the structure and flow of the piece. Oftentimes, Korn says, students forget to have a beginning paragraph in their statement that signals to readers where they will be going with the essay and then a conclusion that pulls their points together.


PUT IT TO WORK

Be prepared to summarize your philosophy of teaching briefly during a job interview. If you're applying for an academic position, you might need to include it in your application materials. You also can draw from it to write a job cover letter, Korn says.

Verges posted her statement on her Web site to make it easily accessible. When potential employers searched for her name on the Internet, her teaching statement would pop up.

Even though she now has a job, Verges plans to continually update her statement throughout her career.

"Your teaching portfolio is so closely related to your development as a teacher," she says. "You will go through many revisions in reflecting on your development."

And, in the end, she says, you'll know a lot more about the teacher you are and want to be.

"It's our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which more than anything else will determine its successful outcome."

William James