Writing Your Teaching Philosophy
Your teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning. It's a one to two page narrative that conveys your core ideas about being an effective teacher in the context of your discipline. It develops these ideas with specific, concrete examples of what the teacher and learners will do to achieve those goals. Importantly, your teaching philosophy statement also explains why you choose these options.
Your reasons for writing a teaching philosophy may vary. You might be writing it as an exercise in concisely documenting your beliefs so that you can easily articulate them to your students, peers, or a search committee. It might serve as the introduction to your teaching portfolio. Or, it can serve as a means of professional growth as it requires you to give examples of how you enact your philosophy, thus requiring you to consider the degree to which your teaching is congruent with your beliefs.
Teaching philosophies express your values and beliefs about teaching. They are personal statements that introduce you, as a teacher, to your reader. As such, they are written in the first person and convey a confident, professional tone. When writing a teaching philosophy, use specific examples to illustrate your points. You should also discuss how your values and beliefs about teaching fit into the context of your discipline.
Below are categories you might address with prompts to help you begin generating ideas. Work through each category, spending time thinking about the prompts and writing your ideas down. These notes will comprise the material you’ll use to write the first draft of your teaching philosophy statement. It will help if you include both general ideas (‘I endeavor to create lifelong learners’) as well as specifics about how you will enact those goals. A teaching philosophy template (pdf) is also available to help you get started.
Questions to prompt your thinking
Your concept of learning
What do you mean by learning? What happens in a successful learning situation? Note what constitutes "learning" or "mastery" in your discipline.
Your concept of teaching
What are your values, beliefs, and aspirations as a teacher? Do you wish to encourage mastery, competency, transformational learning, lifelong learning, general transference of skills, critical thinking? What does a perfect teaching situation look like to you and why? How are the values and beliefs realized in classroom activities? You may discuss course materials, lesson plans, activities, assignments, and assessment instruments.
Your goals for students
What skills should students obtain as a result of your teaching? Think about your ideal student and what the outcomes of your teaching would be in terms of this student's knowledge or behavior. Address the goals you have for specific classes or curricula and that rational behind them (i.e., critical thinking, writing, or problem solving).
Your teaching methods
What methods will you consider to reach these goals and objectives? What are your beliefs regarding learning theory and specific strategies you would use, such as case studies, group work, simulations, interactive lectures? You might also want to include any new ideas or strategies you want to try.
Your interaction with students
What are you attitudes towards advising and mentoring students? How would an observer see you interact with students? Why do you want to work with students?
How will you assess student growth and learning? What are your beliefs about grading? Do you grade students on a percentage scale (criterion referenced) or on a curve (norm referenced)? What different types of assessment will you use (i.e. traditional tests, projects, portfolios, presentations) and why?
How will you continue growing as a teacher? What goals do you have for yourself and how will you reach them? How have your attitudes towards teaching and learning changed over time? How will you use student evaluations to improve your teaching? How might you learn new skills? How do you know when you've taught effectively?
Creating a draft
Two ways of organizing your draft
Now that you've written down your values, attitudes, and beliefs about teaching and learning, it's time to organize those thoughts into a coherent form. Perhaps the easiest way of organizing this material would be to write a paragraph covering each of the seven prompts you answered in the previous tab. These would then become the seven major sections of your teaching philosophy.
Another way of knitting your reflections together—and one that is more personal—is to read through your notes and underscore ideas or observations that come up more than once. Think of these as "themes" that might point you toward an organizational structure for the essay. For example, you read through your notes and realize that you spend a good deal of time writing about your interest in mentoring students. This might become one of the three or four major foci of your teaching philosophy. You should then discuss what it says about your attitudes toward teaching, learning, and what's important in your discipline.
No matter which style you choose, make sure to keep your writing succinct. Aim for two double-spaced pages. And don't forget to start with a "hook." Your job is to make your readers want to read more; their level of engagement is highest when they read your opening line. Hook your readers by beginning with a question, a statement, or even an event from your past.
Using specific examples
Remember to provide concrete examples from your teaching practice to illustrate the general claims you make in your teaching philosophy. The following general statements about teaching are intended as prompts to help you come up with examples to illustrate your claims about teaching. For each statement, how would you describe what happens in your classroom? Is your description specific enough to bring the scene to life in a teaching philosophy?
"I value helping my students understand difficult information. I am an expert, and my role is to model for them complex ways of thinking so that they can develop the same habits of mind as professionals in the medical field."
"I enjoy lecturing, and I'm good at it. I always make an effort to engage and motivate my students when I lecture."
"It is crucial for students of geology to learn the techniques of field research. An important part of my job as a professor of geology is to provide these opportunities."
"I believe that beginning physics students should be introduced to the principles of hypothesis generation, experimentation, data collection, and analysis. By learning the scientific method, they develop critical thinking skills they can apply to other areas of their lives. Small group work is a crucial tool for teaching the scientific method."
"As a teacher of writing, I am committed to using peer review in my classes. By reading and commenting on other students' work in small cooperative groups, my students learn to find their voice, to understand the important connection between writer and audience, and to hone their editing skills. Small group work is indispensible in the writing classroom."
Go back to the notes you made when getting started and underline the general statements you’ve made about teaching and learning. As you start drafting, make sure to note the specific approaches, methods, or products you use to realize those goals.
Assessing your draft
According to a survey of search committee chairs by the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, there are five elements that are shared by strong teaching philosophy statements:
- They offer evidence of practice (specific examples)
- They are student-centered
- They demonstrate reflectiveness
- They demonstrate that the writer values teaching
- They are well written, clear, and readable
Now that you’ve completed an initial draft, ask whether your statement captures these elements and how well you articulate them.
You might find it useful to compare your draft to other teaching philosophies in your discipline. It can also be useful to have a colleague review your draft and offer recommendations for revision. Consider printing out a teaching philosophy rubric from our “Rubrics and Samples” tab to provide your reviewer with guidelines to assess your draft. These exercises will give you the critical distance necessary to see your teaching philosophy objectively and revise it accordingly.
Rubrics and samples
Here are links to three teaching philosophy rubrics to help you assess your statement. We have included four different rubrics for you to choose from. These rubrics cover similar elements, and one is not necessarily better than the other. Your choice of which to use should be guided by how comfortable you feel with the particular instrument and how usable you find it.
- Teaching Philosophy Rubric 1 This rubric allows a reader to rate several elements of persuasiveness and format on a scale of 1 to 5.
- Teaching Philosophy Rubric 2 This rubric contains prompts for assessing purpose and audience, voice, beliefs and support, and conventions.
- Teaching Philosophy Rubric 3 This rubric contains prompts for assessing content, format, and writing quality.
- Rubric for Statements of Teaching Philosophy This rubric was developed by Kaplan et. al. from the University of Michigan.