“Please include a statement of your teaching philosophy, as well as something useful”

I’ve applied for dozens and dozens of lecturing roles (all unsuccessful of course). Nearly all such applications in the USA (this tends not to be an issue elsewhere) have had a requirement along the lines of “please send a cover letter, your vitae and a statement of teaching philosophy.” I relish sending two of these things. The third just makes me cringe. I often wonder exactly what sort of “statement on teaching philosophy” someone might write that would actually make them miss out on a role.

Basically, I want to humiliate students and make them feel useless – especially women and members of ethnic minorites. Oh, and the gay ones. Especially the gay ones. I want to isolate them and make them feel like outsiders to the educational enterprise.

A key ingredient in my teaching is presentation. I want to present my material in two alternating ways. I would start by coming across as a meandering, drab mumbler, using sentences so long and jargon-laden that they would be virtually incomprehensible even if they could be properly heard. Every other week I would attempt to come across in such a way as to make students worried that I was borderline psychotic to the point where they actually feared for the personal safety.

As I see it, I am not there to help students, but rather to look and feel very very important. Very important. I see my primary relationship with my students being grounded in fear and  intimidation. If there is a way to strike enough genuine dread of me into my students that they would sooner commit suicide than fail an essay in my class for fear of being shamed in front of the group, then I want to know what it is as soon as possible.

In short, I am not there for my students. They are there for me.

OK so it wouldn’t be wise, but it would undoubtedly make much more interesting reading than the sort of drab, so-predictable-that-it’s-meaningless laundry list that search committees must almost certainly be subjected to by the truckload. I mean, who isn’t going to say that they’re into something that sounds like “collaborative learning” or an “inclusive learning environment”? As Kevin Haggert points out, you can write whatever dreamy statements you like about the sort of hippyesque learning environment you’d like to create (OK he doesn’t quite say it like that), but the fact is:

University teaching is constrained by tables bolted to classroom floors; hundreds of students in a classroom; the need to evaluate students, and for them to evaluate us; unrelenting grade escalation; official requirements to produce increasingly formal, legalistic, and binding course outlines; increasing numbers of students who also hold paying jobs; research-ethics protocols that make it more difficult for students to conduct self-directed research on topics they find personally interesting; a sense that it has become anathema to fail students; exasperating appeal procedures for students caught cheating; and the fact that teaching is only one thing for which professors are evaluated.

My approach is simple: I want to present engaging, balanced and informative lessons with style and humour – along witht he assistance of a little technology every now and then, encourage the students to ask questions and discuss issues as they arise, urge them to attend tutorials where relevant, to pursue their own reading and to own the subject, not depending on me for everything (or they will likely fail), and to foster in them an enthusiasm for what I teach them in their future studies and maybe even in their lives. But as a “statement of teaching philosophy,” that would hardly be acceptable.

Haggert’s entire article on the subject is worth a read.

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2 thoughts on ““Please include a statement of your teaching philosophy, as well as something useful”

  1. Amy Bishop, the nutter who just shot up her biology department in Birmingham, Ala. reportedly adopted a teaching philosophy that thrilled her students with monotone readings from textbooks and regular references to her Harvard degree.

    Using that as a bookend on the “don’t do that” side of the scale, the only teaching philosophy I’ve got at this point is (1) make them own the subject, (2) never humiliate a student, and (3) never get bored by teaching the same class the same way twice.

    And having just finished a stint on the hiring committee, we’ve never actually looked at a teaching philosophy statement.

  2. Don’t forget to say: “I hope to intellectually steam-roll over every petty, insipid, idea that my students bring up in class. Without the knowledge that everyone is better than them, students do not learn.”

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