Let’s think about Teaching Statements
I had a meeting with my advisor today, and after we finished filling out my annual progress report and discussed a plan of action for completing my dissertation, discussion turned to the academic job application process that I will be facing for the first time this fall. An important part of this application, of course, is the statement of one’s “Personal Teaching Philosophy,” plucked out of the æther as it may be (since, as you’ll recall, very few graduate students receive any training at all in actually teaching).
I got to wondering, though, whether the sort of teaching statement I might be inclined to write (i.e. an honest and reflective one that espouses a few unusual positions) would actually be at all helpful to me in the application process. Hiring committees are, after all, an unpredictable lot, and one never really knows who will be on them or how they might react to a given approach. Does that mean, as Kevin Haggerty writes in this article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, that it is often in the candidate’s best interest to produce an inoffensive list of vague platitudes and popular buzzwords?
Is the teaching statement really just an exercise in bowing to pro forma bureaucratic necessity?
I hope not, but I honestly wonder.
So, in the Spirit of Science™, I’ve decided to conduct a bit of a public experiment here at the School of Doubt. As I write my teaching statement, I will be making the entire process public on this blog. I’ll be doing this with three goals in mind:
1. To gain input from more experienced educators and fellow skeptics on what a good skeptical teaching philosophy (for my discipline) might be
2. To document the process, including any feedback I get from officials or committees at my institution and elsewhere
3. To (ideally) serve as a reference for those who will find themselves in the same position down the road
In next week’s installment, I’ll be taking a look at some sample teaching statements and official guidelines for teaching statements put out by various institutions and/or search committees in order to test Haggerty’s claim that such writing is inevitably conformist pap.
Featured image: Detail from Félix Parra (1845-1919): “Galileo Demonstrating the New Astronomical Theories at the University of Padua“