Preparing a Teaching Statement
Sometimes academic job advertisements ask you to submit a teaching statement or ‘evidence of teaching effectiveness’ (or something along those lines). These are two different things, which I’ll discuss presently. But first, one caveat for this post: I’ve never served on a job search committee where these documents have been reviewed, so I really only know them as a job applicant. So my understanding of them might be slightly flawed, but I think I have the general contours down…
Job letters usually include a paragraph about your general teaching principles and what courses you foresee yourself teaching in the near future. Teaching statements are meant to be a little more philosophical in their content, and abstract from the generalities of a job letter summary. But therein lies their danger: I’ve seen (and written my own) a fair number of teaching statements that are too philosophical. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) write a paragraph about how you believe in the Socratic method and Paulo Freire. Rather, successful teaching statements are usually pragmatic: they show to your reader that you’ve actually spent time in the classroom, and have critical thoughts about how to capture the interest of students and can deal with common problems that arise. The statement should give your reader a clear sense of what your classrooms are actually like. Do you lecture a lot? Do you emphasize group work and collaboration or individual effort? Do you give students grading options, or is everyone expected to take multiple choice tests? The more time you spend teaching, the better your teaching statement will be, so it really helps to start teaching early — or to find ways to abstract from your experiences as a teaching assistant. If you’ve never done either, think critically about those classrooms that you’ve been in that have worked and those that haven’t; you might be able to put together a convincing sense of what your classroom would be like based on your prior experiences as a student.
In much the same way, syllabuses that have been taught versus syllabuses that are new proposals can be wildly different. For example, over the years, the Policy section of my syllabuses has expanded from one little paragraph on academic integrity to a page and a half of text about attendance, enrollment, contacting me, style preferences, etc. Some of this stuff you can only learn by teaching: five years into teaching, and I’ve added something to my classroom policies each year.
Which leads me to those requests for ‘evidence of teaching effectiveness’ or however it gets worded. These are usually much longer documents, and often include what you would put in a normal teaching statement, plus, as they say, some ‘evidence.’ This depends on you actually having taught, whether as a solo instructor or a teaching assistant. If you have evaluations, this is where you’ll summarize them, listing your overall ratings (usually just mentioning the highest brackets of evaluation, e.g. what percentage of students ranked you as excellent or very good?); it’s also helpful to include quotes from narrative evaluations of your teaching, highlighting both supportive and usefully critical comments. If you’ve taught the same class numerous times, one of the best things you can do is to show how you’ve improved over time — have your ratings gone up? have you changed the syllabus to address student concerns? But, ultimately, these kinds of documents should be tempered with some pragmatism. How much do you think a committee is interested in reading? A couple pages of teaching philosophy and evidence is probably enough; you might supplement it with a syllabus or two, especially if they’re well developed.
Just like everything in the application process, a sense of realism is important to embrace in these documents; you want to impress your reader with a sense of who you are and what your experiences have been. If you don’t get the chance to be a teaching assistant or to teach throughout your Ph.D. studies, try and teach at a local junior college; a little bit of experience teaching can make a huge difference in preparing these kinds of documents.