preparing for the academic job search: developing a teaching statement

While in writing a teaching statement, there is more freedom in how to present and organize the material, it is still crucial to present your vision and teaching philosophy. A great teaching statement will set you apart from the rest of the applicants. A great teaching statement might not lend you the job on its merits alone; a poor teaching statement can certainly disqualify you.

Style vs. substance. As for the research statement, the key is substance but pay attention to style. Follow the same recommendation on how to organize your document for ease of reading. This includes headings, bolded/italicized portions, bulleted lists and appropriate amount of white space.

Organization. Your teaching statement should not be longer than two pages (probably closer to one page) and should roughly be composed of three parts that describe the what (what is your teaching philosophy?), the why (why is your teaching philosophy appropriate?) and the how (how will you go about implementing that philosophy). The elements are a statement of teaching philosophy opening paragraph (the what and why of what you believe in the educational realm), a more detailed statement of your future teaching and a statement of past accomplishments. These parts should ideally have headings that are self-explanatory.

Your teaching philosophy

Like with the research statement, your opening paragraph should grab your committee’s attention immediately. It should be short, inspirational and show that you have thought about teaching in a more holistic way. This paragraph should have a heading or an inline heading (bolded) that states it is teaching philosophy. You could aim for this paragraph to take about ¼ of a page.

You are applying for a job of a “professor”, not “researcher”, yet for many in academia, teaching is often an afterthought. You, hopefully, feel different; teaching is a profession that can influence people’s lives in most meaningful ways. When you research is stagnant, you can always say you have taught someone that day. Make that clear through your teaching philosophy; show you care but also that you approach teaching like a scientist, following the latest research on what makes for effective teaching methods.

What you plan on doing

This is a section where you can be more specific, yet still present wider curricular ideas. For example, you could think of how you would organize a sequence of courses to create a meaningful curriculum (or even a minor) in your area. This is also an excellent opportunity to show you have done your research on the institution you are applying to. You could point to what you could add to the curricular offering in your area, how you would be involved in conceptualizing it and what methodologies you might introduce to spur students’ interest.

Here is where you could comment in more detail on specific learning strategies. Research shows that we learn better when engaged in active learning; what does that mean for your area and within the context of your teaching philosophy? Is this something that can be achieved in a large class? How do new technologies enable (or not) such learning? Is there an opportunity for learning-by-doing and being part of the maker culture? Is this consistent with the philosophy of the institution you are applying to? What is the role of students’ peers in their learning? Is there a role for ethics considerations in your classes? Provide specific examples on how you plan on accomplishing your goals.

Comment on how your research influences your teaching, both in terms of content as well in terms of delivery and connecting with students.

Comment on how you will address students who come without adequate preparation, how you will deal with students’ personal issues should they come to you, how you will encourage students to give you honest feedback.

What you have done

This is the part where you show you have some experience with teaching and/or mentoring. If you are a fresh PhD, chances are the most you have done is be a teaching assistant for a course; this is fine. Comment on what you have learned/observed through such an experience. Have you faced any challenges in your teaching and how have you tried to solve them? How has your teaching experience shaped your teaching philosophy? What have you found that works best?

Mentoring

You should address the topic of mentoring in your teaching statement; you can decide to weave it through the narrative, or have a separate heading that talks about mentoring. Mentoring your PhD students to become successful researchers and professionals will be one of the most important roles you will play in your academic life. Your PhD students become part of your “academic family” long past their PhD studies with you; they will become part of your network and your influence. Mentoring MS and undergraduate students will shape countless lives; to this day, this writer finds enormous pleasure in notes received from students with their thoughts, thanks, successes and personal stories.

The most successful mentors are those that adapt their style to their mentees; you will not be able to mentor everyone the same. The key is to extract the most potential out of each student you interact with. It is often a mistake young professors make to set rigid standards believing it is what ensures quality. Learn early to be flexible and find creative ways of pulling out the best qualities out of each of your students, while making sure you help them develop in areas where they are weaker.

Miscellaneous

  • If your institution asks for a diversity statement to be included in the teaching statement, see next section.
  • Consult resources in your school and talk to your colleagues/professors. Make sure they proofread your statement.

FAQs

  • Q: Should I list specific courses I am capable of teaching in the teaching statement?
    A: You may but it is not absolutely necessary. If your institution hosts a chalk talk, that is a good place to talk about specific courses you can teach. If not, you may put it where you customize the letter to the institution. For example, you may say “Within your area of X, I would be happy/able to teach Y1, Y2 and Y3; in the area of Z, I would be happy/able to teach Y4 ,Y5 and Y6.”
  • Q: What should be the length of the teaching statement? What if I am applying for a teaching (instead of tenure-track) position?
    A: Follow the guidelines for the teaching statement length. If there are none, stick with the maximum of two pages in case of a tenure-track or research-track position. If it is a teaching-track position, feel free to go over.
  • Q: With limited experience in teaching/mentoring, how can I address that?
    A: See section What you have done above.

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