Teaching Philosophy and Portfolios

Now that we are nearing the end of the semester and the Academy (aka GrATE) applications are open again, it seems like an apt time to write about Teaching Philosophies and Portfolios. I like looking over my philosophy and portfolio after a semester is over. I have been fairly prompt in updating everything each semester, though now that I have taught many more semesters, some of my portfolio could be overhauled. While I have enjoyed doing these updates, as it gives me a chance to reflect on the semester, I have also been required to keep a teaching portfolio thus far in my career through GrATE applications and my department’s teaching seminar.

While I was still in my Master’s, I took a course on college teaching. This was at least three semesters before I would ever teach. I am glad I took the course before teaching since it gave me chance to contemplate who I was as an instructor and my teaching philosophy. It was also interesting since I was at a predominantly teaching intensive institution and am now teaching at a research intensive institution. In this course I was provided a template to creating a teaching philosophy. I started with bullet points answering the prompt questions of: 1) My aspirations/goals/objectives as a teacher and for your students; 2) What methods will I consider to reach these goals/objectives?; 3) How will I assess student understanding with examples; 4) How will I improve my teaching?; and 5)Additional considerations of why teaching is important to me, how I collaborate with others, what is successful teaching, and how I maintain positive relationships with students.

While the first draft of the teaching philosophy focused on the hypothetical style of my teaching, I have slowly updated it each year to what it is now. Since I predominantly have taught survey courses to large classes, online and in-person, with students from every college around campus, my teaching philosophy reflects that. I am sure that as I teach higher-level courses, it will continue to shift. I already see some shifts from my original notes to now, particularly related to group work. I also notice shifts in my teaching to better match my philosophy, such as with what I test students on.

I won’t give too many ideas related to how to write a teaching philosophy, since there are dozens of templates and guidelines available online. For example, through Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, University of Minnesota, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Professor Is In blog and book. Most of them say some elongated version of this: A Teaching Philosophy is a brief essay (1-2 pages) that will give readers (typically hiring/award committees) an idea of what you actually do in the classroom and why. It should be a reflexive, straightforward, well-organized statement that avoids technical terms and favors language and concepts that are easily understood (no jargon). There will be some general statements, but also be sure to include examples that illustrate what you mean.

For Teaching Portfolios, I highly recommend the book, The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Peter Seldin, J. Elizabeth Miller, and Clement A. Seldin. The book has numerous examples and styles from a wide variety of disciplines, even my relatively small discipline. It is easy to read and reference, especially for someone first developing a portfolio. I used their guidelines along with guidelines from my department to originally create my portfolio. That has been the basic outline I have used since. In general, a Teaching Portfolio, whether it is digital and fluid, or a single document, helps demonstrate who you are as a teacher. It takes your philosophy and puts additional information to what you claim. You are able to show your teaching strengths and accomplishments, evidence of teaching, and assist in reflections and improvements of your teaching. Some suggested pieces to include in a Portfolio include: 1) Teaching philosophy; 2) Summary of teaching responsibilities 3) Evaluations; 4) Sample syllabi; 5) Sample lesson plans or assignments; 6) Honors, awards, or trainings for teaching; 7) Anything else that shows who you are as a teacher or your identity as an instructor.

I hope as you are developing your philosophy and portfolio, you take the time to reflect on what you want to put forward as your teaching identity. These are dynamic pieces that take time and are constantly works in progress. I have enjoyed working on mine over the years and I hope you do too.

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