Every person working in the field of education should write a statement of teaching philosophy. The statement does not only work as a self-evaluation method for the teacher but also as a way of creating more open, honest and considered education in the creative field. In addition, it can be a part of developing the field to be more understandable instead of an ambiguous field of study that people outside the creative arena do not really comprehend.
What is a statement of teaching philosophy?
The statement of teaching philosophy is a text written by a prospective educator or a person working in education, describing their view on teaching and their goals in education. It can vary in length from one to two pages and often the tone is personal, written in first person, often including examples of teaching strategies, assignments and exercises to illustrate the actual teaching practice.
Sometimes, but not always, a statement of teaching philosophy is required when applying to teaching positions and occasionally when reviewing and evaluating a practicing teacher. Even more rarely a teacher is asked to keep this statement up to date and present it on an annual basis.
There is a lot of debate whether the statement is necessary or not – especially in hiring processes and job applications. Professors argue that it might be premature to ask a teaching job applicant to write this kind of statement when they have not even started teaching.
No proper criteria of the statement are established. Many professors evaluating the statements of prospective faculty members say that it is difficult to describe what is a good or a bad statement but they know when they see one.
Requiring a statement in the hiring process, regardless the teaching position being for a professor or a part-time lecturer, shows that the institution is serious about the quality of teaching and not simply filling in numbers in the faculty. Especially in the creative fields hiring high-profile names who might not know anything about teaching is far too common. The statement of teaching philosophy definitely shows who is serious about teaching and has evaluated their own teaching practice – and who has not done that.
While the statement is not always required, and many teachers in the creative fields never have to write one, it is certainly a useful process to go through. And while there is dispute about the usefulness of them in the job application process, the academics do agree that a teacher should write one – even if only to serve as a self-reflection tool.
Good artist vs. good educator
A good and established artist does not necessarily make a good educator; education and working in the creative field require different skillsets. Regardless of the teacher’s other professions, when teaching he or she is first and foremost an educator, not an artist, not a maker, not an academic. It is a shame that in the creative field it is fairly common to have artists in education who do teaching as a way to support their artistic practice financially. It is possible to be both a great educator and an established artist. However, not every creative professional is able to be a good teacher as well.
The teacher has a huge impact on the student that often carries well beyond the actual time spent studying. The time spent in an institution is not solely about learning but also about understanding, experiencing and seeing the bigger picture – where the views, beliefs and motives of the teacher play a significant role. The choices of what the teacher decides to include and exclude in the teaching, and how different issues are portrayed and taught shape the student’s future. This is why the statement of teaching philosophy is absolutely necessary: to describe what, why and how the teacher is teaching and maybe even more importantly: what, why and how he or she is not teaching. This information has to be shared with the student – after all, it is the student’s future that is in question.
The statement as a mean of transparency and honesty
We live in the time of sharing information, where openness and transparency are encouraged in all of the aspects of life. Education in institutions is evaluated annually by external sources but also by the institutions themselves, students give feedback about the education and their teachers, and write reflective plans about their goals and strategies in attending especially higher education.
Institutions, schools and departments have their own goals and strategies outlined and often made public, while the goals and strategies of the single teacher are something more ambiguous, especially in the creative field. How does the teacher follow the syllabus of a particular study programme or department goals? How does he or she teach? What they wish to achieve through teaching? Are they effective in their teaching practice?
Every teacher has his or her own beliefs and understanding of good teaching. Whilst one is a firm supporter of hands-on learning the other can place more emphasis on the importance of learning theory. There are radical differences between different teachers.
In this light it seems ridiculous that statements of teaching philosophy are not made widely available and required from the educators. Some practicing teachers publish their statements online – either on their own websites or as a part of their profile on the institution’s website. However, they are far less common than artist’s statements.
Institutions should not only ask for statements of teaching philosophy but they should also provide this information for the public. This would enable the prospective students to understand more about the particular study programme they might be applying to and help them choose the right institution and the teachers that best support their goals in education.
While it is true that a statement of one’s teaching philosophy is not the whole truth to an educator’s views, goals and practice it does give an indication. It shows if an educator is serious about teaching and truly cares about the future of the student. It outlines how the teacher sees the field thus encouraging not only the student but also the field to develop and create a more honest and transparent future.
Montell, Gabriella. 2003. What’s Your Philosophy on Teaching, and Does it Matter? The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 27th 2003. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Your-Philosophy-on-T/45132/, 12.3.2014.
Statement of Teaching Philosophy, n.d. Retrieved from http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/documenting-teaching/s-t-p.htm, 12.3.2014.
Writing a Philosophy of Teaching Statement, n.d. Retrieved from http://ucat.osu.edu/read/teaching-portfolio/philosophy, 12.3.2014.