By MARTY LEVINE
Creating a brief, specific and compelling teaching philosophy statement is tough for new instructors, said Michelle Colvin, as she opened the Graduate Student Teaching Initiative’s (GSTI) recent course on developing this document. The aim of such a statement is to outline “what your students will do and how they will be assessed” so that a hiring committee will select you for a teaching position.
“I think it’s most difficult to represent what you do that is to your own professional and personal satisfaction,” she admitted.
One winning strategy is to open with an example of a success you’ve already had in your teaching career, Colvin advised.
“I know you’re supposed to use concrete examples,” one student said, “but whenever I’m writing these up, you almost feel fraudulent, because you’re writing about all the best things that have happened ...”
“Let’s talk about being boastful,” Colvin replied: “You can never be too confident in your writing.” On the other hand, it’s not great if “you end up sounding like an athlete, talking about yourself in the third person. It’s difficult not to sound banal or pompous.”
The students had other doubts as well: “You have to make statements that are authentic — but it feels risky and scary,” one said. “It’s a little scary to put those things down (on paper) and make it concrete.”
“It’s really a document in which you tell others your approach to teaching,” Colvin assured the students. In describing a past or current class — or even one under construction — she suggested the instructors include their learning objectives, their approaches to different levels of teaching (say, graduate vs. undergraduate), how they use writing assignments and the latest technology, and how they assess the effects of their teaching. They should align class activities, outcomes and assessments to show they are directly related; explain how each class is set up and how they help students reach their goals; and begin sentences with “Students will be able to …”
The small class consisted of Pitt instructors from the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences as well as the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. The students were all relatively new to the profession, and only one had tried to write a teaching philosophy statement before. Colvin, a psychology graduate student, is a new teaching fellow for the GSTI in the University Center for Teaching and Learning.
Looking at examples of others’ teaching philosophy statements helped students see what to do — and what not to do. One sample statement was almost entirely abstract — the students couldn’t even be certain in what discipline this teacher taught. Other samples were broad and abstract instead of concrete and specific. Best, said one student, was a statement that was “giving you evidence, rather than making a claim,” bearing out the traditional writing advice to show rather than tell.
Lacking a great example of teaching success to open a statement philosophy, a relatively new instructor might start with their beliefs, Colvin advised; there’s nothing wrong with displaying a strong passion for teaching. Instructors who have not taught in a particular discipline can emphasize the new course they have conceived and the materials they’ve prepared for it.
Overall, Colvin said, a good teaching philosophy statement ought “to showcase your unique skills as an instructor.”
What’s new at the University Center for Teaching and Learning
Throughout the year, the University Center for Teaching and Learning holds workshops and events for faculty and graduate assistants on improving teaching skills and learning new technology.
Topics have included teaching inclusivity, syllabus construction, designing better test questions, and getting started with Blackboard or Top Hat.
The center also has some new programs and updates this year.
The Mentoring Academy was launched in April to offer faculty the opportunity to participate in a program based on the National Research Mentoring Network curriculum. Trained faculty facilitators will lead the program, which will offer workshops on eight mentoring competencies over four sessions, resulting in a credential for participants.
The Classroom Management Team completed several classroom redesign projects, including renovations in 102 and 104 Thaw Hall. The team also installed new audio-visual credenzas in the Italian, Norwegian, Greek, and Chinese National Classrooms in the Cathedral of Learning.
The Open Lab @ Hillman is a collaboration between the University Center for Teaching and Learning and the University Library System. Through workshops and drop-in consultation hours, the makerspace connects the Pitt community with technologies for hands-on making and media production. The lab offers virtual reality and 360 degree video experiences, 3D printing demonstrations, vinyl and laser cutting resources, and training.
The Media Creation Lab is a broadcast-grade digital media studio designed for the development of a wide range of multimedia content. The lab provides the training and equipment necessary for instructors and staff to produce their own innovative and effective teaching and learning resources.
- Headlines is a new video storytelling series which features success stories from faculty who have collaborated with the Teaching Center to enhance their courses.
See the Teaching Center’s website for upcoming workshops.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.