Jo Doran, Ph.D., M.F.A.

Assistant Professor & ESL Coordinator, Northern Michigan University

Writing a Teaching Philosophy

Writing a teaching philosophy is like writing a statement of purpose: It’s difficult! And it takes multiple revisions to get it right. One way to begin is by addressing prompts/questions. The article by Goodyear and Allchin, “Statements of Teaching Philosophy,” while from 1998, is excellent in this respect. On page 110, the authors offer nine questions:

  1. What motivates me to learn about this subject?
  2. What are the opportunities and constraints under which I learn and others learn?
  3. What do I expect to be the outcomes of my teaching?
  4. What is the student-teacher relationship I strive to achieve?
  5. How do I know when I have taught successfully?
  6. What habits, attitudes, or methods mark my most successful teaching achievements?
  7. What values do I impart to my students?
  8. What code of ethics guides me?
  9. What theme(s) pervade(s) my teaching?

Question #3 is important, as we need to be able to voice – very clearly – our goal for a course. Aside from a desire to engage with students, make learning fun, etc. – what do I need to see as the goal of this course… of my teaching?

Question #5 is very interesting, as it is too easy to implement projects, ideas, plans, and theories without a concrete and appropriate goal in mind. This was driven home to me by my mentor at Western Michigan University,  Georgina Hill. Every time I suggested, with a great deal of zeal, a new idea for my classroom – she would listen very patiently and then at the end ask me “What is your reasoning for including this in your classroom? What do you want your students to achieve through your plans?”

Questions #6 & #9 are interesting. When I first began teaching, it took me time to ‘get it right.’ In other words, it took me time to consider what went well and what went ‘wrong.’ It also took me time to understand my underlying mode (or theme) of teaching. Did I see myself as a coach? Did I see myself only as a coach? How did I teach when things went well… when students stated that they learned?

Goodyear and Allchin go on to present questions asked of individuals who read statements of purpose. While we may know what we want to say, we may not always say what we want; additionally, we may not be as clear as we think we are in our writing. Consider these questions – after you write your teaching philosophy:

  • What words reveal this writer’s teaching values? What is this writer’s teaching style?
  • How does your teaching experience help you understand how and why this writer teaches?
  • Does the writer gain your confidence and respect? What makes you trust or distrust him or her?
  • Does the writer ask to be considered in a particular context?
  • Is what the writer included relevant to the discipline? The department? The university?
  • Is the writer knowledgeable without coming across as opinionated and dogmatic?
  • What do you remember the most about this teaching philosophy statement?

In O’Brien, Millis, Cohen, and Diamon’s book The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach, they state that . . .

First, we must build on what our students know – on what they bring into the classroom: What do they know about the subject? What do they need to know? And I would add “Why do they need to know this?”

Second, students need a strong base of  knowledge.

Third, need to know where they (we) are going – and how they can “monitor their progress” (13).

So . . . we need to know our students… where they are situated within a knowledge (and application) base, we need to know what we are going to teach, and we need to know where we – that is, our students – are going. Our students also need to know how they can know if they are getting it right, and they need to know why they are doing what we ask them to do in the classroom. Unfortunately, this is not always spelled out clearly for students.

We also need to consider what type of learning environment we want to create for our students. For example, one of my goals regarding a learning environment, aside from providing a safe space in which to learn, is to provide a space where students can make mistakes and learn from them.

Here are more articles and ideas on writing a teaching philosophy: