The Old College Try: YOUR Philosophy of Teaching Statement, or, Do As I Say, Not As I Do

“Conscientious pedagogical reflection is necessary to produce a complete, well-developed teaching philosophy. The absence of pedagogical reflection can result in daily instruction that fails to reflect an instructor’s teaching philosophy or instructional belief system accurately. In particular, an underdeveloped teaching philosophy may translate into a teaching style full of inconsistencies, characterized by poorly coordinated and designed instruction.”  Titus, P. A. and Gremler, D. D. (2010). 

All too often, I think it is easy to lose track of the big picture as we teachers hunker down amidst the explosions of papers, lesson plans, one-on-one crisis management meetings with students and coworkers, as well as trying to manage the never-ending “to do” lists of our personal lives.  And I would argue this “bigger picture” we lose track of takes the form of the person we want to be, the expectations we try to meet through our day to day actions.

At the beginning of every semester, every class I teach is given essentially the same essay assignment:  Write a letter of self-reflection discussing their individual learning strengths, challenges, and goals.  I end each semester with a similar reflection letter tasking the students to write about how they have maintained those strengths, worked through the challenges, and met their academic goals (or at the least, made progress in reaching them).  Boiled down to their most simple form, these essays aim to get to students to engage in the questions of “Who are you? Who do you want to be?  What are you doing to be that person?”

So how often do we, as teachers, engage in this same form of self-questioning?

I think many of us try to do it when we’re able.  It’s easiest to do so when it’s quiet, and there aren’t various obligations tugging at our sleeve and distracting us from this much-needed pursuit.  I think of my time as a cadet in the Army ROTC program, particularly during our land navigation and compass orientation training exercises.  These were sometimes stressful activities (graded, timed events often held during less than comfortable weather conditions) that required a good deal of concentration despite multiple factors that could easily distract the unwary cadet.  Yet, those who failed to deliberately take their time and plot their course were often the same cadets who made a few simple one-or-two degree miscalculations and found themselves hundreds of yards off the mark.

How often do we stop in the midst of the semester and reevaluate the steps we are taking in the classroom or even the directions we are giving our students?  Are we setting ourselves and our students up to end the semester (or even just the week) one or two degrees away from the objectives we initially set out to meet?  I think perhaps in taking the time to sit down and revisit our philosophy of teaching and put it into words is akin to sitting down and plotting our course.  Maybe through putting into words the goals we have for ourselves can we best keep those very aims in mind as we seek to help our students accomplish these same tasks?

I found the above mentioned quote on a teaching blog that I enjoy very much and consider it a piece of daily professional development.  And I do believe by setting down our own philosophy of teaching and continually revisiting it, we can better iron out our own inconsistencies and keep both ourselves and our students on track far more often.  We can do as we say, not just say what we do.


About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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