Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teaching Philosophy

One of my earlier career goals was to become a high-school English teacher, and I have in the past been certified to hold such a position in Texas.  While I was going through my training to earn such certification, I was advised by a number of my pedagogy professors to develop a coherent statement of my teaching philosophy.  That is, I was told that I ought to think about why I teach and use that to develop and refine how I teach.

As I made a concerted effort to be a conscientious student, I did as my teachers told me.  My first effort, though, was not a good one.  I have a copy of it somewhere, I think, but I am ashamed to pull it up and let other people see it.

My situation turned out such that I did not need to put forth that initial version of my teaching philosophy.  An opportunity to pursue graduate school opened up for me, one that promised to give me a change of scenery and a paycheck, and I took it.  After a semester in graduate school, though, I landed in another pedagogy class.  Like those I had been in earlier, that class required me to draft a teaching philosophy.

When I wrote a teaching philosophy for my graduate class, I was more pleased with the result than I was when I wrote one as an undergraduate.  I understood more going into the project, so I was in a better position to be able to learn more from actually doing the writing.  Also, I had had a lot more practice writing, so I was better at the task of putting words on the page.  What resulted has remained the teaching philosophy that I have "on file."  That is to say that when I have sent out applications for college teaching jobs over the past few years, the teaching philosophy I drafted for my graduate class has been the one that I have sent along with the other application materials.

So far, it seems to have worked out pretty well.  I have been able to land a full-time college teaching job at a two-year school in New York City, while most of the people in the field at my age are either part-time workers or still graduate assistants.  There is nothing wrong with being either, I must note, but full-time work has better benefits and brings in more money.

I try, though, to remain aware of what I do, and that means that I need to go back and look over what I have done to see how I can do it better when I have to do it again.  This process applies to my teaching, and since it does, it also has to apply to what underlies my teaching.  As such, I looked back at my teaching philosophy and realized that it needs some changing.

Some of the changes are a simple result of the passage of time.  It is nearly five years now since I wrote my current teaching philosophy, and my understanding of the world has changed (I hope for the better!).  Also, the last few years of teaching have been instructive.  When I initially wrote my teaching philosophy, I was in coursework at a state college, but my last five terms teaching have been at an urban, for-profit college that serves traditionally under-privileged populations.  I have learned things from the students in my classes that I would not have been exposed to did I not have the experiences I have had these past terms, and my beliefs about teaching have shifted with that new knowledge.

Right now, among the other writing projects I have to do (dissertation and conference papers), I am working on revising my teaching philosophy.  Without doubt, sections of it will appear here as I go through revision; I find that outside help is always welcome, and there is something about putting writing where others can see it that motivates me to be a bit more careful in how I set up my words.

Until then, I welcome comment about teaching practices and hints about where I can find more information about them.

Conscientious /kân*shē*ĕn’shǝs/ (adj.)- devoted to or focused on doing the right thing
Pedagogy /pĕd’ǝ*gō*jē/ (n.)- the study and practice of teaching
Philosophy /fĭl*ŏs’ǝ*fē/ (n.)- "love of wisdom"; in this selection, a statement of guiding ideas and beliefs arrived at through a combination of study and observation in practice

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