When I began applying to graduate schools three years ago as part of my plan to make a major shift from corporate America into the world of education I quickly realized that developing and articulating a “teaching statement” or a “teaching philosophy” was going to be an integral part of the academic application process. According to the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning (Writing Teaching Statements and Philosophies, 2011), a teaching statement serves as a summary of the methods and approaches that an educator plans to take in helping students achieve their academic goals.
There are scores of websites and articles on the subject of writing effective teaching statements. Many of these sources also provided examples of so-called “model” teaching statements. While all were undoubtedly carefully considered and masterfully crafted, there was one aspect of all the examples I read that struck me as odd: almost without exception, the teaching statements focused on the teacher’s actions rather than the students’ needs.
Whether I am working in a one-to-one tutoring session or in a classroom setting, I find that I am most effective in helping my students meet their goals when I concentrate less on following a strict agenda that I have set down as my teaching philosophy and more on what the student is telling me (both verbally and non-verbally) about what he or she needs.
For me, the core of my teaching philosophy is in regarding my students as individuals and demonstrating a willingness to engage in a fair amount of detective work in order to get the student to reveal his or her goals, challenges, strengths, and areas of interest. Then, my teaching approach is adapted to meet the needs of the student. In my mind it is much like the differences between having a dress or suit custom made by a tailor or seamstress and buying off the rack. While the “pattern” of having a detailed teaching statement or philosophy might be economical in terms of time and ease of administration, the fit may not be quite right for every student. As a result, I believe that it is important to spend far less time crafting perfectly worded teaching statements and instead concentrate on understanding each student as an individual and investing a far greater share of energy into determining how to connect with students and help them to meet their greatest potential.
I hope never to become so invested in my own teaching philosophy or process that I lose sight of my true purpose as a private tutor and as an educator – to help struggling students get back on track as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
Writing Teaching Statements and Philosophies. (2011, August 23). Retrieved February 20, 2013, from The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning: http://www.princeton.edu/mcgraw/library/for-grad-students/teaching-statement/.