A philosophy of teaching statement is one of the most important documents an out-of-work teacher will ever write. Done right, a philosophy of teaching statement can breathe new life into a flimsy CV from an applicant who has little teaching experience. Done wrong, it can cost seasoned veterans the interview no matter how many years of teaching he or she may have under the belt.
So what’s the secret to a successful teaching statement? In our humble opinion, you can start by avoiding these five common pitfalls.
It is too long
In addition to your CV, you also have a teaching portfolio, letters of recommendation, maybe even copies of your most recent evaluations to share with the hiring committee. That’s a lot of paper for your prospective employer to go through and a good reason for you to keep your philosophy of teaching statement short. How short? No more than one page.
Make your statement as readable and aesthetically appealing as possible. That means 12-point font, one-inch margins and enough white space in between your paragraphs to ensure that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.
It tells rather than shows
Your statement is not the place to tell your life story—or even your teaching life story.
Your prospective employer doesn’t want to know that you taught AP English at Roosevelt Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee, that you were truly grateful for the opportunity to work with struggling readers, and that you always used a wide range of videos and online materials to enhance your students’ classroom experience.
Nope, they want to hear about your principles of teaching; they want to see evidence that you exemplify these principles in specific classroom goals and practices. Show. Don’t tell.
In other words, your future employer wants you to demonstrate in concrete and specific terms, what your principles are. Once you’ve done that, he or she will want you to show how you practice these principles and use evidence to illustrate that it was done effectively.
It is rife with clichés
It’s a competitive market and not uncommon for review committees to receive dozens, even hundreds of statements, CVs and application materials from hopeful applicants.
A good number of these materials will be rife with the usual teaching clichés. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from all of the other applicants is to dispense with common teaching clichés like this:
- I am passionate about teaching
- As a child, I used to set up all of my stuffed animals in a makeshift classroom and pretend I was teaching them
- In my classroom, I encourage open discussion and promote a variety of viewpoints
- I am passionate about technology and use a variety of multimedia materials
- I love kids!
- I am a life-long learner
- I strive to provide my students with a 21st century learning experience
Skip the clichés and simply give succinct examples from classes that you have taught, examples that are not painfully obvious, but truly vivid and memorable.
It is self-effacing
Nobody likes a bragger. That’s true. And because nobody likes a bragger many of us resort to a tone of affected self-deprecation in our statements. There’s no need to do this. Be confident. Don’t apologize for being good at what you do.
In other words, you can probably skip language like this:
“I was honored to have the opportunity to…”
“I was fortunate to be selected for…”
“I hope that my students will take what they have learned from me and apply it outside of the classroom.”
“I am always striving to do…”
Language like this is “nice,” but it makes the author seem unsure about him or herself. Being “fortunate” suggests that you were given an opportunity without actually earning it. “Hoping” that your “students take what they have learned” from you and “use it outside of the classroom” makes you sound unsure that they are up for the challenge. Skip the self-effacing language and say it like it is!
It is excessively emotional
This is really an extension of the previous point. Excessively emotional language is just as bad as self-effacing language and for exactly the same reasons we stated above.
Here are a few examples:
“I am delighted when students tell me…”
“I would be thrilled to teach your course in xxx…”
“I am so excited to use new materials…”
“It would be a great pleasure to create new courses…”
“I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy…”
This blog has been adapted from “The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls.”