Promoting the Development of Graduate Students' Teaching Philosophy Statements

Article excerpt


Despite the requirement of a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) in faculty hiring, the development of a TPS is a challenge for many graduate students. The process of creating a TPS can be complicated by the lack of guidance many graduate students receive from their academic advisors regarding this part of the application packet (Schonwetter et al. 2002). Web-based examples (see Coppola 2002) as well as dialogue with colleagues (Chism 1997) appear to be the main resource for graduate students constructing a TPS. However, these often focus on the narrowly defined aspects that are agreed on for a TPS (such as length and first-person approach) and lack information about how graduate students should develop personal teaching ideologies and or an understanding of the expectations of the different institutions who may review it.

At its core, a TPS is a highly personal document that answers the direct question: What is teaching and learning to you? However, it is also political, metaphorical, professional, and pedagogical (Coppola 2002). Every educator has a philosophical framework that guides his or her teaching, so it is ironic that putting it on paper is such a daunting prospect (Coppola 2002). Part of the problem is that students appear to lack the self-reflection necessary to produce the document. Perlman et al. (1996) interviewed and studied the application packets of 156 applicants for an assistant professor position and found that many candidates had never reflected on their teaching philosophies and/or goals. However, gathering, assimilating, analyzing, and reflecting on a personal philosophy is imperative when initiating a career in which teaching plays a major role (Schonwetter et al. 2002; Eierman 2008).

In a previous graduate biology education class, the students identified crafting their TPS as one of the more significant experiences of the course (Schussler et al. 2008). Therefore, the objective of this present study was to document the progression of graduate students' TPS through the completion of the same course. Changes in TPS throughout the semester were identified as well as what experiences contributed to those changes. We show that learning about pedagogical theory was the major factor in the changes students made to their TPS, giving them the tools to focus their philosophy on student learning. Another instrumental experience was talking with faculty members who had served on search committees, which provided the catalyst for refinement.


Biological Science Education is a three-credit, 15-week graduate-level course at a midwestern public university. In spring 2009, the class included eight master's and PhD graduate students in botany, zoology, and environmental studies. Typical pedagogical training for graduate students at the university includes a short (10 hours or less) workshop on pedagogy the week before classes. Most students in Biological Science Education expressed a desire to teach professionally at the college level and had taught 1-8+ semesters of college laboratory during graduate school. Two students had taught classes for college students, adults, or high school students in the past; two had led K-12 field trip programs; and two had completed a university teaching enhancement program.

The first seven weeks of class included sessions on meaningful learning, motivation, metacognition, multiple intelligences, cooperative learning, intellectual development, constructivism, inquiry, and assessment. For each session, students read articles and participated in discussions and activities about each topic. Each student was also required by the eighth week of class to conduct four teaching observations that were compiled and discussed during class. The ninth week of class included a panel discussion about the TPS with two guest faculty who discussed the value and aspects of the TPS that would make them particularly appealing to search committees at colleges and universities. …