6.21.2006

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Though old-school in its method of delivery, I almost always find myself reading and liking what comes out via the Tomorrow's Professor email list. I like the list in part because it's not a discussion list. Anyway, Rick Reis runs the list, and I think he does a bang-up job.

In case you didn't see it, today's message is an article by Dan Pratt up at UBC, and he does an excellent job of laying out four embedded assumptions in the process of using a statement of teaching philosophy in the review process.
Within the implied promises are four unspoken assumptions that are part of understanding how we might use a personal philosophy statement for evaluative purposes: First, is the assumption that there is agreement as to the form and substance of an acceptable philosophy of teaching statement; second, that all acceptable philosophies of teaching should be 'learner-centered'; third, that the reviewers' own philosophy of teaching will not prejudice them against other philosophies of teaching; and fourth, that student evaluations of teaching will have fair regard for a plurality of acceptable philosophies of teaching. Each of these assumptions will be examined in turn.
This time of year, of course, most people who are thinking about their statement of teaching philosophy are planning to use it in offering themselves up for The Job Market, and there are a few other assumptions tied to the statement of teaching philosophy and lurking in that related but different process.

One thing that bugs me about having to compose a statement and submit it as part of a job application (and I've done this many times; I think my current statement is the sixth one I've written) is the way the claims made in the genre erase the economics of teaching. We teach because ... we are committed to inquiry, or because we favor the cultivation of a certain kind of critical thinking, or to build community, or to challenge assumptions, or for social justice.

(An aside: In my courses for English Education majors, I kid around a lot about the prevalent metaphors in the statement of teaching philosophy. There is the garden metaphor, the metaphor of the journey, the metaphor of the struggle, and so on—and all of my students know this. Where is the metaphor of the La Brea Tar Pit? I ask them. The spastic chicken? The raging wild fire metaphor? The statement that describes a person trying overcome what it's like to talk with a mouth full of peanut butter? We laugh. We question the embedded logics of the statement. Then we all go back to what's expected.)

But back to economics ... The statement of teaching philosophy is one of the many forms of textual currency circulated in The Job Market (and of course, not all banks take it), and claims made in the statement invariably ignore the simple fact that nearly all of us teach, at least in part, to make a living. Because as teachers we are required to demonstrate almost cenobite-grade commitment to the calling of teaching, if a statement were to include the sentence "I teach because it's the best way I've found to make a living" it would rupture the maxim of student centeredness that Dan Pratt talks about in his article.

Since we cannot teach for us, only for them, the statement as a genre circulating in The Market environment articulates for us the condition that the reasons why we teach are necessarily extra-economic. In masking that most of us teach at least in part for the dough, we again subscribe as a class of workers to the regenerative philosophy that underpaying teachers is legit. The statement of teaching philosophy makes clear that we still consider this a calling.

And yet, we continue to write them, revise them, and send them out: bow-documents that read almost entirely as if some larger set of beliefs is being subserviently channeled directly through the author.

6 comments:

  1. And what about the nauseatingly close adherence to genre conventions when writing perfunctory documents . . . especially those that influence your economic future. And, in that light, which forms that lead to a job and to tenure are not perfunctory?

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  2. katka8:00 PM

    There's actually some study that suggests that the mandatory semester service practicum so many teaching of English majors have to do (labor they pay for, in other words), conditions them to undervalue themselves. Can't recall where I saw it, but let's just say I found it convincing.

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  3. I can completely see this. I hear stories all the time, too, about how "observation" hours turn into full-blown (and unpaid) teaching. Student teachers should be paid; I think job candidates should be too -- for job talks and teaching demonstrations. I now know of several small schools that rely exclusivly on the parade of job candidates in the spring to supply a sort of visiting lecturer series (and free instruction). Another set of undervaluing conditionings. :(

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  4. lei lani5:22 PM

    I've been thinking about the value of documents as I myself prepare for being "on the market." In addition to teaching statements, I've heard how publications are a currency as well in getting jobs; the more publications, the more worthy you are, although it seems like trying to buy a car with pennies, at times. Maybe that's why academics always look so bogged down.

    I was writing my own reflection on the currencies, and I'd like to add one. It seems that in addition to teaching philosophies and publications, there's another, more effective currency that this system values: humiliation.

    Humiliation is the debit card of the realm. It takes something out of you that's immediate and invisible. It's the process of deduction, trying to make another feel less whole, deficient. It's convenient and taken everywhere, without interest incurred. And it goes across places and people, it maintains the pecking order while pretending that it wants to elinate it. You need a code and not a signature to authorize it.

    This idea occurs to me after talking with friends (online) about what to expect from different types of job talks and uncomfortable stories relayed. It's always interesting to me when people will reveal that they've asked questions that they knew the candidate couldn't answer because they didn't find the field as a whole satisfactory. I never knew that job talks could be used as class subsitutions, very odd. Anyway, good stuff to think about.

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  5. !!!

    I totally hear ya, but with all of that said I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't say that ***a lot*** of cool, fun, and even wonderful things can happen on the job search.

    Little Miss Optimistic this morning,

    s

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