Composition Pedagogy and the Teaching Philosophy Statement

I've been preoccupied with revising my teaching philosophy statement. I had one that I wrote during my

master's program, but I've lost the file, and I'm sure I'd cringe if I could see it now, anyway. I've

attended these kinds of workshops

on how to write a teaching philosophy statement, but I remain unsatisfied with the statements they advise

us to write, and indeed with how a lot of people not associated with these workshops advise graduate

students with regard to teaching statements. Often the teaching statements I'm talking about are more like

leadership statements, consisting of not much beyond

href="">first-order principles

; they're mostly "what I do in the classroom to accommodate diverse learning styles"

and not very philosophical at all with regard to rationale. I'm interested in creating a

discipline-specific teaching philosophy statement (and maybe that's one of the problems with the teaching

philosophy statement workshops I've attended: They're trying to teach people in many different disciplines

how to write a teaching philosophy). One key variable here is the fact that in my department, there's an

emphasis on a high level of consistency across sections of first-year composition. In fact, at each of the

three schools where I've taught, there have been certain books, topics, and genres I was required to

assign, and I guess it'll be that way wherever I go in the future too. My point is, I don't know how much

of my teaching philosophy is going to be a retroactive justification of what I already do, and how much

will be a vision of what I'd do were I given free reign (and what would I do? I don't exactly know.).

Before I haul off and write a teaching philosophy, I have to think through the have-to/would-do issue and a

few others. Here I'm trying to survey writing pedagogy from a distance and figure out what I'm aligning

myself with, what I think is worthwhile and effective. I'm only raising questions and problematizing terms;

no answers here, sorry. First, there's the murky idea of "good writing." What's that? What definition do I

agree with? I only bring it up because it's an obvious goal of rhetoric courses, which reminds me: If

possible, I want to have a coherent teaching philosophy I can implement in first-year composition, public

speaking, and technical communication classes. What is "academic discourse," and is it an acceptable term

to use? Sometimes I get the sense that it's verboten. "Academic discourse" has been criticized for being

disconnected from experience and the personal and being positioned outside of students' grasp, both in

terms of accessibility and potential for authority and ownership. It has been characterized as language

that is hegemonic and elitist, marginalizing women, students of color, and working-class students. Some

have questioned its value in the "real world" for students who don't plan on going to graduate school.

Okay, so we have the tricky terms good writing and academic discourse. I'm going to hit pause

on those for the time being and turn now to what I consider the most important question my teaching

philosophy statement should answer: Why? What do I think is the architectonic principle guiding

college-level writing? Is it to prepare students to get a job and enter a corporate setting? Is it to

prepare students to be informed, ethical, articulate citizens of the polis? Are these two mutually

exclusive? (No, not at all, a point made quite well by

href="">one of Krista's mentors


If the goal is to help students become informed, ethical, articulate citizens of the polis, this goal can

be embodied in any number of assignments and curriculum designs, such as: letters to the editor, service

learning projects, visual rhetoric assignments such as posters, flyers, etc., research papers on current issues, new media work like


about the

city, raps in the style of


' "Why"


href="">Nas' "I


and the work on sentimental discourse that some of my friends in literature are doing (which is

great stuff, and I have an aside on it). I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. Even the

much-maligned "critical pedagogy" works in the service of the citizen goal, as does the personal essay,

which I'll readily admit despite

href="">my reservations


it, and I know I'm being a real crabcake in that thread. :) Which curriculum designs and assignments do I think are the best suited to meet the larger goal?

These are the questions I'm thinking about so far. I know I'll need to speak to the implementation

of the philosophy with descriptions of exercises I do in class, and I need to discuss other issues too, such as authorship, collaboration, audience, and my use

of weblogs, which I intend to foreground. Any thoughts to help me? I'd appreciate them.


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i'm of a different opinion

i don't have a teaching philosophy. i have a learning philosophy. i project that onto my students and through my courses. by making this simple inversion, i think you transform the question and purpose of the document in interesting and worthwhile ways.

good points

Good point in mentioning that most of the workshops on writing teaching statements are not discipline specific so they ultimately fail to help you write a really useful teaching philosophy. Also, interesting poing that we're somehow driven to write in order to validate what we're already doing rather than forging a coherent direction in which we want to go.

(As an aside, I think that having workshops on teaching statements is an ironic capitalist development drivent by the requirement of the market: they are meant to point to all the elements your prospective employer expects to see in a teaching statement--how they determine that, it's a matter of debate--rather than help you think rigorously and profoundly about your teaching. The fact that they fail even at that is even more ironic.)

I think you're right to emphasize assignments whose goal is to cultivate civic responsibility. Weblogs should definitely be foregrounded in your statement.

As for me, I tend to place emphasis on critical thinking. As long as a student is stimulated to think for herself, rather than regurgitate, and is challenged to UNDERSTAND, rather than reproduce, I can be reasonably certain that she is going to produce relatively coherent pieces of writing. This is forged through discussion and the type of creative assignments you mentioned; in time, it may also lead to good writing. Also, self-reflectivity about one's own writing is crucial. Students are not aware of their own writing process/techniques/habits because they simply never have to.

I wrote a teaching statement for the pedagogy class I had to take in our department (I take it you never had to take it?) I was influenced at the time by Pirsig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, so I was heavy on the idea of Quality. Given that he used to be a composition instructor, he struggled much with the same ideas, and I used to be smitten with that. I still think the idea of Quality should probably be at the core of what we teach (it's similar to Values but not in the recent Republican sense of the word!!! the distinction would probably deserve a blog entry by itself). However, I am aware I, too, need a new formulation for that.

Sorry about ranting, you just made me think...

Pedagogy course

I had to take a similar pedagogy / composition theory course during my master's program at Tennessee; that's why I didn't take the one here.

I haven't read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. :blush: Not yet, anyway.


1. There's no such thing as an original teaching statement -- don't try to be clever.
2. "Philosophy" is misleading -- you're better off thinking of it as a brief, personal essay about your pedagogical values
3. Don't try to be exhaustive -- pick two or three core values and write clearly about them
4. Nuance is overrated (at least in this context) -- no one will remember the subtle distinctions after reading dozens of these, and they'll still ask you mind-numbingly basic questions about pedagogy in your interviews, even if they're answered in your "teaching statement."

Personally, I think you'd be better off trying to craft a statement that serves as an example of good writing, rather than one that tries to answer the question of what good writing actually is. Most of my advice here runs directly counter to the careful thought your post demonstrates, I know, but my sense is that the teaching philosophy is one of the places where job candidates overthink--it's a document whose value to the application is normally pretty marginal, unless it's just 2 pages of crazy talk or something.

Let me know if you want another pair of eyes to look at it...


And what if...

I'd be soooo tempted to send you a couple of pages of crazy talk, Collin, just to see the reaction. But then I've got a seriously perverse streak, and I'm not on the academic job market, either. ;)


Crazy Talk!!

Funny thing is, I was going to close by saying that I couldn't remember a teaching statement that actually made a difference one way or the other, and then the old neurons fired up, and reminded me that I actually had seen one or two. And the admirable thing about each of them was that I don't think I could have seriously sustained the crazy for as many pages as they did. There'd be a couple of sentences of fairly sensible-sounding ideas, and then BAM!! a couple of made-up words and an off-the-wall something-or-other. Back to normal for a couple more sentences, then BAM!! There was definitely a perverse kind of skill at work, a weird rhythm that captured perfectly the "I'm so crazy I don't even realize I'm crazy" vibe...:-)


Teaching Philosophy

I agree with cgb about keeping things in perspective and creating a draft that shows how well you write (I know, you've got mountains of papers and articles to prove that)instead of trying to include everything you really believe about teaching and writing and rhetoric and feminism and . . . .So here's the island question: if you were sent to a remote island and could only take two or three pedagogical values with you (you know how hard they are to pack, and they take up so much space in a suitcase ; ) ), what would they be?
Cheers, joanna

Feed 'em what they eat

Everyone needs editing. Do it yourself. Or, when someone volunteers, take advantage. The writer always gets the last word.

Academics think they're writing for readers who can decipher complex sentences. Not true. Academics have time constraints like everyone else. Sock it to 'em. Shorter is better. Hemingway wrote some of his best stuff at the 6th grade level. There's a small DOS utility (anyone know what DOS is?) called Parse.COM, which run against text will return grade level.

If you think writing at a 6th grade level is easy, try doing it!

Grammar checkers will return grade level but they're bigger and cost more than Parse.

No writer gives a damn about spelling. Unfortunately, readers sometimes do. An editor will catch ''reign'' when the author meant ''rein.'' No spell-checker can catch this.

Take your editor out to dinner.

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