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Moving forward with the Teaching Statement (Workshops) February 28, 2013

Posted by lherakov in : Advice for TAs, Developing and Documenting Teaching, Presenting yourself, Teaching Statement , trackback

It’s been a while since our last teaching portfolio workshop (8 days to be precise) and this post is, thus, long overdue, but better late than never, right?! If you’re reading this, please know that the feedback we get from you during and after these workshops is truly meaningful and formative to us. So, in today’s post, this feedback will take center stage.

During our last session (held Feb. 20), we focused on the Teaching Statement – both as a stand-alone document and as an organizing introduction to the teaching portfolio. Teaching Statements are one of the most-often requested documents from people applying for academic jobs – understandably so, given that even in research-focused universities, teaching is an indispensable part of a faculty appointment. In short, if you’re planning a career in academia, you should have a Teaching Statement. But beyond that, Teaching Statements are also useful for anyone who would like to begin a systematic reflection on how their teaching experiences (in all the varied formats and contexts) have shaped and continue to shape broader views and practices in our personal and professional lives. You can read more about the Teaching Statement and link to extensive databases of samples by going to the Professional Development for TAs section of this blog and clicking on Teaching Statements.

So let me turn to the feedback and a brief response to key themes in that feedback. But for the sake of brevity, which is already sacrificed, I’ll limit my response to 3 key areas.

1) First, during the workshop a question was raised: “What are absolute no-nos in a Teaching Statement?” We were fortunate to have with us Mary Deane Sorcinelli, CTFD Director, join us in the last part of the workshop and offer her very valuable answer to that question: make sure you don’t sound as if you hate students and teaching is a burden :) For other common mistakes (although there is always some subjectivity involved in judging that), you may want to read this post on the Professor Is In. Not that some of these “errors,” however, are no longer really errors – especially the one about the length of a teaching statement. The acceptable length these days is 1-2 pages. However, the larger point this post refers to still stands – statements need to succinct and “digestible.”

2) In relation to the above and since we focused on improvements, a few of you had also asked in your written feedback, “But what did the people [whose statements we read in the workshop] do right?” As you know, the examples we looked at were of “successful” teaching statements – in the sense that, as part of an application packet, they contributed to the writers’ securing on-campus interviews (meaning, in most cases, that they were finalists for the position they applied for.) So what worked? Here are a few of the things that make statements work for me (as a reader) and that I think were well-done in the examples:

3) Throughout the comments (not just from this workshop, but prior ones as well) one theme continues to run strong – a huge appreciation for working with actual, “real-life” sample statements couple with a desire for more discipline-specific guidance and practice. Often time, comments such as these have been also followed up with a suggestion for longer, more intensive workshops. I could not agree more with the need for this – both the disciplinary specificity and the longer, writing-focused workshops. However, we all do work and live within some structural constraints, and I just want to be upfront that making these changes is not realistic in the current semester (Spring 2013). I will be happy to talk with anyone who might be interested in what those constraints are, as perhaps you can help me see them as opportunities… In the meantime, let me try to re-imagine that concern and attempt to address it in some (hopefully) productive ways:

How do/can we deal with the need for specificity (at this time):

How do/can we deal with the need for writing intensivity (at this time):

To end on a forward-oriented note (something that is also important in a teaching statement!), I am hoping that the commitment to professional development and teaching support for graduate students will continue in the future. As part of this, some of the ideas we hope can become reality soon (but not this semester) include:

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for what you’d like to see – both within your departments and campus-wide (i.e., CTFD-organized)!!


1. Ellen Correa - March 6, 2013

Thanks so much for this follow-up Lily. My response is very tardy – sorry. I really like the idea of “organizing content-focused review sessions by department or school.” I felt like my service-learning example dominated the last part of today’s workshop and was not relevant to anyone else. But a place where we could focus on best practice teaching portfolios in the discipline of Communication or even in the social sciences for example would be extremely helpful. Thank you for all the great work you’re doing to help grad students develop teaching portfolios!

2. lherakov - March 12, 2013

Hi Ellen,

Thanks for your comment and for the wonderful support! As you know, I hope that what you (and others) have suggested can indeed be implemented in the near future. In the mean time, individual consultations are available at the CTFD and I will also be happy to work with grad students in any department to help organize and coordinate a department-specific event that focuses on teaching and/or grad students’ professional development with regards to teaching :) As the song goes, “I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do” :)