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Why Do You Teach?

True confession time, y’all: Until last month I had never written a teaching philosophy statement.

I’ve been teaching in academic libraries for 10 years and have managed to evade formally articulating my approach to teaching in writing. I can write student learning outcomes all day and night, love to talk pedagogy with brilliant colleagues, and relish the time I now have to think about revising my college’s information literacy education program. You want a blog post about my teaching style and thoughts on critical information literacy? YOU GOT IT. So why did I find writing a teaching philosophy statement so daunting? Here are a few reasons:

Reason 1: It Feels So Formal (also Intimidating) 

There is something about including the word “philosophy” in anything that makes me want to run far, far away from it. It feels not for me, and if I’m being honest, a bit intimidating. As much as I truly believe in bell hook’s idea that you don’t have to know theory to have lived it, as much as I feel that critical theory has made me a better person, there is something about “philosophy” that still feels “other” and intimidating. It makes me instantly defensive. It makes me think of PhilosophyBros: those guys who want to “engage in a lively debate” in which they are always right, you just don’t follow their impeccable logic and therefore don’t understand they are right. I feel like I don’t have the language for philosophy and I question if I actually want it.

All of this is to say that tacking the word “philosophy” after teaching is a sure way to get me to shut down and hide. It seems silly, but the only way I could even begin to write a teaching philosophy statement was to begin by thinking about it as a “teaching approach” statement or a statement of pedagogy. A slight shift in wording made all the difference to me, and allowed me to think about the theories that influence my teaching, and what my teaching looks like in practice.

Reason 2: My Teaching Changes

No big surprise here. Who I am as a teacher now is not the same as who I was 10, 5, or even 1 year(s) ago. I love Sarah Crissinger’s comment about her own teaching philosophy statement, which she describes as “a living, developing document that I hope will continue to grow and change as I grow and change.” It can be hard to start writing a document you know will likely be obsolete in the next few years, so I had to start thinking about my teaching philosophy statement the same way I think about my CV. I’m going to update it every year. Some years might mean drastic changes while others might just mean a slight tweak or two.

Reason 3: Why am I Writing This? 

The easiest answer to this question is because a job application requested it. It’s why my partner and my non-librarian academic friends all wrote their teaching philosophy statements. They were a required part of the job hunt documentation. In those situations your teaching philosophy isn’t really for you and might not even accurately reflect who you are as an educator. It’s a performative document that is hopefully true to you, but being 100% honest, you have to eat, and that teaching philosophy statement is meant to help you land a job. However, by taking a suggestion from the lovely Sofia Leung, Teaching and Learning Program Manager at MIT Libraries, you can MAKE your teaching philosophy a piece of critical self reflection. Sofia suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does teaching mean to you?
  • Do you think of yourself as a teacher and why?
  • What kind of teacher do you want to be?

I love the idea of exploring all of these questions in a statement on teaching, and even adding on the way more basic question: “Why do you teach?” Your teaching philosophy statement can be just for you, and that’s ok.

Reason 4: Writing a teaching philosophy takes time…right?

Yes, and no. A second piece of advice I received about writing a teaching philosophy comes from Dani Brecher Cook, Director of Teaching & Learning at UC-Riverside. She shared an exercise from her 2016 UCR Library Instruction Mini-Retreat, that encouraged teaching librarians to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to write a teaching philosophy.
  • Write in the first-person, present tense.
  • Imagine that you are explaining how you teach to someone who is not a librarian (or maybe even an educator!).

*from Crafting Your Teaching Philosophy

I like Dani’s approach to this document because it’s something that can start small. This is so important for both new librarians and (overworked) experienced librarians. Your teaching philosophy statement doesn’t need to span pages, but it does need to reflect who you really are as a teacher. It can be short or long, as long as it feels like you.

My Teaching Philosophy Statement

So what did I end up writing? A short, flawed, but good enough teaching philosophy statement. You’re welcome to read it, just know that it will never be a final draft, I’ll always cringe reading parts of it and feel like it’s just not quite right. It’s messy the way that teaching is always a little bit messy, and that seems pretty true to myself right now.

 

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing, and just thinking about, a teaching philosophy. I’ve had one written for a few years, but never updated it because I was never asked for it. I think I’ll update mine now.

    • Thanks for reading, Ronunda! It’s such a reflective, deep exercise to write a teaching philosophy, and I can definitely see how it can go un-updated. I wish you luck in your writing and would love to read it if you’d be willing to share. I love learning from other teacher-librarians.

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