When you are looking for a job, it is a good idea to have a Philosophy of Teaching Statement ready to go. Many jobs require one, so having it already written will be one less thing you have to do in order to put those application packets together. This is especially important if the window for applying is narrow.
I have really enjoyed writing mine and I refresh it every couple of years as my beliefs about teaching and learning change. It is a chance to sit down and think about what I hold to be true about teaching and learning. In the rush to get lessons together, prepare materials, talk to my students, teach my classes, and evaluate student work, it is difficult to stop and think about teaching philosophy, but it influences everything I do as a teacher and it is worth updating as my knowledge of teaching grows.
So, what do we need to consider as English teachers when we are writing our Philosophy of Teaching Statements?
For a free worksheet to help you organize your Philosophy of teaching statement,
Before you get started, click here to get a worksheet that will help you organize and work through all of your ideas.
1. What is your role as a teacher in the classroom?
I love metaphors. They clarify things and help me to understand complicated concepts so one of the first things I do when thinking about my teaching philosophy is to come up with a metaphor to describe myself as a teacher. Am I a guide (showing the learners where to go and giving them some information about what they are looking at), a drill sergeant (a maintainer of order, pushing students through rigorous exercises in order to help them achieve goals), a gardener (providing a safe, healthy place for students to grow and blossom), a sage (a dispenser of knowledge), a conductor (someone who organizes student activities and helps them work together to create great works)? Am I a combination of these things or something else entirely?
Write down your metaphor and explain why you think of yourself as that. What do you do as a teacher that is similar to these other occupations?
Personally, I think of myself as a dance instructor/partner. In the beginning I take the lead and show students the steps of the dance by teaching them vocabulary and grammar. As they become comfortable, I ask them to take the lead and I add support and structure to their moves. What started out as a controlled set of steps soon becomes a means of creative expression as students use their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation to communicate their thoughts and ideas just as dancers use their knowledge of sound and movement to express their feelings and passions. I encourage my dance partners to shine, do solo performances, and dance with other partners so their knowledge of the language is ever expanding.
Just as the world needs people to do all kinds of jobs, it needs all kinds of teachers. The perfect teacher for one student may not be the perfect teacher for another. Make sure that your metaphor aligns with what you believe to be true about teaching and learning.
For more ideas on teaching metaphors, check out this post by Jordan Catapano.
2. What role do students have in your classroom?
Just as it is important to think about the role you play as a teacher, it is important to think about what role your students play in your classroom. Are they an audience (listening and taking notes, ready to be entertained)? Are they empty vessels to be filled with knowledge? Are they tourists there to be shown interesting sights? Are they autonomous individuals who have the right and responsibility to take control of their own learning? Are they community members who need to support and rely on each other for help? Are they cocreatorrs of the course, as important to its contents and success as the teacher or are they something else?
For me, learners are not an audience and they are not empty vessels, I expect them to be active participants in every class. They are also not tourists soaking in the sights without ever becoming really involved with what they are seeing. Rather, they are both autonomous individuals and community members responsible for not only their own learning but for the learning of everyone in the class. In my classroom, they are not competitors, they are a team and even if we sometimes play games, the goal of every game is learning, not winning.
If, while you are thinking about what you believe students to be, you find that what or how you are teaching is not lining up with what you believe, it is time to reevaluate both your beliefs and your practices so they are compatible. I often think about this because my job right now is to prepare students for the TOEFL exam, a standardized test that is high-stakes and designed to let some students pass through the gates while others are left behind to try again or give up. This does not line up with my ideas about teaching and learning. I took on this challenge on purpose though because I wanted to develop ways of teaching these courses that would both help my students achieve the scores they need to study abroad while at the same time encouraging autonomy, cooperation and higher-order thinking skills (things I do believe are important).
3. How do you believe learning is achieved?
OK, now that we have looked at our roles as teachers and learners, it is time to think about what it means to learn something and how that is achieved. Is learning about memorization? Memorization and wrote learning has gotten a bad wrap lately but as language teachers we know that it is important to memorize things. In your Philosophy of Teaching Statement you need to be able to defend what you believe. I believe that teaching students how to learn vocabulary is important and I might cite this article entitled "In Praise of Memorization: 10 Proven Brain Benefits" to support my case. How does the brain actually memorize something and how do I help my students? I might describe some of the things I do in my classroom to help my students. I have written about several strategies I use in my post Brain Tricks to Help You Remember Vocabulary Longer.
Does learning go beyond memorization? Do you think the ability to think critically is important when learning languages? How about using students' previous knowledge and experiences to anchor new learning? What role do you think motivation plays in learning? How do teachers foster or discourage motivation?
As you think about these questions, think about how your understanding of learning influences what you do or don't do in the classroom. Draw a table with your learning beliefs on one side and concrete examples of what goes on in your classroom on the other side. This will give you a lot of material to work with when you sit down to write your statement.
4. What teaching methods do you use?
Teaching methods come and go in the ESL/EFL world. Way back in the day it was all about Grammar Translation, this is what my high school Spanish teacher used in the 80s, but then that fell out of favor and a whole bunch of designer methods took center stage. In my masters degree program we learned all about The Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response, and the Audio-Lingual Method, The Structural Approach, The Direct Method. Today other methods are becoming popular including the Flipped Model, Content-Based Instruction, Service Learning, Task-Based Language Learning, Game-Based Learning, and Differentiated Instruction among others. Wow, this is a lot to know!
Actually you don't need to be an expert in each and every one of these methodologies, you just need to be able to explain what methods you do use and why you use them. I find that I never stick to only one method but rather pick and choose parts of many methods depending on what the goals and objectives of the particular course I am teaching are and who my students are.
Your future employers want to get a feel for how you teach and if you are a good match for their program, and vice versa, so it is a good idea to find out as much about what that school/program does as possible. That way you can also determine if the teaching method(s) they use are something that you are either already familiar with or are excited to learn. If, for example, you believe that both student and teacher autonomy are very important but the program you are applying for requires teachers and students to rigidly adhere to a textbook and a set of exams, you might not be happy there. On the other hand, if you are completely comfortable with one teaching method and want to continue using it, it would be a good idea to find out if that would be appropriate for the program you are applying for.
5. How do you use your own beliefs about teaching and learning to expand your knowledge of pedagogy?
In your Philosophy of Teaching Statement you could also write about how your beliefs about teaching and learning inspire you to keep expanding your own knowledge of teaching. Do you do research? Do you read books and blog posts about teaching? Do you confer with other teachers or attend conferences? Do you write and publish papers? Do you learn from your students?
I am a teacher but I am also a learner. I learn from my students (How to Step Back and Let Your Students Teach You), from my colleagues (7 Fresh Ideas Straight from the 2017 TESOL Convention), and from books (5 Books ESL Teachers Must Take to the Beach and Read). My belief that learning should be something that inspires curiosity, keeps me asking questions and doing things to improve my teaching. Every year I identify one area that I would like to improve upon as a teacher, I read books, create materials and experiment in my classes to find more effective ways of teaching that thing. Last year I focused on helping students remember and use vocabulary. This year my focus has been on helping my students listen better by focusing on pronunciation.
Now it is time to put it all together. You should have more than enough material to work with after brainstorming the answers to all of those questions! Read through your answers and look for things you mention more than once. Choose two or three central themes to focus on in your statement. Make sure you connect your beliefs about teaching and learning with concrete examples of how your teaching demonstrates those beliefs.
Your statement should be between one to four double-spaced pages. Try to aim for around 2 pages. You need to keep your writing succinct but still give a clear picture of who you are as a teacher.
Will you be looking for a new job this year? What challenges are you facing in the job hunt? I wish you the best of luck in your search and I hope you find a position in which you and your students flourish! If you have any comments or questions, or you would like to share your job search story, please leave them in the comments below.
Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.