Creating a Philosophy of Teaching:
Some Suggestions

This presentation was made with the 3M Panel at the Atlantic Association of Universities Teaching Showcase, University of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia, October, 2003.

There are several ways in which to design a Philosophy of Teaching. One is to accumulate all the good teaching points that you wish to emphasize and then to include them, preferably with written support, in a document entitled Philosophy of Teaching. The following questionnaire is designed following that route.

The questionnaire has eighteen reasonably objective questions that will assist aspiring professors to assess their teaching abilities and to better understand themselves as teachers . The questionnaire should be answered as accurately as possible.

Most teachers will score at least 12 out of 18 on this simple self-assessment test. More: committed teachers should in reality score a full 18 points on this assessment sheet. That said, what is the difference between a committed teacher and an excellent teacher? What little spark turns commitment into excellence?

Clearly, if a professor answers the majority of these questions negatively and claims to never arrive at class on time, to not treat the students fairly, to set exams that have nothing to do with the course material, to write unclear course outlines, to give cryptic, unhelpful answers to students, and to have little or no communication skills, then that person is probably having, and creating, worrying problems inside and outside the classroom and needs the immediate assistance of the university’s Instructional Development Office!

However, one can perform the “mechanics” of teaching and still lack that little extra spark that turns commitment into excellence. So where does one look for that spark? A very useful exercise for the person aspiring to the development of a personal Philosophy of Teaching, is to go through a second set of questions that attempts to isolate what makes the teacher an individual human being with a distinct personality. I offer now, with brief comments, one interview that I conducted earlier this year with a colleague who was searching for a philosophy of teaching that she could call her own.

1. What is your favorite hobby or past-time?


2. What do you feel is different about you?

I am meticulous and pay great attention to detail. I try and encourage students to move through a set of logical thoughts that progress from A > B > C. Then, I try and encourage them to make jumps in the thought process from A to C or D. This means that I try and teach students to think, rather than to regurgitate my own information back to me.

3. But you have other hobbies, I believe?

Yes! I am a qualified, national level women’s gymnastics judge.

4. What does this second past-time have in common with your teaching?

Nobody can win a national gymnastics championship unless they are exceptionally well prepared and totally dedicated. Every little mistake means a point deduction at the national level. I try to act as a role model for my students by being exceptionally committed, exceptionally well prepared. I try and assist them to reach the perfection that is only available through objective national standards.

5. How do you prepare for each class?

I read and read. I try to be thorough and not vague, to have a game plan and to stick to it. I review all aspects of the material I am presenting. I do my best to anticipate the needs of the students, the difficulties they will face, the questions they will probably have. Anticipation and prediction are based on the mental exercises the gymnasts use when preparing for national competition.

6. What is different about the way that you prepare your students in class?

Most of my students have prior knowledge of many sorts of material, even though they do not always know it. I try and assist them to access and release that prior knowledge and to apply it to new material in a way that is individual to them and that they can understand.

7. What is different about the way you teach in class?

I plan regular time outs for thought and questions so that there is not an information overload. I am thorough and organize my teaching so that difficulties are recognized in advance and solutions planned.

9. What is different about you and your relationship with your students?

I try to make my courses relevant and I try to make the students aware that I am committed to them and to their subject for the long term. My courses are not courses that people take for three credit hours and then move on. My courses demand a commitment to long term learning. I strive to act as a role model for long term commitment and relevance.

10. How do you make your subject relevant to your students?

By making their past experiences link via my courses to their future needs!

11. If I were to ask you to sum yourself and your career up in four or five words, how would you describe yourself?

Quality assessment and quality control.

12. Using those words as a focus, could you now write a teaching philosophy around the points you have just made?

I can try.

So: what makes you, as a committed teacher, into an excellent teacher with an individual spark that is inextinguishable in class? Please take a few moments to discuss some of the following questions with a partner, a trusted colleague, or a close friend.

1. What is your favorite hobby or past-time?

2. What does your hobby or past-time have in common with your teaching?

3. What does your commitment to this hobby say about you and, by extension, your teaching and / or communication and / or preparation skills?

4. How do you prepare for each course?

5. How do you prepare for each class?

6. What is different about the way that you prepare for class?

7. Does your pre-class preparation and / or pre-course preparation have anything to with your recreational activities?

8. What is different about the way you teach in class?

9. What is different about you and your relationship to your students?

10. How do you make your subject relevant to your students?

11. Which of the above questions, if any, help you give an insight into your difference as a teacher?

This exercise will enable most professors to see themselves in a different light, thusd enabling them to better prepare their own individual Philosophy of Teaching. Even if it does not bring the perfect teaching philosophy immediately to mind, it will allow you to reflect creatively on who and what you are and on how you achieve the magic that you do in class. Should you wish for assistance in creating your own Philosophy of Teaching, please click on this link: Roger Moore.


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