Writing an Effective Teaching Statement

by Bertin M. Louis Jr., Ph.D.

Man writing in a notebook in a cafe


In my last essay, I discussed some of the finer points of writing a cover letter for a joint academic position. A teaching statement is another component of academic job applications asked of many candidates applying for lecturer and assistant professor positions. Teaching statements are important because they give applicants the opportunity to reflect on what makes them an effective instructor. You should approach the construction of this document as an opportunity to discuss your philosophy and pedagogical techniques within the classroom. Teaching statements also give search committee members a glimpse into how you could potentially fit in as an instructor in their department. Here I offer three tips based on my teaching experience, reviewing strong teaching statements as part of service on search committees, and writing statements as part of application processes. I also offer examples of some effective teaching techniques.

Discuss your teaching goals
Begin with the overall goals of the classes you teach. For example, a common thread which runs throughout all of the courses I’ve taught in my career (which include anthropology and Africana Studies courses such as Introduction to African Studies, Introduction to African American Studies, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Introduction to the African Diaspora, Caribbean Cultures and Societies, Anthropology of Human Rights, and Method and Theory in Anthropology) is to train students to analyze and critique the world around them from the perspectives of the disadvantaged, to help them express themselves effectively, and challenge them to view the world from vantage points to which most are unaccustomed to. Your goals should be linked to useful teaching approaches and techniques.

Discuss Effective Teaching Approaches and Techniques
In the statement, discuss some of the effective approaches and techniques you use in the classroom as a way to achieve your teaching goals. My overall teaching approach requires students to develop critical thinking skills through class discussions about class material (lectures, readings, videos), incorporate what they have learned or not learned previously about a subject, and discussions of current events. An effective teaching technique I use in almost all of my classes is free-listing. It is an effective way to get class discussion going. For example, if I am teaching about globalizationI’ll tell my students that we are going to do a free-listing exercise to begin class. Then I write the word “globalization” on the board and ask them what comes to mind when they read that word. I then write their responses on the board and ask each student why that particular response came to mind. This is a wonderful technique which generates class discussion and prepares students for the intellectual terrain we are covering during that particular class session. Plus, we begin to learn each other’s names.

Another pedagogical technique I use is a class visit. If I am teaching a course where students need to read a particular journal article or ethnography (a written account of how a culture or society functions), I invite authors to come discuss their work with my students. If students are reading an ethnography, I have them read up to a certain part of the text (say chapters 1 through 3), ask them to generate questions for the author, and invite the author to visit the class virtually to discuss their text and the broader issues their work is embedded in.

Highlight Course Evaluation Scores
If you have taught courses before, you can then turn to a discussion of your own effective teaching by drawing from course evaluation scores and highlighting areas where your teaching shines. This is an important aspect to include when writing a teaching statement, since faculty all work in data-driven disciplines. This is an excellent way of demonstrating effectiveness beyond whatever passions you may have for teaching. In a past teaching statement, for example, I discussed what I do well in the classroom using course evaluation scores from an African Diaspora course I taught in Spring 2018. I wrote that I received a 4.55 in “creating a positive and respectful learning environment” on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). I also got scores of 4.45 for “challenged you to learn something new” and 4.55 for “the instructor created an atmosphere that invited you to seek additional help.” Overall, this information conveys to search committees your effectiveness in the classroom.

While some may view a teaching statement as being not as important as the academic cover letter, I argue that your teaching statement is equally as important as the other parts of your overall academic job application. In particular, it is another document that is part of a larger portfolio which reflects your effectiveness in the classroom and your teaching potential as a colleague in a new academic program.

I hope my advice helps. Please be sure to share this essay with others as people continue to apply for academic positions. In the meantime, wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and get yours COVID-19 vaccine booster.

Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.

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