Dannelle Stevens -acue.org

The Most Important Audience in Writing a Teaching Philosophy: You

Writing a teaching philosophy is an opportunity to impress as well as reflect on your practice.

By Dannelle D. Stevens

Being an academic requires us to respond to expectations for which we have little or no preparation, such as how to teach large classes or how to assess student work. Admittedly, more resources, like the ACUE program, are now available to help academics become more accomplished instructors. Yet, some expectations for career advancement remain vague and fraught with uncertainty.

A typical example is the expectation that both graduate students on the job market and faculty seeking career advancement submit a teaching philosophy. Yet many are unclear about what a teaching philosophy is, why they should write it, and how to craft such a document. Below, I seek to provide some clarity by sharing some guidance for those writing a teaching philosophy for the first time and those revamping a previous draft.

What is a teaching philosophy?

A teaching philosophy is a 1- to 2-page document that describes your teaching values, goals, methods, and assessments of those goals. In addition, given the increasing diversity in our classrooms, a teaching philosophy may also convey how you create an inclusive learning environment.

Why write a teaching philosophy?

First of all, several external audiences are interested in how you view yourself as an instructor. They may care particularly about how reflective you are, how you think and talk about teaching your discipline, and how you describe your work with the diverse students in your class. Another external audience could be your students. You could include a teaching philosophy on your website or on your syllabus to give students an insight into the larger goals and values that inform your classroom practices.

A second and even more important audience is you. Writing a teaching philosophy is an opportunity to stop, think, and reflect on what you are doing in the classroom and why you are doing it. For some, this may be the first time you articulate in writing what is really important to you as an instructor.

As we begin to teach, we may realize that we have some preconceived notions about what is good and not-so-good teaching. Yet, unlike other professions, the teaching profession in higher education is unique in that we generally are not prepared for the task. As students, however, we have had many years of experience in classrooms observing our instructors.  Lortie (1975), in his classic work on the sociology of teaching, described our experience as an “apprenticeship of observation.” We can draw—to an extent—upon our array of current practices from our conscious and even unconscious observations during that “apprenticeship,” but we also should ensure that there is a solid research backing for the practices we believe constitute “good teaching.”

As you write a teaching philosophy, you may find it difficult to sort out the values that inform your responses, your instinctive reactions, and the decisions you have made about how to conduct your class. This is where reflecting on your teaching practice may be especially helpful in articulating and aligning your core values with your teaching goals, methods, and assessments. You are uncovering, analyzing, maybe even questioning, as well as affirming practices that are central to your vision as an instructor and need to be included in your philosophy.

What are some helpful steps in generating your teaching philosophy?

One step is to complete a focused freewrite on the topic. I suggest that you set a timer for 10 minutes, then write rapidly without judgment and answer these questions:

• What does it mean to be a college or university instructor?

• Why do I care about it?

• What do I know about university teaching?

• What do I want others to know about my teaching?

It may surprise you how quickly you can describe some of your core values and practices in this brief exercise.

Next, go online and find some rubrics that others have created for feedback on teaching philosophies. The University of Michigan rubric has a series of questions that may stimulate your thinking about what is appropriate to cover in a teaching philosophy.  Similarly, the University of Minnesota has several examples of teaching philosophy statements online. Use these resources to stimulate, not dictate, your thinking.

Finally, and most importantly, writing a teaching philosophy is a marvelous opportunity to reflect on your teaching practice. Reflection on practice improves practice. You may find that what you do in the classroom may be a carryover from practices you have observed but never critiqued. By writing a teaching philosophy, you can align and articulate more clearly what is important to you in the classroom. In addition, writing a teaching philosophy builds a deeper understanding about your teaching practice as well as your own distinct vocabulary about your teaching. Thus, writing a teaching philosophy makes it easier to convey to others your insight and expertise as a thoughtful and caring instructor.


Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dannelle D. Stevens, professor emerita at Portland State University, Oregon, received her doctorate in educational psychology from Michigan State University. She is the coauthor of four books. For the past 5 years, she has been the Portland State faculty-in-residence for academic writing, where she initiated the highly successful Jumpstart Faculty Writing Program. Her fifth book, Write More, Publish More, Stress Less! Five Key Principles for a Creative and Sustainable Scholarly Practice is forthcoming in 2018.

Faculty Spotlight: Peter Plourde, also known as Professor Lyrical

Peter Plourde -acue.org

Photo credit: Raymond Jones

Dr. Peter Michael Plourde, the director of faculty development at the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC), teaches mathematics, including courses in basic math and business calculus this semester. To the general public and to many of his students, Peter is known as Professor Lyrical, or simply Lyrical, for his work as a hip-hop artist and for his courses in hip-hop culture and lyricism, musical comedy, and entertainment management. Peter and his wife, Nicole, recently appeared on the game show Wheel of Fortune, but perhaps more intriguing is Peter’s life as a rapper. He has performed hip hop at more than 50 institutions, where he’s also been asked to speak about the connection between STEM and hip hop. He credits the music genre for giving him the confidence to address large audiences. Using rap as a hook, Peter speaks and performs at many colleges and universities that are looking to enhance their teaching and learning through hip-hop pedagogy. Peter is the author of Put Em All to Shame: The Curriculum, a companion book to Peter’s album by the same name.

Peter served as a facilitator for ACUE’s course in the foundations of effective instruction at UDC-CC in fall 2017 and is also facilitating the course this spring. Here are some of his key takeaways from the program.

Feeling empowered

I’ve never liked wasting time on the first day of classes with too much administrative stuff. Students expect that those first few minutes are not that important, and I don’t mind changing things up. Now, after completing the module on leading the first day of class, I feel more empowered to jump right into teaching, especially when this and other methodologies I’ve used in the past are backed by the research included in ACUE’s course.

Homework reviews are another methodology I like. It’s important to take a pulse of where my students are, and I also invite them to tell me how my homework assignments are sitting with them. ACUE recommends soliciting feedback around midterm time, and I recently implemented this in my large basic math class. It was super helpful to get student input. I discovered that many students were having a tough time working with ratios, and their comments let me know I needed to do a better job with that topic. In math, when students are having problems learning a new concept, it is almost always due to a weakness in some previous lesson. In the case of ratios, after I received my students’ feedback, I discovered I had moved too quickly through the essence of fraction identities and revisited that section to help the students build a stronger foundation.

Keeping it on the down low

I’ve begun providing low-stakes assessments—ungraded opportunities to see what our students are learning. In math class, this can be a shock. Students expect that each test or quiz represents a percentage of their grade. And of course it does. I tell them it’s zero percent! With these informal assessments, I’m trying to help students build muscle memory for mathematics. These low-stakes assessments are like basketball scrimmages. Students get to feel what it’s like to suit up and be in a game situation, but they’re given the opportunity to practice their skills without the pressure of “winning the game.” Building the muscle memory builds students’ confidence. 

Myth busting

People often incorrectly assume that performers, especially rappers, don’t have much to say in their lyrical content. I try to dispel that notion whenever I have a forum or a microphone in front of me. The funny thing is, I am an introvert. But hip-hop culture has given me the confidence to speak to thousands of people I otherwise never would have reached.

My experience with hip-hop—and with math—sends a powerful message to students. Although I initially didn’t have the confidence to speak publicly, I’ve achieved mastery in this area by putting forth the effort. The same applies to my experience learning math. I recall a moment becoming frustrated with basic addition in my first-grade math class and not knowing an answer when the teacher called on me. I think it’s important to not put students on the spot, to give them processing time, to help them see mistakes as opportunities, to encourage them to enjoy the learning process, and to show them that effort pays off. True hip-hop culture is historically empathetic and supportive, and I try to recreate that atmosphere in my classroom and outside as well.

As is usually the case, my lyrics crystallize my feelings on the subject. This is an excerpt from a rap I recently wrote, called “Confidence”:

Now I teach the world through my words, still it humbles me/

Hug my son once he wakes, his love comforts me/

Makes it hard ta hate on another, remaining ugly/

Be the best I can be, evolved culturally/

Involved in my community, living life more productively

To learn more about hip-hop pedagogy, follow #HipHopEd. To see some of Peter’s performances, visit http://professorlyrical.com/ or view his YouTube playlist at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzwYaIlrCDBBEnWDbMf9-ow.

Scores of Peter’s songs reside on SoundCloud at SoundCloud.com/ProfessorLyrical.