Posted by: unlikelygrad | May 2, 2012

an uncanny parallel

One of the assignments I have to do for my class on teaching at the college level is to write a statement of teaching philosophy. I started trying to work on it early in the semester but it just wouldn’t pull together. (Believe it or not, I have a hard time writing. One of the reasons I blog is to help me learn to write better and more efficiently.)

As usual, desperation helped. Since I’m doing this for a class, a deadline was involved (it was actually due yesterday) so lot of the writing was actually done while I was at FamousUniversity last week. I had meetings most of the day, but in the evenings Dr. Hand-Waver and I would both sit in our shared room, working on our various projects.

My prof had given me a list of items to include in my teaching statement. One of them said the following:

“In your view, what are the rewards of teaching?  Why is this your chosen profession?  
What motivates you to be an excellent teacher?”

As I thought about how to respond to this prompt, I was transported back to the days when I was writing my Statement of Purpose for my grad apps. I never included anything of the sort on any of my drafts, but I saw far too many of my peers who started off their SoPs with a statement like this: “I have wanted to be a scientist since I was a small child.” So I groaned aloud, because the truth is this: I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about seven years old.

Dr. Hand-Waver looked up from the proposal that she was writing and asked what was wrong. It struck me that she, more than anyone I knew, would understand the parallel here. See, this year she’s both been a member of a search committee (hiring an instructor for our department) and head of the grad admissions committee for our department. So in the last few months she’s seen a couple hundred Teaching Statements and probably an equal number of Statements of Purpose.

So I explained my thoughts to her, my worries that I would come off sounding too trite. “Yeah,” she said with a smile. “Most Teaching Statements and Statements of Purpose are pretty cliché. But yours doesn’t have to–you have far more teaching experience than most applicants, even if most of it is non-traditional. Play off of that. Tell a compelling story.”

I did eventually manage to crank out two pages of something that is somewhat respectable (but hopefully not trite). But I’m still not happy with it. Luckily I still have a couple of years until I actually have to submit one of these things to an employer.

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