The Teaching Portfolio and Your Academic Job Search
Alyssa Colton | June 2008
Even if you are not yet on the job market, you should start thinking now about constructing a teaching portfolio. The teaching portfolio is increasingly an important part of a job-seeker's package. Portfolio materials are often requested for positions in the teaching of writing as well as in other positions where teaching is regarded as the primary work of faculty members. It is also a vital resource for assistant professors approaching tenure. For graduate students, the portfolio can be used as a tool for self-assessment as well as for demonstrating teaching philosophies and practices.
A teaching portfolio is essentially a collection of documents that gives a picture of your teaching philosophy and practices. It can include a variety of materials, from lesson plans, sample test questions, assignments, syllabi, and student work, to observations by colleagues and mentors and reflective statements by the teacher on her or his pedagogical approaches and practices. It should be organized in a thoughtful, cohesive way so as to illustrate your philosophy of teaching. While you may not be asked for a complete portfolio in the job search process, organizing it before you go on the market will make finding and selecting materials more efficient.
Teaching portfolios can be used in a variety of ways. You may be asked to compile one as part of your teacher training, for example, so that you can begin to look at and reflect on your teaching practice. Many job candidates find them useful as a resource for pulling documents as they are requested in the application and interview process. It can also be important for assistant professors approaching tenure. In a 2006 report, the Modern Language Association's Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion notes that teaching portfolios have become "widely used in tenure and promotion cases." Whatever stage you are at, teaching portfolios can be valuable tools for reflecting on and evaluating your own teaching practices.
Understanding the purpose of your portfolio is an important first step in creating it, according to Patricia Costantinto and Marie N. De Lorenzo, authors of Developing a Professional Teaching Portfolio. You can then go on to choose what documents will best respond to the questions and needs of those viewing the portfolio. Below are the basic steps for creating a portfolio.
Step One: Collecting Documents
Graduate students, even those who have a few years before going on the job market, would benefit from collecting documents as soon as they start teaching. Karen Rowan, assistant professor of English at Morgan State University, observes that "assembling this portfolio takes a lot of work initially, and it’s something that I’d recommend having done well before the first round of job ads come out." You can start out simply by keeping copies of syllabi, assignments, lesson plans, sample student work (with their permission), and evaluations in a separate file box. Next, you need to organize your documents in a simple, easy to follow format, with a table of contents, headings, and section dividers. Each discrete section should include an introduction and reflections on the material being presented. Many teachers have found loose-leaf binders with dividers to be an easy tool for collecting and organizing documents.
You may also want to take advantage of the various options that electronic documentation provides. Evaluations and other paper documents can be scanned in and added to already existing files like syllabi and assignments. You can simply store these in a file on your hard drive, or set up a website. David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media at the University of Texas, Dallas, makes his teaching materials available on the world wide web. Putting up materials on the web might be easier and more convenient for technologically savvy job-seekers. You also have the benefit of adding images and using hyperlinks to connect to outside resources. Be aware, however, that these materials will be more open for scrutiny and unsolicited criticism, and some faculty may not look favorably on this approach. Parry, whose work is in digital media, says, "I think this openness worked in my favor, but I can certainly imagine it going the other way, especially in conservative departments."
Parry, and many job-search experts, also suggests you develop some ideas for courses that you haven't taught yet that reflect your interest and expertise.. As you approach the job search, write up a syllabus and some possible assignments, and fully develop your rationale and goals for the course. "This way you can actively talk about the class, and have specific examples from which you can pull to talk about the class in your interview. Specific answers are always better," Parry explains.
You might even want to draw up a new syllabus for a course you've already taught. Rowan did just that in her job search. "I did this because the first-year writing courses I’ve taught were constrained by pre-existing curricula that don’t reflect my theoretical and pedagogical stances on teaching writing. Given that, I didn’t want to use my syllabi for these classes to represent me as a teacher." It might also be a good idea to design a syllabus around a course description that already exists at the institution where you are interviewing, as a commonly-asked question in interviews is “how would you teach this course?” You can then pull out your syllabus and talk about your thoughts on your unique take on that course.
Step Two: Reflecting on Your Documents
As you start to organize your documents, you should also begin drafting reflections on your teaching practices. In assembling several course syllabi, for example, you might comment on your goals for each course, and how these goals may have changed over time, particularly for the same course. This work will also help you in organizing and writing your teaching statement. Sandra L. Barnes, author of On the Market: Strategies for a Successful Academic Job Search, recommends writing "in a style that reflects who you are. There is no law that says that portfolios have to be drenched in academic jargon."
Step Three: Writing Your Teaching Philosophy Statement
The teaching statement is perhaps one of the most important features of your portfolio. Colleges and universities frequently ask for these statements from their applicants, sometimes in their initial application. The teaching statement should be concise and should not run beyond two pages, though be aware some applications require you to limit it to one page. This statement should clearly state your values and goals as a teacher with specific examples that illustrate how you put these into practice.
Some questions to ask yourself as you begin to draft your teaching philosophy statement include:
- What are the qualities that make a successful teacher?
- What do these qualities say about what I believe about teaching and learning? In what ways do I exemplify these qualities?
- What specific lessons, assignments, and illustrations can I offer that provide evidence for my own teaching practices? What memorable incidents can I share that illustrate my teaching practice?
For a teacher of writing, you might think specifically about what your goals are in teaching writing, and what kinds of strategies you employ to reach those goals. What is your approach to workshopping and revision? Do you employ various theoretical stances or keep to one? What kinds of models do you tend to choose and why? What are the challenges you’ve encountered in teaching writing, and how have you met them?
Step Four: Share Your Work.
As with any writing you do, share your draft with your mentors as well as your peers. A group of sociology faculty and graduate students who did this at Georgia State University, Barnes reports, found that "the feedback and support from others were essential components of the process."
Step Five: Continue to Add to and Work with Your Teaching Portfolio
Since you will be asked to share such materials for tenure and promotion decisions, your portfolio should be seen as an evolving project, even after landing a job. "Theoretically, now that I have the portfolio in place, I can just add to my materials to keep them up-to-date for future reference," Rowan says.
Step Six: Presenting Your Teaching Portfolio
You will probably go back to your teaching portfolio several times during the job search. The first application may ask you to send only a teaching statement, if anything, but others might ask for evaluations and other materials. Some ask for "evidence of teaching effectiveness," which may include various types of evaluations, depending on what your institutions use. "Make sure the evaluation results are clear and easy to understand and interpret," Barnes says. In addition, be sure to describe the methods used in collecting this data.
Step Seven: Preparing for Interviews
The work you do in your portfolio will also help you think about how to frame and talk about your teaching. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Patricia Armstrong, Kathleen Mannheimer and Katherine Stanton note that interviews for jobs in literary studies at the Modern Language Association were focused fifty per cent on teaching. Expect jobs more focused on teaching, such as those at small colleges and in writing, to take up even more time on your experience in the classroom.
The teaching portfolio "is to teaching what a curriculum vita is to research," says Barnes. Whether or not it is required in your application, the work you do in assembling your portfolio can be a valuable process as you embark on your job search and your career.
Alyssa Colton received her PhD in English from the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is visiting assistant professor of composition and rhetoric at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. Her essays and fiction have appeared in various publications, including JAC, Iris, Moxie, and online at Womenwriters.net.
Armstrong, Patricia, Kathleen L. Mannheimer and Katherine Stanton. "How Would You Teach This Class?" The Chronicle of Higher Education. 22 June 2005. http://chronicle.com/jobs/2005/06/2005062201c.htm.
Barnes, Sandra L. On the Market: Strategies for a Successful Academic Job Search. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007.
Costantino, Patricia M. and Marie N. De Lorenzo. Developing a Professional Teaching Portfolio: A Guide for Success. Second Edition. Boston: Pearson, 2006.
MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Report. December 2006. http://www.mla.org/pdf/task_force_tenure_promo.pdf. 25 November 2007
Wolf, Kenneth. "Developing an Effective Teaching Portfolio." Professional Portfolios: A Collection of Articles. Ed. Kay Burke. Arlington Heights, IL: IRI Skylight Training and Publishing, 1996. 41-47.