How To Answer “What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?”

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 11, 2021
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If you are or plan to be a teacher, a professor, or an instructor, you will be placed in a role that requires a well-defined teaching philosophy. This is because those who hire you will want to know that there is deeply personal motivation and a sense of conviction that brings you to the role beyond your relevant skills and experience.

When you apply for a teaching position, you will be asked about your teaching philosophy. This may come in the form of an interview question or a written statement. In either case, it is necessary ahead of time to understand your own teaching philosophy. Not only will it help you land the job, but more importantly, it will help you be a better teacher.

Those who know are better at navigating the professional world’s ebbs and flows, and teachers are no exception. In fact, even if you are already a teacher with no interest in changing positions, it is good to review your teaching philosophy consistently. Such self-reflection will help you update your methods, hone your skills, and help you grow into the best teacher.

What Is a Teaching Philosophy?

A teaching philosophy is your personal belief system on how to handle an educational role. Your philosophy reveals what you value, what you think is ethical, and what you believe the overall purpose of teaching is. A well-defined teaching philosophy will succinctly sum up what effective teaching looks like to you.

It is important to know that teaching philosophy is different from a pedagogical philosophy. Pedagogy is about the abstract theory of teaching, whereas a teaching philosophy is personal and pertains to you. You may use pedagogy elements in your teaching philosophy, but it is important to highlight your own unique personality to stand out.

A teaching philosophy will contain a combination of theory and experience. These experiences include your educational background, your previous professional experience, and your own time as a student.

Since a teaching philosophy results from many different theories and experiences, you may want to consider several factors to help connect these different influences into one clear statement. To do so, consider:

  • Teachers who inspired you.

  • Your concept of learning.

  • Successful moments of teaching.

  • The rewards of teaching.

  • The standards of teaching.

  • How you handle difficult situations with students.

  • How you want your students to think of you.

How you define those factors begins to reveal who you are as a teacher. You may begin to see themes between them. Use these themes to create an overarching thesis. This thesis becomes your teaching philosophy.

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Now that you have thought over the different theories of teaching, your own experience with teaching, and reviewed certain factors of teaching that are important to you, you should now have a better understanding of where you stand as a teacher.

How to Answer “What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?”

You have to know what format you will be asked to answer the question, “What is your teaching philosophy?”. We will elucidate more in this article on how to answer the question in an interview. However, you should know that many teaching applications may ask for a teaching philosophy statement, which is a written version of the question and therefore is slightly more in-depth.

This article will help you prepare for both a verbal or written answer because they tackle the same issue. The biggest difference is that with an interview, you have less time to answer, and you will be unable to edit or change your answer.

In an interview scenario, like all interview questions, your answer needs to be clear and efficient while still highlighting a unique personality. The key to this is structure. If your answer has a logical structure, you can take the interviewer on a quick journey into your teaching approach.

The structure should look something like this:

  • Intro. State your philosophy right away. It should be direct and relatively short, maybe a sentence or two long.

  • Go in-depth. Once you state your philosophy, go further and explain what you mean. Connect your philosophy to reasons that are personally important to you.

  • Finish with an example. Use either a real-life experience or a hypothetical situation to illustrate how your philosophy should be used in practical term.

In other words, the progression of your answer should start small, then expand into a personal explanation and example.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Be concise. A long-winded, rambling answer may give the impression that you have not considered the question ahead of time. That said, if you rush through your words, you may upset the interviewer.

    So, don’t be afraid to take a pause, but choose your words carefully and constructively. Concise communication is a huge part of teaching, so here is an opportunity to highlight that skill.

  • Speak plainly. Successful communication also comes from connecting with diverse audiences when building concise communication. Again, this is an important skill as a teacher, so here is a chance to highlight your ability to use common, everyday language to dissect complex topics.

  • Be humble. Show that you are aware of the gravity of the role of teaching without appearing arrogant or smug. Your teaching philosophy likely incorporates a variety of selfless qualities, so show some self-awareness and recognize that your role will be one of stewardship for others.

  • Be positive. Nothing will concern an interviewer more if you are cynical and negative in an interview where the job requires a strong sense of empathy and selflessness. This does not mean you can’t, nor should, ignore the challenges of the profession.

    Try as much as possible to reframe these difficulties with a positive mindset, a “can do” attitude, and this will strengthen your impact in the interview.

  • Practice your answer. Prior to the interview, ensure you practice the answers to some relevant questions. You can practice either with a relative or a friend. But if you don’t have that opportunity, practice in front of a mirror or, better yet, record yourself on the phone and listen back again.

    Eventually, you would want to “train” for this question by giving yourself the opportunity to run through it several times with the chance to polish up your response.

Things You Should Not Say

  • Plagiarized words. A teaching philosophy is a personal statement. It can be tempting to use others’ philosophies, and they should inform your own opinion, but make sure to speak for yourself. It will be especially bad if an interviewer recognizes your plagiarism.

  • Negative approaches. A negative response will be a red flag for the interviewer. If you are the type that complains over every little issue, this will make you a difficult coworker in an already difficult field. Avoid negative responses or complaints as much as possible.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Cliches. If your philosophy is based on a generic statement, you are unable to create a meaningful discussion. A cliche may present an unrealistic expectation of the situation or an obvious belief that everybody else agrees. Worst of all, a cliche will not make you unique in the interview.

  • Memorized responses. Although you want to practice your answer, do not pressure yourself to hit the response line by line. Play to your audience and be your natural self. It only makes sense to be personable while you talk about something personal to you.

  • Tangential responses. Stay focused and be wary of taking your philosophy into unrelated directions. It can be tempting since your answer may bring up memories or other important beliefs, but you must stay with the task at hand. Get your answer in and out in a reasonable time.

Example Answers

Example 1

My role as a teacher is to foster a desire to learn. This is achieved by recognizing there are multiple learning styles. Therefore it is my duty to meet the students in their learning style.

I have accomplished this in the past by providing different options for review material before tests. I then kept track of which version each student preferred, which helped me focus on their specific educational needs.

This answer works because it acknowledges the challenge of balancing different learning styles. It shows a certain combination of flexibility and direction that, as a teacher, you must be prepared for.

Example 2

I want my students to be critical thinkers and combine logic with empathy to become independent, compassionate, lifelong learners. This begins with a classroom that values individuality that creates buy-in from the students. I engage my students and pull from them their initial thoughts and opinions, and together, we will shape it in a constructive manner.

This is a good answer that focuses on the independence of the student. Such a philosophy can work well, particularly with older students who might desire their own freedom. Still, the answer recognizes the responsibility of the teacher to keep things constructive.

Example 3

I believe a classroom is about building a community. This is the environment in which students begin to learn their roles in society. It is my job to be a role model and show a good system of morals.

For example, in discussions regarding social injustice, whether in the textbook or the classroom, I will use it as an opportunity to promote a sense of unity and understanding.

Conversely, this answer takes a communal and moral approach to students. This may be more important for younger children who need firmer guidance in their development. Taking a moral stance shows that you see that the role of a teacher goes beyond instruction.

Example 4

As a teacher, I want to grow alongside my students. They can offer me new perspectives on the material and help me improve my teaching skills. Therefore, my philosophy is based on the idea that feedback from students is just as important as giving feedback to students.

Periodically during the year, I will ask for feedback from my students to review my teaching and to discover new ideas.

This is a unique take that shows the benefits students have to offer to teachers. With this approach, students are given a say in the direction of their education, and the teacher can grow from the process. This is a good philosophy for those who wish the classroom to be open and welcoming.

Possible Follow Up Questions:

Be prepared for possible follow up questions that will transition the interview into new topics. Some to be prepared for are:

Make sure to show consistency and use your teaching philosophy as the guiding principle to all other answers.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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