The Teaching Portfolio

Apply for an academic job and you may very likely be asked to provide a copy of your teaching portfolio. While “portfolio” suggests simply a folder of teaching-related materials, really it should be a much more connected collection of evidence and argumentation related to your pedagogical objectives. To demystify the creation of a teaching portfolio, a few years ago I attended a valuable workshop on the topic, hosted by New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Science. While certainly discipline-specific, teaching portfolios in general should be (at least in my opinion) a crucial component of an academic job application, since working with students will be a significant portion of what we do, whether at a small teaching college or a large research university, with undergraduates or graduate students. If you are just starting the job application process, as I am, you may find the following notes I took useful. I continually return to them to think about my teaching objectives and how I may present them to a job search committee. Thinking about the teaching portfolio can also shape and help me carry out these very objectives.

The Teaching Portfolio

The goal of creating a teaching portfolio should be one of continuous self-reflection.  It isn’t something to be thrown together at the last minute, but rather can shape your teaching over time.  Think about the portfolio not as a container, but as an argument.  What is the argument that you want to make about your experience and your thinking about teaching and learning?

¨  Three questions to think about as you put together your portfolio:

  1. What are the learning objectives you have dealt with in your teaching?  How do you want to empower your students?  Sometimes the answer may be the basic “so that the students may move up to the next level,” but it can also be more lofty, such as “so that the students may learn to reflect on their own culture” or “to make the familiar (the Bible, in our discussion) unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar (Islam, in our discussion) familiar.
  2. What do I (attempt to) do to help students to achieve the learning objectives I have identified?  Why do I do this?  Be concrete and give examples.  Most of the portfolios the committee will review will be filled with clichés about empowering students, so it’s important to be specific and create an image of your style.  What do you do to be a model for your students?
  3. Fill in the blank in the following sentence:  “I believe these methods are _______ successful.”  What does it mean to be successful in the classroom?  Self-assessment is crucial here:  Characterize the nature of your success; be honest, but present your assessment elegantly.  It can be very powerful to present experiences you have thought a lot about; to show you have learned lessons.  What are the indicators of success?

¨  The statement of teaching philosophy should be 2-3 pages long, at most (a little longer if you must discuss both teaching language and teaching literature).  This statement is like the template for the portfolio.  Certain words and phrases in it should link to other parts of the document.  (A useful metaphor for this is the hypertext document where the reader could “click” on certain “highlighted” words.  A good metaphor, yes, but please keep your actual portfolio low-tech!  Videos and CDs will be ignored.)

¨  Think about great and influential teachers, but do not over-use them.  These examples are usually negative ones, but this is supposed to be about what you do, not what your high school biology teacher did not do.

¨  Remember that your teaching is a discipline-specific enterprise.  Be specific about success in your field, with students in New York, at NYU, etc.  What are the possibilities for self-improvement?  Think about learning opportunities for your students as well as for you, as the teacher.  Were you dealing with specific institutional requirements?  Did you develop specific strategies in the classroom?

¨  What are some possible parts of your teaching portfolio?

  1. Evaluations:  The best are the evaluation sheets you create yourself, because they are tailored to your objectives for the course.  The questions asked on the CAS evaluation will not reflect your objectives.  Department-specific forms are better, and sometimes the forms used by professors are better than those for the TAs.  Create a questionnaire that builds on the 3 questions above that you are thinking about for the portfolio.  Mid-term evaluations can be useful, too, especially if they simply ask two questions:  What have you liked and want to see more of?  What have you disliked and want to see less of?  This empowers students and shows your commitment to them.  Limit the number of evaluations you include in your portfolio.  Summarize, if possible!  Only show a handful, ideally from the same course, over time (instead of just the best one from every course you’ve taught).
  2. Syllabi:  These are useful to include, even if you are not the primary author.
  3. Lesson Plans
  4. Hand-outs, Assignments, Activities:  It is valuable to include student work that you have evaluated, as well.   Include an example of an A paper, a B paper, etc.  Or three different examples of feedback to the same student.

¨  All of the pieces of the portfolio should be seamlessly connected.  Everything should link back to your objectives, to serve as evidence of what you say in the teaching statement.  If something doesn’t speak to the values you lay out, ask yourself if it belongs in the teaching portfolio.

¨  Avoid high-tech materials.  You could use stills instead of a video, for example.  Rationalize it if you must include it, and then make it redundant if the reader chooses to ignore it, i.e. type something about a particular web-site you created AND include a CD image of it (don’t just send the CD).  Stick to paper and try to minimize.  But do make reference to your use of technology in your teaching and include web addresses.

¨  How big, total?  20-25 pages is a healthy target.

¨  Do not send the teaching portfolio unless asked to do so.  If you do, it will either be ignored or ultimately detrimental to your candidature.  In your initial cover letter, however, try to include a paragraph from your teaching statement. In your teaching statement, offer to send the teaching portfolio on request.

¨  Physical Presentation:  Keep it simple.  No hardcover binding.  It could be in a folder with different headings, for example.  Do not go overboard with the binding, since you want to be able to switch things in and out as your teaching evolves.

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