By Holly Ann Garnett
With ‘job market season’ soon upon us, many graduate students and postdocs across the country will start compiling their job packages: writing cover letters, formatting (and re-formatting) their CV, asking for references, and attempting to describe their life’s work in a couple of pages in a research statement. But many departments also ask for “evidence of teaching effectiveness,” or a “teaching portfolio.”
What is a teaching portfolio? What is it supposed to accomplish? How can you build one now, or (if you are a junior PhD student) build the evidence search committees are looking for?
A teaching portfolio is simply a way of showing off your teaching abilities. It generally contains five main sections:
1) Teaching Statement or Teaching Philosophy
This is where you share your approach to teaching: Do you use the Socratic method? Do you love active learning? Are you passionate about accessibility in the classroom? Use this one-page statement to explain how you approach teaching. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the statement: “I learn best when….” Even if you haven’t had an opportunity to teach yet, you have been a student, so consider your best experiences as a student, and how you will use those strategies in the classroom. Try to use concrete examples (either as a student or as a teacher) to illustrate your teaching philosophy – it’s always better to show rather than tell!
2) Teaching Experiences
Next you will want to share all of your teaching experiences. For most PhD candidates, the obvious examples of teaching experience come from teaching courses or serving as a TA or grader. But there are other examples of teaching that you may want to include. Have you mentored any undergraduate thesis students? Have you been involved in public outreach campaigns (such as giving talks in high school classes or senior’s residences)? Have you taught methods seminars or workshops? These are all examples of teaching experiences that you can list in this section. If you are looking to build teaching experience, consider volunteering to guest lecture in a class on a topic related to your research. Most instructors are happy to have an expert come to teach and can provide you with some good feedback afterwards on areas of improvement in your teaching skills. Be sure to include as much information as possible about each experience included in this section, including dates and where you had this experience.
3) Professional Development
At many universities there are teaching and learning workshops and seminars that you can take part in as a graduate student. If you aren’t sure, check the website of your university’s teaching and learning centre. For example, at McGill University, there is a Learn to Teach Day especially for graduate students, with workshops on designing lectures, giving feedback to students, teaching in one’s second language, and using educational technologies. You may also want to consider whether your university hosts any diversity or discrimination workshops. I found the McGill Safe Spaces workshops invaluable to my growth as a teacher. If you don’t have many examples of professional development, this section could be included as part of your teaching experiences section.
4) Course Evaluations
If you have taught or been a TA, you should have course evaluations available. Be sure to start collecting them or downloading and saving them in a file on your computer now (to avoid trying to access them later on when you’ve left the university). I organized the data from these evaluations into summary charts and tables in my teaching portfolio. If you choose to include comments, you must provide the full set, but this is your choice. There is a lot of debate over the effectiveness of course evaluations as a way of evaluating teaching ability, but if you have any particularly negative evaluations or comments, you can always expand on these experiences in the interview. For example, if students complained about your marking in one class, you could demonstrate how you developed a rubric to help students understand how to self-evaluate their work before handing it in. This demonstrates growth and a willingness to adapt and improve your teaching skills.
You can next include syllabi for any classes you have taught (where you developed the syllabus). If you have yet to teach, you may want to prepare a syllabus to demonstrate the way you would teach a course in your field in the future. I always include these at the end of the teaching portfolio since they tend to be long, and I want the most important information (the teaching philosophy and the teaching experiences) to be at the beginning.
Depending on the breadth of your teaching experiences, you may also want to include sections for teaching awards or honours, and any research or innovations in pedagogy you have done. There are many lists of other possible items to include on university websites, including this great guide from the CAUT. The formatting of your teaching portfolio can vary. There are examples online, and I have also linked the teaching portfolio I developed when I was on the academic job market in 2016 here.
Remember that the key to demonstrating teaching effectiveness is to show how your experiences, whether as a learner or a teacher, have shaped how you will approach teaching as a university professor. This may be one of the few times you are encouraged to think seriously about your role as a teacher amidst your other academic responsibilities, so consider this component of the job application an opportunity to reflect on your values and approach to teaching.
Dr. Holly Ann Garnett is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Royal Military College of Canada. She learned about teaching portfolios from McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services and SKILLSETS program, where she worked during her graduate studies.