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Developing an Effective Teaching Portfolio

No one mentioned teaching portfolios in the professional-development seminars I attended as a doctoral student, so when I encountered requests for that item (or the vaguer “evidence of teaching effectiveness”) in a handful of job calls last year, I balked. As I thought through exactly how much can go into such a collection of documents, it was tempting to simply scratch off my list those institutions that requested a portfolio.

Of course, that shouldn’t have been the case. For applicants who have done the legwork ahead of time, the teaching portfolio (like the job letter, the statement of teaching philosophy, the carefully edited CV, etc.) can be another opportunity to showcase one’s preparedness for a faculty position. Instead of looking at it as a hurdle, I should have focused on how it can be used to dramatize the hard work I put into my courses. The statement of teaching philosophy gave me a chance to describe a few of my finest moments as a teacher and to outline my basic strategies in the classroom, but the portfolio provided space for the larger picture, one supported by the more substantial evidence of evaluations, letters, and quantifiable student successes.

This summer I’ve found the time to develop my portfolio with the level of attention I wish I had been able to give it last year. I’ve also been reading through sample portfolios and the guidelines that universities provide for current faculty (who, in many cases, are preparing these documents for the purposes of tenure and promotion). What follows are three central principles I keep returning to.

1) Organize and minimize. Every set of guidelines I’ve read makes a point to ask for a table of contents. Still, it bears repeating that, since such a variety of documents can be included in the teaching portfolio, job seekers need to give their search committee a road map through the material. The other side of organizing one’s information is to look for opportunities to trim the total page count. Some universities cap the portfolio at five or 10 pages (with additional room for judicious appendices), so one shouldn’t feel compelled to include (or even list) every document and detail. Instead of including several hundred pages of teaching evaluations, provide a short summary (an average of numerical scores is particularly efficient, when applicable) and then include a handful of glowing evaluations in an appendix along with information about how the search committee can acquire the remainder if they want more.

2) Chart your development and maturation as a teacher. The format of a teaching portfolio allows job seekers to connect the dots and even briefly describe the thought process that led them to try new things in the classroom. In the section where I describe the various courses I have taught, I include several sentences that detail how both my successes and my failures in one course led to improvements in subsequent semesters. I refer to this development in my statement of teaching philosophy as well, but in the teaching portfolio I can point directly to the evidence of those improvements in sample syllabi.

3) Look to your students. You say you’re “student centered”? In the teaching portfolio we’re being asked to quantify some of the results of our work on our students’ behalf. One of the best portfolios I’ve come across listed the recommendation letters the professor has written for her students and in a few words outlined the programs and jobs those students have entered. Portfolios might include unsolicited letters from former students, or the graded work (before and after) of students who showed great improvement under your direction. If you have taught primarily lower-level courses, find out how many of your students have gone on to major or minor in your field and compare that number to the department’s total draw. In short, find ways to point out your successes as they are embodied in students.

A great deal of labor goes into drafting a strong teaching portfolio, but my sense is that most job seekers have already done the more difficult work of passionately and thoughtfully teaching. By taking full advantage of the portfolio we get to share the good things that our happening in our classrooms.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user stopnlook.]

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