Job Interview Answer: What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?

male teacher with tablet in hand in front of blackboard
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When you apply for a job as a teacher, you may be asked about your teaching philosophy. This is not the sort of question you should fumble—you’ll look unprepared for the job if you don’t have a ready answer. And yet many highly qualified, experienced teachers don’t have a philosophy they can neatly articulate. They haven’t been thinking about philosophies; they have been thinking about teaching.

The following discussion should help you put your teaching philosophy into words that you can share during your interview, either in response to a direct question or if an appropriate opening for the subject comes up.

Determining Your Teaching Philosophy

Your teaching philosophy is likely a compilation of methods you studied in college or graduate school and lessons learned during any professional experience since then. It may also draw upon your own experience of childhood education either as a parent or as a child yourself. 

If you don't know what your teaching philosophy is, try writing down a few key statements you believe to be true about education, and then proceed from there. Consider also how you have put your ideas about education into action, and what principles are demonstrated by your work in the classroom. What makes you proud to be a teacher? What lets you know you’ve done a good job? What standards do you set for yourself and why?

A personal teaching philosophy is different than a pedagogic theory, although obviously the two are related. Waldorf or Montessori education, for example, involve very different approaches to teaching than the mainstream American public school system utilizes, and yet teachers from each system might articulate very similar philosophies.

Teaching styles and methods often change over a person’s career, so review your philosophy from time to time, update it, and make changes when necessary.

Some Pitfalls to Avoid

Be succinct. A poorly-organized or excessively wordy statement will be hard for other people to understand and could hurt you.

Also avoid generic and self-evident statements, like "everybody deserves a chance to learn." Sure, it's broad and applicable to many classroom situations, but that very universality and obviousness makes the phrase a problem for you. Simply put, if your philosophy is a truism or a cliché, it’s obvious you didn’t put much thought into it.

If your educational philosophy actually is that everyone deserves a chance (or something similar), then be sure to make your statement unique by explaining how you see the principle of equality as relevant to education. A proviso to keep in mind is that if you can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with your philosophy (that is, disagreeing intelligently, for well-thought-out reasons), then you’ve probably landed on an obvious truism. 

Putting Teaching Philosophies into Words

Begin Simply

Begin with one or two sentences that neatly encapsulate your thinking. 

For example:

  • I believe the classroom is a living community and that everyone, from the principal, to the students, to the parents, must contribute in order to maintain a positive atmosphere.
  • Everyone in the classroom contributes as a student, teacher, and thinker. I learn from students as much as they learn from me.

    Or

    • All students are individual and everyone learns in their own unique way.

    Notice that all three examples could be part of the same philosophy—while they are different, they nonetheless complement each other. This said, remember that you don’t need to fit everything you believe about teaching into a single sentence. Draft a simple statement that expresses the most central part of your ideas and priorities as a teacher. Let the rest be implied.

    Then Elaborate

    After giving your initial statement, you can elaborate on what your philosophy means in practical terms. For example:

    • All students are individual and everyone learns in their own unique way. I use multiple methods of teaching (linguistic, visual, auditory, kinesthetic) to reach studentsso that no one is left behind.

    Notice that the elaboration makes the opening statement, as a whole, more specific.

    In the example above, the idea that everyone learns in their own way could be taken to mean that everyone learns at their own pace. There are indeed educational systems that are not organized into grade levels and that allow students to move at different paces. But here the elaboration makes clear that this teacher believes that effective teaching brings everybody along together.

    You can also make brief mention of educational theories or scientific studies that support your philosophy, or you can refer to other educators who exemplify your philosophy. You are trying to make it clear to your interviewers that you think carefully about how you teach and are well-educated on educational practices.

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