What Is a Teaching Philosophy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A teaching philosophy is a reflection of what an instructor believes about teaching, students, and education. Applicants for teaching positions may be asked to submit a statement on their teaching philosophy along with the rest of their applications. In other settings, developing a concrete statement can help an educator in the course of syllabus creation, classroom management, and other activities. Many academic institutions seek out instructors with philosophies that support their stated goals; a Christian college, for example, usually wants professors who approach teaching from a Christian perspective.

An old fashioned chalkboard in a classroom.
An old fashioned chalkboard in a classroom.

The teaching philosophy can determine what a teacher chooses to stress in lessons and how the teacher approaches instruction. Some professors have a lecturing style and prefer to speak at the front of the class for the duration of the period. Others may want a question and answer format, or may believe in cooperative learning, where students and instructor remain in constant communication and the professor acts as a guide, not an authority.

Instructors consider their teaching philosophy when they decide what kind of work to assign and how to grade it. They may establish a grading rubric that incorporates their beliefs. If an instructor believes that education should provide students with tools to challenge the world around them, for example, she might reward essays that contradict or expand on classroom material by taking it in new directions. The teacher may also decide whether to drop the lowest quiz scores or to accept work in alternate formats, such as video responses to prompts instead of just written ones.

Teachers must also consider how they want to handle their classrooms. Instructors want to maintain a safe classroom environment, and their teaching philosophy may include personal approaches to dealing with classroom conflicts, sensitive topics, and disruptive students. Teaching methods must also incorporate the age level and background of the students. A graduate level poetry seminar can have a very different environment than that of a remedial English class for undergraduates, for example.

Personal ethics can also play a role in teaching philosophy. An instructor with strong feminist leanings, for instance, might stress feminism in his teaching philosophy and could incorporate topics like making sure all students have a chance to be heard, asking students to think outside their comfort level, and not tolerating sexism in the classroom. The educational approach of an academic institution can also influence teaching approaches; teachers at a small liberal arts college with a focus on self-directed education usually have a different teaching philosophy than that of professors at a technical college.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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I have found that my kids learn more in classes where they can see and touch the things they are learning about in books. It's one thing to read about animals and see pictures in a book, but it is a totally different experience to go to an animal preserve and see foreign animals up close and personal. A hands-on teaching philosophy works best for subjects that can be taught in this manner.


@Feryll - I am looking for schools for my children and I am looking for the exact opposite of the lecture teaching philosophy. I think teachers should engage their students and challenge them. How challenging is it when a child only has to show up for class and write?

I think teaching philosophies that stress interaction from the entire class is the best approach to teach children how to be prepared and how to think for themselves. My problem with so many of the teaching philosophies that teachers have is that the approaches focus on giving the students information and then having the students memorize the information and then repeat it at a later date on an exam.

This approach does not promote individual thinking and does not teach students how to problem solve or investigate. I want my children to experience a philosophy on teaching that teaches children how to examine subjects from all angles and how to ask questions as well as how to repeat answers.


When I was in school I always preferred teachers and professors who stood in front of the class and lectured for the entire class period. I felt much less pressure in the classroom when I knew the instructor was going to carry the class and I was not going to have to participate in any way other than being present and being a part of the audience.

Also, I was really good at remembering the information from lectures and I took good notes so I usually did well on the exams. I can't say which teaching philosophy is best, but the lecture method definitely worked better for me.

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