Guest Post by Benjamin Harrison
My deepest apologies for a long absence from this lovely page – midterms beckoned with an insistence rivalling that of a hungry infant...
In previous posts (here and here), I’ve discussed the differences between the job application materials required by prep schools and by colleges and universities. In the last post in this series, I’ll touch on the dreaded Personal Statement. In some ways this will read like the Statement of Teaching Philosophy that some schools require, and you may be able to adjust it, but there are also important differences. (For discussion of this subject by someone who has actually landed a teaching job in math, visit Sam Shah’s webpage. I’ll also admit that I feel less sure about this post than others I’ve written.)
According to Carney Sandoe’s website, your personal statement is “a reflection of your philosophy of education, your belief system in terms of pedagogy, and/or your ideas about teaching and/or administration. It is a way for your voice to shine through your file and reach out to potential schools... Your personal statement can take many forms. It can include anecdotal information that will make your candidacy more interesting to a school. It can outline your professional accomplishments and address how your experiences have prepared you for this move. You may want to touch on an example from your past where you were inspired by a former teacher or colleague. You could discuss a few of your personality traits, in particular those that help explain why you work well with kids or why you would be successful in a school setting. OR, you can blend any number of these themes.”
The personal statement is doubly important for Ph.D.s because, as I’ve mentioned before, some administrators are suspicious of a Ph.D.’s motives for seeking a job in a prep school. You’ve started to allay those concerns with your CV (which highlights your work with tweens and teens) and cover letter (which briefly explains why you’re doing this), but your teaching statement is where you have to close the deal.
As in the case of the letter and CV, your prep school personal statement will probably be shorter than your statement of teaching philosophy. (Carney Sandoe suggests 1-2 pages.) While the statement is shorter, it has to cover a lot of ground, perhaps more than your teaching philosophy. Think of your personal statement as a story that interweaves past, present and future. How did you decide that prep school teaching is the life for you, and what kind of teacher will you be? Many statements (including Sam Shah’s) begin with an anecdote that captures the moment at which the author’s desire to teach crystallized. Alternately, you might lead with a description of a particularly striking class-room experience that illuminates your teaching style. But in either case the goal is the same – to make the person behind the application come to life.
Leading with the personal accomplishes two important goals. First, it forces you to discuss your individual experience rather than wander off into a vague discussion of your teaching philosophy. (Guess what? Every teacher on the planet encourages active learning.) Don’t simply say that you try to get students excited about your class, explain how you do it. Do you try to connect chemistry to the real world? Of course you do, but how? Do you use literature to bring history to life? What books or poems do you use, and what lessons do students learn from them? Second, the act of writing about this key moment will bring a passion to your writing that both captures the reader’s attention, and (hopefully!) serves as a leitmotif for your entire statement.
Good luck, all. If you have corrections or comments, I’d love to hear them!