Black and white photograph of 1948 classroomAlessandra La Rocca Link is a guest author and PhD student in history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. You can find her on Twitter at @AlessandraLink2.

Many graduate students first “meet” the teaching portfolio on the job market. A hiring committee might ask for tangible evidence of teaching experience. A job posting may request a teaching portfolio from all applicants. In most cases, graduate students cobble something together last minute.

Much like teaching journals, however, teaching portfolios warrant our ongoing attention as graduate students. The earlier you start compiling relevant teaching materials and thinking critically about your teaching experience, the better both the portfolio and your prospects on the job market. The latest higher-ed reports point to an increase in part-time and community college employment. In both cases, a strong teaching sensibility carries a lot of weight. A curated collection of teaching-related information will only strengthen your prospects in a job climate tailored towards teaching-heavy positions.

With that in mind, what should we be putting into these teaching portfolios? The main ingredients should reflect both your teaching philosophy and experience in the classroom. According to Laura T. Border’s “Outline for a Socratic or Professional Academic Portfolio,” key components include:

·         A philosophy of teaching and learning. This document should outline your teaching perspective. When possible, ground your opinions in your teaching experiences. Consider outlining views on particular pedagogical methods such as lecturing, collaborative learning, group work, service learning, etc.  Be explicit about how you integrate your philosophy into your teaching practice.

·         A teaching biography. This portion of the portfolio allows you to elaborate on the teaching experiences simply listed on your C.V. What courses have you taught? Have you been a guest lecturer? Have you worked with technology in the classroom? Expanding on your experiences familiarizes the reader with your teaching achievements.

·         Assessment and evaluation of student learning. Describe how you evaluate students in your courses. For example, how do you approach evaluations for in-class work as opposed to out-of-class work? How do you assess a student’s written and oral performance? When possible, include documents that demonstrate your assessment philosophy. Sample assignments, quizzes, and exams would be useful additions here.

·         Assessment and evaluation of your teaching. Time to insert those glowing reviews of your courses, either from students or faculty evaluators. When possible, invite fellow graduate students or faculty to sit in on your class and provide feedback. This quantifiable evidence of your teaching performance will be a valuable addition to the portfolio.

These topic areas should be considered worthwhile starting points, not fixed requirements. In truth, there is a considerable degree of flexibility in teaching portfolios. They will range in form and content according to your unique teaching experience. There are, however, a few important points to consider:

·         Keep it short. Hiring committees are commonly strapped for time and mired in reading material. With that in mind, it’s best to avoid handing them a 30-page teaching record. Portfolios should not run more than 10 pages, including the sample documents from your courses and evaluations. Many institutions will impose a page limit if they do request a portfolio, so always have a running priority list of content that will dictate what goes in and what goes out depending on page restrictions.

·         Keep it organized. A table of contents with a brief introduction will help committees navigate your portfolio. Place all sample documents/evidence in an appendix.

·         Consider going digital. There has been some debate over the effectiveness of digital portfolios that is worth looking into. In my view, going digital allows for ease of access while also demonstrating your digital fluency. When considering the various resources available for your portfolio (ePortfolios, Weebly, and Prezi are a few notable examples), it is important to think about who will be viewing your work and what purpose it will serve. For example, do you want your portfolio to generate a larger online conversation? If so, you may consider adding a comments section or “sharing” capabilities.

In conclusion, teaching portfolios provide job candidates with an opportunity to spotlight their teaching abilities. As with most graduate work, the more time you set aside for compiling and curating your portfolio the stronger the final product. Starting early will also limit last minute portfolio-making “frenzies.” Compared to running a classroom, assembling a working teaching portfolio over the duration of your graduate career is not particularly daunting. You’ve done the hard work of teaching—just make sure to keep a documentary record.

Have you had experience with teaching portfolios? What have you found most useful about these compilations? Any worthwhile additions/omissions to keep in mind?

[Image by Flickr user Mennonite Church USA Archives used under creative commons licensing.]


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