I’ve been thinking lately about Peeling Onions and Writing Teaching Statements. That there are similarities. Ideally, both involve revealing multiple layers while avoiding tears.
Writing a teaching philosophy statement is challenging because it’s often the first time we’re asked to describe our own teaching. We get hung up on finding the right “layer” to focus on. Think onions: it’s a matter of peeling off layers to reveal who you are as a teacher.
First layer: content
On the surface there’s the immediate content of our teaching: the method books, repertoire, and assignments we use, and how we organize and structure lessons or classes. But this is basic information and not usually all that revealing since many other candidates use the same repertoire and methodologies.
2nd layer: what you focus on
Peeling down a layer, there are the particular focus areas we emphasize in our teaching. For studio instructors this would include emphases on technique, sound quality, and stylistic appropriateness. Again these are what 99% of all the candidates would also write, so still there isn’t much that’s distinctive.
Down further, how you cultivate a learning environment
If we peel the onion further, there is how we set up a rapport with each student or class, and tailor the teaching to fit students’ needs and interests. And that’s a good thing of course, except every teacher does this (or professes to).
Writing that you customize your teaching is only useful if you go beyond description, peel down further.
Next layer: illustrate your teaching with anecdotes
I recommend having two anecdotes in a teaching philosophy statement: one to illustrate your private teaching / mentoring, and the other focused on classroom teaching or ensemble coaching. In each anecdote, describe what the challenge was, and how you worked with the student (or class) to address the challenge. Make sure it isn’t just the standard drills with encouragement.
In your anecdotes, tell the stories so that readers can really picture you in the studio. Include what the results were and how students responded. Add what was surprising to you, what you learned in the process, and how the experience changed you or your teaching. That will absolutely help distinguish you from other candidates.
But you’re not done yet, because even results have layers.
Look at the results of the results
Peel down further to detail the outcomes for your students beyond their improved musical skills. Consider the transferable life skills that institutions hope students will attain by the time they graduate. Things like critical thinking, communication, and leadership.
How do you help students become not just skilled musically but skilled for life? What habits of thinking and behavior are you modeling and coaching them toward? How do you work on these with students?
A teaching statement that peels down through all these layers and provides convincing examples as illustration will absolutely stand out from the crowd.
Great teaching is like an onion: it’s multi-layered
Don’t just scratch the surface — show your layers! Take the approach of peeling onions: writing teaching statements gets easier when you focus on revealing HOW you teach, illustrating this with anecdotes that bring your teaching to life on the page.
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