Musician: What's your teaching philosophy?

Have you ever been thrown by the interview question, “What’s your teaching philosophy?” If you’re not prepared, what follows can be really awkward, if not embarrassing.

That question is on my mind now because a number of musicians have recently asked me about writing teaching philosophy statements. And that’s good news because it means that yes, there ARE jobs getting posted.

But writing statements, for many musicians, is a struggle. In part, because most of us haven’t ever had to articulate how and why we teach.

Be prepared

Most musicians first encounter a need for a teaching philosophy statement when applying for college teaching jobs. But K-12 jobs may also ask for these. And in any kind of teaching job interview, it’s a good idea to expect a question about your approach to teaching. You don’t want to be caught off guard.

The problem is, when musicians DO have a written teaching philosophy statement, I’ve found most of these are deadly boring, impersonal, and full of tired platitudes and clichés. That’s what happens when musicians try to write what they think a search committee wants to hear. It’s also the result of mimicking many of the ineffective and old school examples found online.

Most musicians write teaching philosophy statements as though they are term papers. But using technical jargon and big words doesn’t impress search committees. It only makes you come across as clueless and insecure about what you actually have to offer.

The good news is there’s a better way

What search committees actually want is to find out who you really are and what your teaching is really like.

So an effective teaching philosophy statement isn’t something you can dash off in in an hour or two. It’s something that deserves real thought. And usually a LOT of feedback and revising over a number of weeks.

Why? Because it requires getting honest and reflecting on yourself and your work.

And it’s worth it. Through the process, musicians really get to know themselves, their teaching, and their purpose.

The process not only leads to a stronger application and better odds of getting hired. It also leads to increased confidence and actually better teaching. Clarity about your priorities and your focus helps you bring your best to your work.

How to get started

1. Instead of ingratiating yourself, or trying to puff yourself up to sound important, just stop for a moment and breathe.

2. Remember back to why you first fell in love with music.

3. Then think over some of your best teaching moments—the times when you thought “THIS is why I teach.”

4. Focus on stories. Put those favorite teaching moments in context. When I work with clients on teaching statements I have them identify stories from their past. Anecdotes with a beginning, middle, and end—ones that can illustrate your teaching effectiveness in action.

Why use stories?

It’s stories that can bring your teaching—and you—to life on the page. Instead of describing how you teach, a story SHOWS us how—and it’s far more engaging.

So if your statement only focuses on the content you’ve taught and the methods you’ve used, you are missing the boat. Instead of hiding behind your credentials, degrees, methodology, and why you believe teaching is important . . . tell us your stories.

Your intended reader really DOES want to find out who you are and what drives your teaching—what motivates your work. You can illustrate that in a story. One that reveals how you engage and motivate students.

In an effective teaching philosophy statement, the stories used help readers picture you on the job. This matters because when you submit your materials, you’re in a pile with 200 other highly qualified candidates all vying for the same position. To make it to the short list, you need material that’s memorable and that piques the interest of the committee.

How do I turn stories into a statement?

I’ve developed a process to help musicians articulate their stories and hone their messages so that they come “alive” on the page for search committees. I did this while running the career and entrepreneurship centers at Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University, and New England Conservatory, and in my private coaching practice. I’ve helped hundreds of musicians advance in their performance and teaching careers.

And this is what I’ve learned: writing promo materials can be overwhelming for many musicians. It typically brings up all our self-doubt, fear of the future, and imposter syndrome. So the process I created is designed to take things one step at a time.

Take this further

If this is something you’d like help with, check out my self-paced Teaching Philosophy Bootcamp video course.

In this exclusive training, you’ll get seven pre-recorded video lessons, plus detailed worksheets to help you avoid the confusion and self-judgment. The work is broken down to a step-by-step process with worksheets and examples from a range of musicians. You can work through all this at your own speed. In the Teaching Philosophy Bootcamp you’ll:

  • Uncover stories from your own past that illustrate your teaching effectiveness.
  • Gain clarity on who you are as a music educator so you can network and interview with real confidence.
  • Edit these stories to bring your teaching to life on the page—even if you’re not an excellent writer.
  • Demystify the writing process so you can stay motivated and on track.
  • Analyze sample statements so you can apply key concepts to your own writing without being a copycat.
  • Identify your core values as an educator so you can convey your distinct strengths.

Through the course platform, I can help you articulate and convey who you are at your very best so you can make a great first impression with search committees. That way, you’ll be one step closer to winning the job—check it out HERE.

And if you’d like more career insights and inspiration, join our supportive community, our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group where you can connect with many other talented, accomplished musicians.

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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