As academics we have to write this thing called a “teaching philosophy statement” to send off with job applications. The initials of such a document are quite funny (TPS), and many authors of TPSs view them as a waste of time. Surely no one reads them, right?
I decided, shortly before giving up on the academic job hunt entirely, to write a rather strange TPS. I’m sharing it with you now; otherwise, no one would ever get to see it.
Katie Rose Guest Pryal: Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Many of us became teachers because we had great teachers; I am a teacher because of my high school English teacher, Andy. Teacher Andy held a Ph.D. from Chicago and settled at our Quaker school, Westtown, tucked into the green hills outside of Philadelphia. He taught resistant teens about (opaque) T.S. Eliot and (dreary) Melville, (gruesome) Macbeth and (baffling) Hamlet. Although I pretended otherwise, I hung on his every word. In fact, his lectures were so dazzling that I started transcribing. He really hit his pace when we got to Wallace Stevens. “This isn’t some stiff telling you what happened at the dance,” he said about “Life is Motion.” “You’re there, your human spirit merges with the human spirit in the poem.” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” really got him going: “This is better than sweet sounding birds. That’s dead. Modern poets are not interested in some mythic bird that’s gonna knock their socks off.” Despite his enthusiasm, his eagerness to have us see beneath and beyond the words on the page, we—even I as I scribbled his words—stared at him blankly. We did not know what mythic bird he was talking about. He said, by way of explanation: “Westtown is a Cartesian environment. Very interested in things it can see and touch. Not things like Wallace Stevens. Therefore it is important that we read it. There are thousands of people my age that can’t read a poem without going to the library and reading what other people think about it.” He paused, then shouted, “We have power!” Students stared. He said, throwing his hands in the air—“I don’t know what to say to you people.” He laughed, softening his words, saying, “It’s great to be alive.”