How to Describe Teaching in a Fellowship Application

Applications for external funding competitions occasionally require a teaching statement or personal statement that focuses on teaching. However, even if you have years of classroom experience, it may be challenging to succinctly communicate your effectiveness in the classroom. The following tips are meant to guide you through writing any part of an application that involves describing your teaching.

The first key to this kind of document is specificity. Keep in mind that reviewers have probably already seen catchphrases such as “student centered approach” and “fostering critical thinking.” Therefore, focus your narrative on describing specific classroom activities or assessments that reflect your ability to ensure student learning. It is fine to frame these activities around the guiding principles of your teaching philosophy, but you will need to support these broader principles with concrete examples. It is important that you provide a vivid sense of what it is like to be in your classroom.

Another important element to consider is your review audience. If you are applying for a Ford Foundation Fellowship, for example, you are asked to explain in your personal statement your “capacity to respond in pedagogically productive ways to the learning needs of students from diverse backgrounds.” Given that the mission of the Ford is to diversify the professorate, if you are applying for one of their fellowships, you will need to illustrate the ways in which you have been a role model for students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education.

Postdoctoral fellowships in the humanities often ask for a teaching narrative as well. Most likely, your reviewers will be the potential colleagues of that institution. In order to speak effectively to this audience it is important to research the faculty in the department(s) where you would be a postdoc. By gaining a sense of the themes and tenor of the courses offered in their department, you will be able to better tailor your teaching explanation accordingly. For example, if the department, or institution at large, emphasizes interdisciplinarity, consider the ways in which your research and teaching have integrated knowledge from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Make sure to give specific examples of lessons or assignments that illustrate the interdisciplinary scope of your teaching profile.

Finally, if you have been acknowledged with an award for outstanding teaching, make sure to mention this somewhere in your teaching statement, or the part of your application dedicated to pedagogy, as you cannot assume that reviewers will have seen it your CV. This will provide evidence to support the claims that your teaching has been effective and distinctive. If you need further help describing your teaching for external funding or a nationally competitive postdoctoral fellowship, consider scheduling an individual meeting with GradFund.

About Ben Arenger

I am a postdoctoral associate in fellowship advising at the Graduate School-New Brunswick, Rutgers University.
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