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Prepping Your Teaching Portfolio

Little things you can do today so that you can put together a better teaching portfolio tomorrow.

May 3, 2018
 
 

Brady Krien is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at the University of Iowa where he teaches in the Department of Rhetoric. You can find him on Twitter at @BradyKrien.

The end of the semester is upon us and for many this means that we are confronted with piles of grading, reading, and writing to complete. It’s a hectic time, and the last thing that many of us are thinking about is developing our professional materials. Yet this is also one of the best times of the year to collect (if not to organize) materials for your teaching portfolio.

A teaching portfolio is an important document for anyone interested in teaching-centered jobs or in being nominated for teaching awards by their department. It’s a complex document, consisting of many elements and some of these elements, especially those that illustrate the effectiveness of your teaching, are best collected at the end of the semester. Though this is the part of the semester when most of us have the least available time, taking a few minutes to maximize your teaching evaluations, ask for student letters, and get permission to use student work will save you a great deal of time in the long run.

Maximize Evaluations
Though there are many debates about the validity and equity of teaching evaluations (see #1 and #2 for instance), they are, for better or worse, an integral component of a teaching portfolio. To help ensure that students provide you with high-quality evaluations, which will both help in your teaching development and contribute to your portfolio, it can be helpful to teach students how to write good evaluations. This small investment in time to explain to your students that specific, concrete feedback focused on instruction and not the instructor tends to be the most helpful can lead to much better and more useful evaluations. Similarly, if you are interested in information beyond that captured in your department’s evaluation, consider throwing together a survey of your own questions to provide to students. These are just as important as the questions that your department asks and may well be more useful in your portfolio. In either case, remember that your teaching evaluations are a limited tool, one that cannot possibly capture every element of your teaching. Negative evaluations are not the end of the world–in some cases they are a reflection of a particularly challenging class while in others they merely show room for growth, both of which you can discuss compellingly in an interview.

Student Letters
Because of the limited nature of student evaluations, a collection of letters from students describing your teaching is a great addition to any teaching portfolio. While you can ask specific students if they would be willing to write a letter about your teaching, you can also offer it as an option to the whole class. I was initially skeptical that any of my students would be interested in writing a letter about my teaching, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of students who’ve volunteered. It’s important to note that you cannot offer any sort of incentive for these letters and you should wait until the very end of the semester to ask for them and, ideally, not receive them until after you have submitted final grades. The biggest challenge to getting these letters is actually helping students with what to write (I’ve found that they appreciate this article as a resource). While it is entirely possible that students from past semesters will be willing to write you a general letter of support, the best time to ask is at the end of the semester that they are in your class, when their memory is freshest. There’s also nothing better than reading through a handful of kind and thoughtful letters from students after you’ve submitted grades at the end of the semester.

Student Materials
The materials that students create can be useful as both examples of teaching effectiveness in a portfolio and as model assignments in future classes. To use student materials for either purpose, it’s important to obtain permission from the student as their work is their own and subject to copyright. Because of this, it’s important to obtain a student’s specific permission prior to using their work in any context. These resources (#1 and #2) offer sample permission letters that you can use or modify. Prior to sending anything to students though, you should first ask if your department or university has a standard letter and, if not, ask a teaching mentor to take a look at the permission letter you want to send out. You should also make sure to make it clear to students that they are in no way required to allow their work to be used and you should also give them the option to include their name or remain anonymous. Whatever students choose, getting permission at the end of the semester will save you a ton of time and headaches later on.

Once you have these materials, you can stash them away in your inbox or in a folder somewhere to deal with at some point over the summer. The important thing is to make an effort to collect them before the semester is over, because it will become harder and harder to track down the necessary materials and permissions the longer you wait. Though it takes a little bit of time now, collecting these materials will save a lot of time and stress in the long run. Going on the job market is probably going to be stressful no matter what strategies you use, but you can save yourself a lot of time and stress in the long run by developing and archive of materials that you can use in your teaching portfolio and you can start collecting those materials right now.

Have any tips or suggestions for gathering material for your teaching portfolio?

[Image by Pixabay user Counselling and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license.]

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