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I. Philosophy of Education

Briefly describe your philosophy of education. Consider the following points in your description:

  1. What is your personal theory of learning?
  2. What do you believe are the goals for instruction?
  3. What are the roles and responsibilities of the student in the process?
  4. What are the roles of the instructor in the process?
  5. Provide a description of the variables which promote learning?

Philosophy of Education Example:

Associate Professor (Clinical Track)

I teach because I enjoy it. Much of my passion for teaching comes from my expectation that others should be as driven to learn as I am. Learning is fun for me and much of my teaching style comes from my own observations of how I learn best. Zeal for learning is infectious and if I can show my enthusiasm for a subject, those I teach are more likely to focus their attention and remember. Learning requires an interchange between teacher and student that is respectful, nonthreatening and not distant. I strive to provide a friendly, professional environment that emphasizes knowledge and improvement. Making mistakes, is an expected and unavoidable process of learning. I have (unapologetically) high expectations of my students. I see more value in continually encouraging a student to meet a goal (without relaxing the standards) rather than condescension and negative consequences when that standard is not met. I read once that learning is not a spectator sport. Active participation and relating the topic to personal experience and interest are crucial to my success in learning and usually to others. I work hard to find the relevance of a topic to the audience. It is a long and difficult journey from my short term memory to long term and repetition is crucial for this to be successful. My lectures have a similar (repetitious) outline; the subject is introduced, the details are explored and the subject is summarized again in "take home points." My approach to curriculum development builds in this concept of repetition as well. Feedback has been a difficult area for me as a teacher but it is clear that good feedback, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, is crucial to successful learning. Finally, for experienced and mature students, self-evaluation and self-directed learning are the goals. Evolution to such self-directed learning is the ultimate educational goal for all physicians today and is the endpoint I work towards as I interact with students at all levels.

Professor (Tenure Track)

My personal belief is that my responsibilities as a teacher in a variety of settings fall under two major categories - the clear and comprehensible transmission of factual information, and the teaching of how to think and reason clearly and critically. The weight given to each differs depending upon the context in which my role as a teacher is occurring.

For example, when I am the instructor in a large undergraduate lecture course, my major role is to transmit factual scientific information to the students. My major responsibilities in such a role are 1) to make clear to the students what the goals and expectations of the course are, 2) to transmit information which is as timely and accurate as possible in a clear and understandable a manner, and 3) to be available and diligent in responding to students’ questions. I believe that the responsibilities of the students in such a course are to attend class regularly and to pay attention while in class, to carefully read the assigned material in the textbook and/or course handouts, and to approach me in a timely manner when they have questions or confusions about the material being taught. Although the major emphasis in such a setting is didactic transmission of material, I also try to ask the class leading questions when appropriate during my lectures, and to emphasize understanding processes, rather than just memorizing isolated facts.

When I am teaching a smaller group of students in a graduate course or an upper-level small undergraduate class, my emphasis shifts. During such a course, the early sessions or the beginning of each new topic may consist more of didactic material, to bring the class to a more homogenous knowledge base about the subject. After this, however, I move to a more Socratic teaching style. The class is assigned readings which emphasize the primary scientific literature, rather than reviews or book chapters, and the class time focuses strongly upon developing an understanding of how scientific knowledge is obtained (how hypotheses are developed, how experiments are designed, how data are interpreted). These skills are practiced both in class sessions which include extensive student participation, as well as by designing open-book examinations which require understanding rather than memorization. My responsibilities are the same as listed in the preceding ¶, but number 2) now also includes selecting appropriate references from the primary literature which best illustrate important advances in a particular area, and particular approaches of which the students should be aware. It is also my responsibility to be prepared to ask leading questions while presenting material to the students, to stimulate development of their critical thinking skills. The responsibilities of the students are as above, but they are relieved of any need to memorize facts, and have greater responsibility for knowledge synthesis and classroom participation.

If I am the leader of a discussion group or a seminar course, my responsibilities again shift. Here my participation as a didactic instructor should be minimal. My greatest responsibility is to choose appropriate vehicles for discussion. I am also responsible for making goals and expectations clear, and again, to be available for student questions and discussion outside of class. For such a class, I need to maintain a balance between allowing (or forcing!) the students to be the major discussants, while being prepared to enter the discussion when necessary to clarify an point which the students may be missing, and to encourage shyer students to participate, while preventing a few students from dominating the discussions. In this type of class, the students have the responsibility for coming to class prepared to participate in a discussion, in addition to the responsibilities common to all types of classes.

The final type of teaching in which I daily participate is mentoring of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students in my own laboratory. Here I feel my role as a mentor is to develop, in consultation with the student, appropriate projects for the particular needs of the student. The students are expected to take the appropriate level of responsibility for their projects, and to develop increasing independence and resourcefulness in pursuing them. Further details of mentoring techniques I follow are described in a separate section.

The Educator's Portfolio (1) from the Medical College of Wisconsin will be used as a model.


  1. Simpson DE, Beecher AC, Lindemann JC, Morzinski JA. The Educator's Portfolio. 4th Edition. Medical College of Wisconsin. 1998.