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Teaching Portfolios

Narrative in Teaching Portfolios

Research suggests that narratives are easier to comprehend and people find them more engaging than traditional communication. This is especially true when it comes to your teaching portfolio, where nonexperts reviewers may not have the experience or the context to understand the value of your work. Relying on stories, anecdotes, and other narrative formats helps resonate with your audience and helps centralize the importance of your experiences.

With permission to share at large, we have sampled two teaching portfolios which provide helpful examples of the use narrative as a method for conveying accomplishment to reviewers.


Example 2.

The first class that I taught independently was a course on evolutionary psychology and development. Midway through that class, one of my students stopped showing up. Absent for three days in a row and without an email to me explaining where she was, this was a bad sign.The class was an accelerated summer course with two-hour, four-day-a-week sessions, so missing more than one or two classes could be a real problem. I sent out a quick email checking up on her, and got a message back in return, clarifying the situation. She had taken a break from class, she explained, because she was upset with the apparent uncertainty behind what we were discussing in class. I had assigned standard readings on evolutionary theory, but also pieces critical of evolutionary psychology, including articles arguing that theories of sexual selection gender differences were misogynistic or overly deterministic. The class had spent several days talking about ongoing nature-nurture controversies relevant to these theories. My student was frustrated. She was dismayed that experts were still engaging in such debates. She was, as she wrote, looking for answers, and she had not gotten them from this class.

New teacher that I was, my first reaction was to wonder if I done a bad job. Should I have presented things more clearly? Just told everyone what I thought the "right" perspectives were?I started to think more deeply about what beliefs had guided me to construct the class in the way that I had. Beyond the obvious goal for any psychology class I might teach--convey the fundamentals--what else did I want for this class, and for my classes in the future? I wrote back to her, explaining how it was important to recognize that oftentimes, the "fundamentals" are actually inherently subject to revision and criticism; knowledge is a dynamic body, continuously elaborated on and corrected. I asked to meet with the student so we could both voice our thoughts to each other directly. Our meeting was a little tense. She was still frustrated, but we each listened to the other's position respectfully. And ultimately, there's a happy ending--the student ended up coming back to class and finishing the course. She also later commented on an evaluation that she saw as a strength the fact that I had “really seemed to feel that it was important to not just memorize points but to contemplate and integrate the information".

I remain especially grateful for my experience with this student, because I was pushed early on to think deeply about the goals that I have for my classes. Eleven years later, I still believe in the importance of recognizing that knowledge is dynamic and constructed. But I've also grown as a teacher, and now, as a practitioner of my discipline in the liberal arts environment of Otterbein, I can identify two additional goals. I want to see my students drawing connections between what goes on in the classroom with their own intuitions and experiences; this active integration of academic material with real life is crucial in promoting curiosity and engaged learning. Finally, I want my students thinking critically about the legitimacy of claims, and to see debate and uncertainty as invitations to gather their own observations and weigh in on the issues themselves.


To read the full teaching statement, see the attached PDF "Example 2".

Resources on Narratives