Why Teaching Dossiers?
Why assemble a teaching dossier? The first time I ever heard of this document was when I was looking for an academic job right out of my Ph.D., nearly a decade ago – when the sum of my teaching experience was a series of Teaching Assistantships (Technical Writing, Survey of Major British Writers) and sessional-teaching appointments right. Job applications then, as now, asked for a teaching dossier to testify to your readiness to teach courses on day one of a new job, so I gathered up my syllabi and assignments, wrote a teaching philosophy statement, and sent it off.
So I assembled my first teaching dossier when I’d barely taught at all, and when my philosophy ‘statement’ was more speculative than realist. Now that I’ve spent some more time doing university teaching, seven years and a dozen courses later, I can say that dossiers are an essential reflection of every faculty member’s teaching record.
They divide into three parts, each with a complementary perspective on your teaching effectiveness:
- The evidence your students provide, like numerical and verbal feedback.
- The evidence your peers provide, like awards and classroom observations.
- The evidence * you * provide, like your assignments that measure essential learning outcomes, or the workshop you took on a research-informed teaching method.
There are lots of reasons you would assemble one of these dossiers. There’s the purely pragmatic reason that they’re vital (if optional) components of the hiring, promotion/tenure, and merit-pay assessments of your teaching practice.
But that doesn’t really answer the question why they’re worth spending your time on. Do they make your teaching better? Do they reflect the expertise and curiosity and pleasure and other qualities your teaching imparts?
That last question raises the key problem of representing any lived experience on paper. All dossiers are inadequate, but some are more adequate than others. That is, some are better at capturing the habits and principles you put into your teaching. If you’re not providing evidence yourself, you’re doing your teaching a disservice.
What’s the alternative? If you don’t represent your intentions, then your students’ or peers’ impressions will speak entirely for themselves. Literally, I mean: your students’ rankings and anonymous comments, and your colleagues’ impressions, will speak louder than anything else. The best of those comments are thoughtful and constructive, but are they really an adequate way to represent your intentions and expertise? When studies have long shown gender and race bias in student evaluations, we can’t be satisfied with them as the sole indicators of effective teaching and learning.