My Introduction to Portfolios

My first experience putting together a teaching portfolio was in my undergraduate teacher training program. The specifics elude me a decade after the fact, but I remember that in the year or so between my Junior Professional Experience (think “student teaching lite”) and the end of student teaching, I was required to put together a 3-ring binder full of artifacts that demonstrated my proficiency with lesson planning, unit planning, teaching this skill and that, yadda yadda yadda. By the time I was done, the behemoth I created – a 5 or 6-inch binder stuffed to the gills with artifacts, per the directions from my teaching program – must have weighed 10 lbs.

Even back then, when I knew nothing about interviewing for any type of position, let alone teaching jobs, I thought, “Nobody in his right mind will have the time, or even the inclination, to look through this.” It struck me as a colossal waste of time, energy, and plastic sheet protectors that was done for no reason other than (say it with me, now) it was a requirement of the program.

Despite my initial bad experience with portfolios, I thought the concept was worthwhile, and worth doing better than I had been instructed to do as an undergraduate. Over the course of the next few years, I ended up chucking my portfolio and starting from scratch. The three essential questions I asked myself were:

  1. What specific documents, awards, lessons, projects, or student work examples am I most proud of  as a professional?
  2. How can I organize and present these artifacts in a logical, orderly fashion?
  3. Can I hand the final presentation package to potential employers without fear of herniating them or myself?

Although in following years, my move from the binder to digital format would make #3 irrelevant, the first two items are ones you should ask yourself not only as you first create your portfolio, but as you add items to it over the years.  I was proud of a lot of work I did as a teacher, but I tried to limit the items in my portfolio to 2-4 examples per category.  You may wish to try a “one in, one out” policy to prevent your portfolio from getting overstuffed.

I’ve been on several hiring committees, and I’ve been handed more than a few Moby-Dick-sized binder portfolios.  Trust me, they don’t get read.  Time is often of the essence in the hiring process, and interviewers may only have time to skim whatever you give them.  You don’t write your whole life story on your resume; why would you put a ton of artifacts in a portfolio?

As far as #2 goes, I’m of the opinion that there’s no one “right” way to organize a portfolio, as long as it is organized.  My first portfolio after the Great Purge of 2000 included a table of contents, statement of educational philosophy, a resume, list of references, a few artifacts from each of the three courses I had taught at the time, and a few thank-you cards/nice letters people had written for me.  Not bad for the first year or two of a career, and it all fit in a 1-inch binder with plenty of room to spare.

Portfolios are showcases, not archives, folks.  Regardless of the medium, don’t overwhelm your interviewer with stuff.  Keep it simple and present your best work in a clean, methodical fashion.

As always, please leave your personal experiences, thoughts, comments, disagreements, donations in the comments below.


  • This is an interesting question because I fell into teaching. This is my first job outside of business. I’ve been giving thought to the idea of what my teaching resume should look like. I didn’t realize people provide others with large tomes!

    I absolutely agree that I shouldn’t give anyone five-inches of paper. I know myself that I wouldn’t do more than flip through it as an interviewer. I would like to put a digital portfolio together and I suppose my web site is the start of that idea, but even that isn’t really ready for primetime.

    I think I still need some sort of paper product. Is the binder intended to be left with the school that you go to interview with and it is picked up later? Is the binder copied for each individual interview and left behind permanently?

    I have no written statement of educational philosophy at this point. I have never added my school credentials to my business resume. My nice letters are scattered all over the place. I am very proud of the work I accomplish with my students. It sounds like I have a summer project in order.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

    Ann Oro’s last blog post..Activboard Quick Activity

  • A portfolio is a tricky thing. For that matter, the whole interviewing process is difficult as well. It’s difficult to convey how I function in a classroom through anything other than observation. Last year when I was interviewing for new jobs, I tried to do convey three main things to potential employers:
    (1) I try to operate a student-centric classroom
    (2) I’m (somewhat) up on educational theory and research
    (3) I’m reflective and invest time in self-improvement

    I think #1 is probably best done through student artifacts and #2 through a statement of educational philosophy. I’m not exactly sure how you convey the fact you reflect upon your teaching and work to improve yourself. Maybe give them your blog address?

    In the end I got the job without a portfolio, though I definitely like the idea. Perhaps if I ever find myself looking for jobs again I’ll put one together.

    Ben Wildeboer’s last blog post..Technology mission statement

  • @Ann: I think some folks make copies to leave with employers, others just bring them to support interview responses (e.g., “Tell me about a lesson you’re particularly proud of”). Your web site is a good example of the direction I took this portfolio concept in subsequent years (more on that in the next few posts).

    @Ben: “Maybe give them your blog address?” Well, I sorta (but not exactly) did that when I applied for my current position (again, that story’s to be told in an upcoming post). I don’t think portfolios are essential to getting jobs (I don’t think I even brought mine when I got my first teaching job), but they can, if done well, act as your own personal “greatest hits” mix.

  • Actually, I don’t have a portfolio. That will be one of my summer projects. 🙂

  • @Marcy: Good luck, but be careful – tweaking it to come out juuust right can be addicting (I speak from experience!).

    Your site looks good now; would love to see if/how you integrate your professional portfolio. Keep us posted!

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