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:
- What specific documents, awards, lessons, projects, or student work examples am I most proud of as a professional?
- How can I organize and present these artifacts in a logical, orderly fashion?
- 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.