Later this month I’ll be writing my philosophy of education for the third time. I like to think of this as a living document, and I encourage all teachers to take the time to put their thoughts to paper. If you would share your philosophy, I’d love to read it and start to compile a larger collection. Below is my most recent text, from June of 2013. Thank you.
Philosophy of Education- Revised June 20, 2013
I believe that at the forefront of everything must be the students, and a teacher’s primary concern must be safety and security. Students must first feel physically comfortable in the classroom. Students should be away from things that feel threatening or overly distracting. Emotionally, the classroom environment must be safe so that students can feel empowered to take risks on a daily basis. This can be as simple as a shy student raising their hand to share, or an outgoing student attempting to write a piece of fiction that they didn’t think they had inside them. I believe that this is the only environment in which students can learn and grow. A safe environment is not devoid of pressure and rigor- it is one that allows for and expects mistakes to be made with regularity and intentional self-awareness.
I believe that good teaching is explicit. If you cannot clearly illustrate your goals for your students, I don’t see what chance you have of teaching them. Anything left unsaid should be considered unheard and unfelt. Don’t let this stop you from allowing students to grapple and come to conclusions on their own- just remember to debrief afterwards. Concerning curriculum, I feel strongly that specific content is by and large irrelevant. What I am trying to teach my students is the how and why of things, not the what. If I am truly focused on building core skills- evaluation, criticism, analysis, then it should be clear that whether we choose to study the American Revolution or South African Apartheid has little to no factor on the outcome for the students. It is important to keep in mind, however, that students can easily decide that the content is what you are trying to teach, and so it must be made explicit at every step what the goal of a given lesson or unit of study truly is.
Along with being explicit, I believe that we must make public our thought process. By sharing my thought process with my students, I do two things: I show them that there is a process, and that they can learn and improve process, and I share with them that I too, struggle and grapple with ideas constructing meaning. From this point we can begin to work together, to review work as peers and to create feedback loops that empower students, both student-teacher, and student-student.
I believe that fourth grade is a year in perpetual balance. Students learn to be independent while they are still safely under the loving care of their families. They learn to be confident in order to tackle the new challenges that come at the edge of middle school. Looking at their peers in third and fifth grades, they are at a hyper-aware age in between the worlds of kissing and crying. This is all healthy- so long as we keep it all in mind and respect the life struggles that our students are going through.
I believe that our values manifest in two ways: how we behave, and how we allocate time. Our actions show our values, as do our specific inactions. We show our values every time we praise and every time we reprove. We also show the value we place on different subjects by how much time we allot. How can we convince our students that something is worth doing if we won’t set aside time for it in the classroom?
The best that I can give students is that which is already inside themselves. My proudest moment in teaching was when, as a third-grade assistant teacher, I overheard two students talking:
Maya: I don’t know how to do this at all! I’m going to ask Tr. Hal how.
Maddie: Maya, you know that if you ask Tr. Hal a question, he’s just going to ask you another question right back.
This frustration and support showed that I had gotten across to my students something so simple and essential- that they can, and must, find a path towards learning within themselves.
I believe that when we present ourselves to our students, we must be fully present in body and mind. I have never tried to be perfect, but have always made it my goal to never have two bad days in a row. I try to create an environment in which my students can become their own teachers, as I recognize that I am only with them a short while, and I respect the fact that as 10-year olds, and as human beings, their attention is not always with me. Every year I hope that I am able to teach my students as much as I learn from them.
Questions for a peer evaluator:
- How do my students respond when faced with a new challenge?
- Based strictly on what you observed, what do you think I value as a teacher?
- How aware am I of where my students are, both as individuals and as a collective?
- How would a pie chart of time spent attending to the teacher vs. time spent attending to peers vs. time spent alone on task (or in thought) breakdown?
- What do you think the goal of my lesson was?
I strongly believe that students, even young students can be insightful evaluators of their teachers, so I would like to include questions for students as well:
- What do you think the goal of today’s lesson was?
- How do you feel when you are faced with a new challenge or something you’ve never seen before in class?
- What do you think I care most about in this class?
- What is a question you have about today’s lesson?
- What are two people or places you could go to find the answer to your question?