Philosophy of Teaching

ON EDUCATION

Introduction

As an educator I accept that my ideas on the methods and practice of teaching must be dynamic—adaptable to meet the needs of the community in which I work, and reflective of the time and culture in which we live. That said, in outlining my beliefs as related to education I accept that there is no universal set of rules to be applied to learning other than to learn as much as one can, about everything—all other ideas should be interpreted and expanded upon specifically to meet the needs of each school, and for each student as an individual, as to craft a symbiotic relationship between academic and personal growth. Education is a collaborative effort between school administration, teachers, students and their families, and the resources of a community. The discourse on education must be made accessible, inviting all voices to be involved in its design. Education has come to be viewed as a product—the focus must shift to viewing education as a process, allowing value to be placed on the gradual steps taken to refine knowledge into greater meaning through application, interpretation and reflection.

Article 1. What Education Is

I believe that formal education at its best sets up a continual relationship with learning. Education should not be confined to the classroom and as the young person should be encouraged to synthesize information from all areas of his or her life, the adult must also remain curious and maintain a pursuit of knowledge. Intelligence must not be viewed as a fixed entity, but rather as something one spends a lifetime collecting. Education is a right, and it is essential to the maintenance of society that all children be given the opportunity to receive a quality education at no cost. Regardless of race or class status, or ability, all persons have the capacity to increase knowledge, and all deserve the guidance and resources to do so.

I believe that an academic education must be designed to complement the stages of cognitive development. As a child becomes more sensitive to the world in which he or she lives, the child must be challenged to meet his or her observations with a corresponding response, gradually increasing depth and level of skill. The child’s life is divided between two main environments, life and home—and education must have a fluid presence between the two settings. Education has a responsibility to build an understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live and the child must not stop being a student at the end of the school day.

I believe that a well-rounded education informs every part of a person’s life. The classroom is an environment for personal growth, and I believe that engaging creativity is central to personal growth. The student should have an outlet in the classroom for relating and expanding on material at a personal level and be encouraged to use creativity to make new connections and reinvent material. An education as a whole is best reflected in the learning experiences one continues to relate to and expand upon, and meaningful learning most often occurs when the student can connect to the material.

I believe that an education should establish skills necessary for navigating adulthood. The further one grows out of childhood, tasks begin to lack defined rules, linear processes, and definite answers—there is more room for interpretation and the way an individual approaches a situation has been shaped by prior knowledge and experiences which are often simulated throughout an education. The pre-K-12 education offers a child fifteen years of formal guidance—if the education there and beyond has been successful the student will continue to develop as an independent thinker.

Article 2. What the School Is

I believe that the school is a central part of a community. The public school alone often does not have the resources to provide students with the same educational experience as private schools or districts with substantial funding. A more equal education should be established through building relationships between schools and community partners. The more a school thrives, so will the surrounding community. It has been my experience as a long-time volunteer with 826CHI, a nonprofit creative writing and tutoring center serving thousands of Chicago’s students ages six to eighteen, that students are motivated by knowing that there are people invested in creating the best education possible for them. Creating the best education possible for children should be a uniting force within a community.

I believe that the school establishes learning as a social process. The value of the school over a home-learning environment is exposure to other voices. The child must construct knowledge from interaction with a diverse group of both adults and other children. Recognizing differences in ideas is necessary in developing one’s own ideas. In a school that holds a specific set of values or denominational views, it still must be acknowledged that alternative views exist. A student must have the freedom to develop his or her own ideology.

I believe that a school should function as both a resource and a stage. The school should provide the student with materials, guidance, and opportunities for obtaining knowledge, and then encourage the sharing of that knowledge.  The school is an environment for celebrating growth and as often as possible the student should be able to deliver his or her work in a format of choice to an audience, showcasing the student’s learning to the community. A stronger self-efficacy will develop when sharing and demonstrating knowledge is made a natural habit in the learning environment.

I believe that the school sets a standard for learning outside of the classroom. When the school is a comfortable and safe environment for the student to develop and express his or her own ideas, the student will be more inclined to explore those ideas outside of class time. While the school should model itself as a place of more structured learning, homework assignments should be designed to continue school lessons in a more creative and interpretive way in the student’s own time. The student’s home and school lives constantly push and pull on each other—the school should aim to not overwhelm or complicate the student’s home life.

I believe that the school has a responsibility in making sure that the components of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are being met in each student’s life. Teachers and administrators must be alert to signs of neglect of the child’s physiological needs. The school should be one of the safest places a child can be; an environment for developing friendships and mentorships; a place for developing confidence, demonstrating and receiving respect, and measuring achievement. The school should promote self-actualization. The balanced wellbeing of the student, as it is essential to development, must be a concern of the school.

Article 3. The Subject-Matter of Education

I believe that a well-rounded education informs every part of a person’s life. In that I believe that the school curriculum should allow for opportunities for emotional learning and developing character and confidence. “Finding-Self,” the popular theme of literature taught in high school, should be present at every level of education. Students should develop a personal sense of strengths and weaknesses and be guided in developing a strategy for magnifying those strengths and addressing weaknesses. In each subject area the student should be able to address out-of-context meaning in the material being taught, and a metacognitive sense of his or her experience learning the material. In this process teachers and school administrators should be viewed by the students as models of professionalism, compassion, and approachable sources for learning and addressing academic concerns.

I believe that arts education should not be treated as a privilege, but as a right. Creative expression is necessary to development, as it is an outlet for the young person to communicate ideas in varying forms. The arts are often an after-thought in schools, but historically have been a signifier of civilization. The study of arts and humanities are essential in understanding other cultures and other times. As we look to the arts to understand the past, it is important that we as a society continue to produce our own arts as a record and reflection of our time and culture.

I believe that the development of strong written and oral communication skills must be built into classes in every subject area. The ability to effectively communicate enhances success in every area of a person’s life. In being able to clearly and confidently write about and discuss content, the student demonstrates a proficient understanding of the subject. The ability to communicate one’s ideas creates a dialogue and an opportunity for further learning.

I believe that compartmentalizing knowledge decreases potential. A classic education of math, science, social studies, language arts, physical education and creative and performing arts should remain as core subject matter, but with room to cross between subjects, into more specialized and integrated studies. 20th Century poet Ezra Pound appropriated the phrase “Make It New” as mantra, from the first king of the Shang dynasty who was said to have had the words inscribed on his bathtub as a philosophy to start each day with. An understanding is most masterfully demonstrated by being able to take what one has learned and build upon it—bring it into a new realm, reinvent, interpret and connect. The youngest students bubble over with excitement as they learn things for the first time—through interdisciplinary approaches and variations in method, the teacher and the student can make the subject matter new and engaging.

Article 4. The Nature of Method

I believe that all students benefit from an education that engages creativity. At the annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, an international creative problem solving competition for students in elementary school through college, the organization’s founder Dr. Samuel Micklus addresses a college arena filled with young competitors by telling them that in using creativity to work towards solutions they are developing skills for solving problems that don’t even exist yet. There is no one right answer anywhere in the competition. The work of Dr. Micklus and Odyssey of the Mind competitors suggests that full potential cannot be reached without creativity. If a child is only accustomed to following steps to a predetermined outcome they will always meet, not exceed, expectations. Strategies of constructivist learning should be applied in the classroom to allow students to relate information to experience. Problem Based Learning should also have a place in the classroom to allow students to develop teamwork skills and construct knowledge through trial and error with limited guidance from the instructor. When the student can piece together knowledge through discovering the individual components towards a solution, a greater understanding is achieved.

I believe that as often as possible the student must arrive at his or her own conclusions without too much influence from the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to facilitate learning, not dispense facts. Learning should be directed by questions—the student often knows more than he or she thinks and through the Socratic method the student is often able to answer his or her own question. Learning must be active and student-centered. The student should be exposed to multiple teaching styles throughout the course of an education, as not to be confined to one learning style. Understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses is a prescription for being catered to. The student must learn to develop multiple learning strategies, as learning must become self-directed and self-assessed into adulthood.

I believe that the structure of an education must be flexible. The best method for teaching varies based on subject matter and the needs of the students. The educator must be willing to continually look at his or her subject from new angles. The educator should be sensitive to the challenges faced by his or her students when planning a lesson. The educator must know his subject so well inside and out, with a willingness, so that he or she is constantly prepared to adapt a lesson to meet the needs of the class. If a poorly planned lesson is ridden with insurmountable problems, the student will lose interest in the activity.

I believe that students deserve small class sizes to maximize individual attention. Students deserve individual instruction when necessary and detailed feedback that goes beyond a letter mark. When the student/teacher ratio exceeds 25:1, there is not enough time or energy for the teacher to meet the needs of every student. It becomes easy for students to get lost in the mix. Often attention goes to students at the high and low-performing ends of the spectrum and the average students do not realize their full potential. Sometimes it is the opposite and the struggling or gifted student is overlooked and passes through without their needs being addressed.

I believe that assessment is only valuable in tracking a student’s progress, locating room for improvement and then developing the appropriate track for learning. The student must be assessed in multiple ways to accurately measure ability, and even then assessments may not be a complete reflection of potential. While it is important for a student to meet learning standards at grade-level, constantly putting learning on a timeline is of little benefit to the child. Pacing should not damage a child’s confidence in learning. Turning a ‘C’ into a ‘B’ should be celebrated with the same enthusiasm as making an ‘A’. Education is not a product—it is a process.

Conclusion

The foundation of my beliefs on education comes from my own experience as a learner. The materials I have been exposed to so far in my formal education as a teacher have guided me in recalling and noting effective strategies in my own education, classroom observations, and my own teaching experiences thus far. I have never been inspired by verbose scholarly readings and most of the writings filed under the word “Pedagogy.” I encourage all educators and all learners to step away from the books for a moment and have face-to-face conversations and active learning experiences about education and all of its possibilities. Those who are lucky to live in a time and place where the K-12 education is a standard experience will find that despite many variables some things remain the same—across the United States sophomores are reading Lord of the Flies, sixth-graders are learning how to measure angles, and a French II student in Chicago is learning from a new edition of the same textbook that was used by a class in Kentucky in 2003. There is a purpose to when and why things are taught and it is magical to know that so much of education is something so many have in common. Learning must be approachable, trial and error must be accepted as human, and the student must understand that learning directs one’s entire life. The student must be taught that the human brain’s capacity for learning is astounding and that alone is worth exploring. A love of learning is best modeled by an educator that remains a curious, active learner—traits I hope to model to my students. Education is what can connect us all.

References

Snowman, J., McCown, R. R., & Biehler, R. F. (2009). Psychology applied to teaching. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

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