MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
Updated May 2018
These are some questions I've answered about how I think about my efforts to help students learn.*
How do you define teaching?
Teaching is an art and a science that should be devoted to promoting learning and fostering human development. Teaching is creating a confluence of self, subject, and students where perspectives and insights can combine and learning can occur. Teaching well is hard work, as complex and nuanced as the people and ideas that compose it (Parker J. Palmer). My aim in teaching is to promote human flourishing and, more specifically, to help my students develop a greater understanding and joy regarding themselves, and their interactions with the wider world. As they recognize what they want or need to know, I will support them in the process of forming questions, seeking answers, and fueling life-long curiosity.
Who are you, as a teacher?
I am a teacher, and a learner.
I will teach my students, but I will also learn from them, about my craft, my subject, and myself.
I am a teacher, and a person.
I believe that I owe it to my students to make that clear, and to bring my whole self into the classroom each day. In my teaching and in my day-to-day life, I work to offer myself the trust, respect, and compassion that I offer my students. Allowing myself time to rest, foster personal relationships, and hone my own curiosity bolsters by work, and needing that time is not a weakness. Knowing my own limits and having firm boundaries is a source of strength, and a model of self-awareness and care, qualities essential for general wellbeing as well as effective learning and teaching.
I am a teacher, not a fixer.
I believe that my students come to school each day as whole people.
My first education professor said: “You don’t save the kids, you teach them.” I agree. To me, teaching is not fixing or filling. Students are not broken or empty. I am simply there to help them be their whole selves, and to gain an understanding of their inner and outer worlds. I am privilegedto get to work with students as they build skills, form opinions and explore perspectives that will play a part in the patchworks of their lives. I take this privilege very seriously and endeavor to give them my best.
How do you teach?
I teach in a way that fosters:
Love of learning by asking myself, “Who do I have in the room? What do they care about? Do Icare about the subject I’m planning on teaching? Does it matter? How? How can I show my students that it matters?”
Curiosity by focusing on the value of being interested, of asking big, meaningful, genuine questions and of working hard to develop good answers.
Humility by drawing attention to the fact that even the cleverest people fail, that the most worthwhile work is often challenging, and that even the hardest work on a question can yield an incomplete or incorrect answer.
Responsibility by respecting my students time (being prepared, starting and ending class on time), by doing what I tell them I’ll do to the best of my abilities, and by fostering an environment where my students can be held accountable for their actions and commitments, not only by me, but by themselves and their fellow students.
Independence by trusting my students, rather than micromanaging their learning. I believe that students are worthy of trust and capable of taking on responsibility for their actions and their work. I will give them as much freedom as possible, restricting it only as their freedoms conflict with our commitments. Such commitments will be made with the input and understanding of all interested parties willing to be party to them. Because an “important aspect of learning is choosing what is worth learning,” I will make space for self-directed exploration and will work with my students as partners to choose topics they care about (Carl Rogers in Rosenberg and Eisler).
Human Potential by reminding students that they are capable of living lives of meaning and integrity and by striving for the same in my own life. I believe that there are few, if any, genuinely “bad” students. Each person, under the right circumstances, has the desire and ability to learn. I will encourage the growth of each of my students, informed by an understanding of their experiences, interests, and abilities.
Empathy by founding my teaching on relationships, by encouraging my students to get to know each other and myself as people, by modeling gratitude, patience, and kindness, and by offering space and time to discuss and resolve conflicts. I believe that learning about and from my colleagues, my students, and their families is essential for creating life-enriching learning opportunities.
My role as a language teacher is to provide opportunities for the acquisition and practice of:
Reading and interpretation skills, which help students decode, evaluate, and appreciate texts (broadly defined) as important, informative and enjoyable.
Writing skills that will allow students to compellingly convey their perspectives to a variety of audiences.
And speaking skills, both formal and conversational, because so many important exchanges are spoken, rather than written.
All this, I undergird with an appreciation of linguistic variation—there are many ways to communicate. While it is helpful to learn grammar, spelling, and pronunciation conventions, it is also important to understand the roles of linguistic diversity and creative expression.
Why do you teach this way?
Quite simply, because I’ve seen it work, and work beautifully.
I stand on the shoulders of giants: great learners, teachers, and schools have all inspired elements of my teaching philosophy. I draw continually from existing research and first-hand experience in order to understand and further my practice of life-enriching education.
What sources inform your teaching philosophy?
Life Enriching Education by Marshall Rosenberg – An empowering and practical treatiseon effectively and compassionately communicating about human needs in the service of learning. If you have ever struggled to understand why a student or colleague is distressed, this book might be an immense help. It places Rosenberg’s writing on Nonviolent Communicationin an educational context.
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto – The most viscerally powerful text I have ever read on education, written by a 30 year veteran of NYC public school teaching. A punch to the gut for those who think traditional teaching is a “feel good” job, this book was the last push I needed to start building my career on a foundation of curiosity and questions about educational convention. Thisessay is the first in the book; I think it speaks for itself, and ought to be available to every student, parent, teacher, and administrator.
“The Heart of a Teacher” by Parker Palmer – This article takes a hard look at the role of stories, selfhood, and truth in teaching. It is inspiring and encouraging in the most literal sense of the word. It instills courage, a word derived from the Latin for “heart,” for undertaking the complex work of helping others learn.
And many, many more.
Thanks for reading to the end!
Even—Nay!—Especially—if you only skimmed it, here's a fun and educational treat.
* Some people prefer to say facilitator, staff person, educator, instructor, or tutor. Each term has it's own useful connotation, but for the sake of simplicity and familiarity, I've used the terms "teaching" and "teacher" here.