Personal Philosophy: A Reflective Work in Progress
As an educator, I firmly believe that teaching students is one of the greatest responsibilities that one can have, because with every student, comes the possibility of helping to shape who they are, who they will become, and the lenses through which they will ultimately view themselves and their world. As a high school English teacher, I work to ensure that when students are in our classroom, all reading experiences, discussion sessions, conferences, model texts and technology tools contribute to their learning, thus providing them with knowledge, skills and questions that will foster lifelong seeking and learning. Since students are individuals and their needs differ from year-to-year, class-to-class and student-to-student, I believe that it is imperative to be a reflective teacher because it is only through this continually reflective process that I have been able to know my students and how they learn; consequently, adjusting my instruction to fit their needs and push them to new heights. But before they begin to take risks with their learning, each student needs to feel as though he or she is a valued and necessary part of our learning community.
As human beings, we have an innate desire to feel accepted within certain groups, yet maintain our sense of individuality. This is certainly the case with adolescents; therefore, in order for students to really delve into learning in a way that is authentic and continual, they have to feel as though they can be themselves in our classroom. I am always cognizant of how I can help each student gain this sense of belonging, yet maintain who they are as learners. When I first started teaching, an inspirational mentor told me that when I have the responsibility of teaching a child, I should look at him and ask, “If this were my child, how would I want him to be taught?” Then, teach him that way. Over the years, I have extended that bit of wisdom to include, “If this were my child, how would I want him to be treated? The answer to that question is what guides every interaction I have with my students because I know that they are different people and they require different strategies. The result of creating an atmosphere of respect and acceptance has been that students are more willing to take risks with their thinking and questions, which ultimately helps them to gain necessary skills and knowledge.
In addition to focusing on creating an environment that is supportive of their learning needs, I believe that it is important to help students gain a broader awareness of their global community. With the increase of technology in students’ daily lives, their status as global citizens becomes inevitable. Through various media sources, visual and written texts can allow students to hear the voices of people around the world who would otherwise remain distant. So, with the mere opening of a book, or click of a mouse, a student in our classroom can hear the voice of a young girl in Nepal who was sold into sex slavery or the voice of a 16-year-old boy who details what it is like to live in Iraq. However, with this expansion of students’ global identities, comes the need for them to be critical thinkers. Therefore, I see it as my responsibility to help my students gain the skills necessary to navigate through any information that is presented to them. In the same way that they question, analyze, assess, process and construct meaning when dealing with written texts, they must also gain that facility with different types of media.
As I consider my philosophy of teaching and learning, I realize that many of my beliefs and values are in line with the Greek philosopher, Socrates, because I believe in the potential of every child as well as the in the importance of helping him learn who he is as an individual learner and as a part of the classroom and global communities. In order to help students develop their identities, I think that choice should play an important role in the classroom, but I also see the need to balance individual experiences with ones involving the entire community. A behaviorist who might not fully agree with my philosophy of mutual respect and compassion in the classroom is B.F. Skinner. As a part of his theory on human behavior, Skinner proclaimed that, “What we need is more control, not less”(Trottle, 1971, p. 97). I disagree that absolute control by the teacher is necessary in the classroom because students should feel as though they have the power to think and learn in a way that is true to who they are, while pushing themselves to try new things. Skinner also advocated for punishment. I refrain from punishing students because I believe that when adolescents act in a way that is different from what is expected, the behavior is often a symptom of something deeper. In fact, “The child’s misbehavior has one of four goals: attention getting, power, revenge, [or] inadequacy” (Dinkmeyer, 1961, p. 315). Therefore, I try to not simply inflict punishment, but get to the heart of what is causing the behavior. In contrast, Skinner believed that, “We must no longer attribute behavior to intentions, purposes, aims and goals” (Trottle, 1971, p. 96). Based on my experience with adolescents; however, I have found that it is much more effective to teach problem-solving than to inflict punishment because while punishment is momentary and honors the behavior, respect, compassion and problem-solving honors the human being.
One of the inevitabilities of life is that thing change, and that is no different in education. When I envision the classroom of the future, I believe that the physical space and time dedicated to learning will support the self-directed learner. Although this may sound idealistic, I feel as though there will come a point when our schools systems will not be able to deny the necessity of well-equipped, technologically-rich spaces and every educator will have to become equipped to teach the global citizen. I hope to see a classroom where all learners are instantaneously able to navigate through the myriad of information and connect with any expert in any field to support their learning process. However, for this to become a true reality in our schools, we must equip ourselves so that we are teaching the student of today and not the student of twenty years ago.
As I get excited about the student and classroom of the future, I cannot help but stop and consider potential consequences. As a person who loves to become engrossed in books, I worry that as the pace of learning increases, students might lose the desire and stamina to become absolutely absorbed in a good book. Further, I am leery about the quality of information that is available. As Ray Bradbury (1953) acknowledges in Fahrenheit 451, as members of any society, we need to have “quality of information,” “leisure to digest it,” and “the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two”(p. 84-85)). Therefore, I am committed to the following: helping students decipher information that is credible and reliable; teaching them how to process that information; and inspiring them to become responsible participants in the fast-paced world, but always taking time necessary to be introspective about who they are and the role that they play within the global community.
Bradbury, Ray. (1953). Fahrenheit 451. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Dinermeyer, Don. (1961). Understanding Children’s Behavior. The Elementary
School Journal, 61(6), 313-316. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/999885.
Trotter, Robert. (1971). The Ultimate Conclusions of a Mod Behaviorist. Science New,
100:(6), 96-97. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3956351.