When I was a young child, one of my favorite pastimes included arranging my dolls in front of my chalkboard and then teaching my “students” what I had learned in school that day. Typically, my lessons included re-reading books, retelling stories and reiterating strategies for spelling and problem solving. Therefore, many years later, my decision to become an educator seemed like a natural one and after my time in the classroom, I can say that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do. As an educator, I firmly believe that teaching 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. In essence, every encounter with a student presents the possibility of that individual “leaving better and happier.” As a high school English teacher, I enjoy the complexities, challenges and rewards that come with teaching and I love the fact that I have opportunities to personally reflect on, and improve, my practice. 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 every aspect of the learning experience to fit their needs and push them to new heights. As a result of constant reflection, I am able to fulfill my responsibility as a public school educator, which is to utilize aspects of our dominant culture to prepare students to thrive within a global community.
As human beings, we have an innate desire to feel accepted within 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, I asked a very successful teacher what was her secret and her response was something that I remember often. She said, “When I interact with a student, I ask myself, ‘If this were my child, how would I want him or her to be treated?” I often ask myself that same question and my answer helps guide my interactions and responses to students. Consequently, our classroom environment is one that is grounded in respect and acceptance where students are more willing to take risks with their thinking and questions.
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 identities. In a time when we are faced with global crises that require collaborative, authentic and respectful solutions, I want students to realize that they must move beyond following the “Golden Rule,” which encourages egocentrism, to living according the “Platinum Rule,” which is to treat others the way that they want to be treated. In order to do this , students must extend their cultural knowledge to include perspectives beyond their own. The result is respect for, and acceptance of, all human beings–regardless race, religion, values and practices. On the surface, this might seem to be an insurmountable feat to accomplish in the English classroom, but through the examination of literature and other writings, students are able to engage in honest discourse about themselves, their communities, our country and our world.
While the written word is one way to help students develop and explore their global identities, a key medium through which this exploration happens is technology. As a classroom teacher, it is imperative that I capitalize on available resources to support and extend learning. I realize that students today are immersed in technology and the ways in which they learn are different from the way that I learned. Therefore, it is my responsibility to acknowledge cultural norms and teach students the way that they need to be taught. Through various media sources, students are able to hear the voices of people around the world who would otherwise remain distant. So, with the mere click of a mouse, a student in our classroom can hear the voice of a young girl in Nepal who was sold into child slavery or the voice of a 16-year-old boy who shows what it is like to live in Iraq. More than ever, the line from the children’s song rings true: “It’s a small world after all” (Sherman and Sherman, 1964).
As technology and learning have become inextricably woven together, I get excited about the educational landscape, because learning is no longer limited to the physical spaces of the classroom. With instant access to all kinds of information and a myriad of perspectives and interpretations, schools must continue to utilize platforms that allow students to navigate and extend their own inquiries. The teacher’s role is not to inculcate students with facts and knowledge; instead, it is to teach them how to use the information that is available to gain their own perspectives. 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 go beyond consuming information to becoming responsible producers of digital content.
As I continue my work as a public school educator, I would like to help students see our physical and virtual classrooms as equipping spaces where they are able to gain knowledge, skills and strategies to help them be successful individuals, as well as members of a global society. As a student, one of my greatest pleasures was to take a course taught by educational theorist, Maxine Greene in which she reflected that education “at its best is a process of teaching people to explore ideas about themselves and the world in which they live, to ask questions about the experience called living and to embrace ambiguity, to notice the unusual without fear and to look upon the ordinary with new eyes” (Shaw, 2011). I believe that to a large extent, I have embodied Maxine’s philosophy in that I see my purpose as helping students to create the lenses through which they will look at themselves and their world.
Images by Reggina Kailan.
Shaw, R. P., & Rozycki, R. G. (2011, August 18) Synopsis of Maxine Greene’s Educational theory. Retrieved July 07, 2016, from http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Greene.html.
Sherman, R. & Sherman, R. (1964). “It’s A Small World After All. Walt Disney Music Publishing Company.