My Philosophy of Teaching
Throughout my life, I have benefited from the guidance, encouragement, and compassion of teachers. Like many who teach, my teachers’ passion for education and the well-being of their students led me to the field of education. As I have studied and explored the many pedagogies that come in and out of fashion in the world of education, two have greatly informed my theory of instruction because they reflect what I saw my cherished teachers do and because they provide me with the foundational skills and attitudes that carry me forward in my studies. I believe a combination of an engaged pedagogy and a social-epistemic pedagogy has the potential to create dynamic, collaborative classrooms that encourage inquiry, creativity, and empathy in students as they explore and develop their literacy and compositional skills.
William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
This quote is the focus of my teaching philosophy.
I believe students come to my classroom with their own brand of genius, eager to discover what they can accomplish with it. My job is to apply the spark. I ignite my students’ potential by:
- fostering a safe environment in which to experiment and explore;
- allowing students to guide their own learning through goal setting and choice whenever possible; and
- by modeling, scaffolding, and encouraging the skills students need to become life-long learners.
The most important thing a teacher can do, especially in the early days of the school year, is building a mutually respectful, honest rapport with students based on open communication, an empathetic attitude, and an ethical, democratic classroom routine. I take a holistic approach to classroom management. I ask my students to identify what is most important to them and what they want to achieve, both in my class and in life generally. We work collaboratively to establish behavior rules and routines, and I model these behaviors for my students; together we ensure that the learning environment is safe and supportive.
I believe in utilizing parents, faculty, and community members to support student journeys, to encourage exploration and hard work, and to reinforce expectations for both behavior and future achievements. I accomplish this through regular communication via one-on-one student mentoring sessions, weekly updates to a class website, and a monthly newsletter published mostly by the students. Whenever possible, parents and community members are invited into the classroom to share their expertise and to support classroom activities. Students are encouraged to monitor their own behavior and progress and to make adjustments as necessary with the support of myself, their family, and the school.
I foster personal growth in my students by acting as both a facilitator and a delegator. I believe it is my responsibility to assist students in their learning by empowering them through choice and autonomy. Everyone’s learning journey is different. Through personal goal setting, regular open communication, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and specific feedback I can assist my students with their individual needs as they grow and develop into mature, capable members of society.
Instruction using an engaged social-epistemic pedagogy requires the teacher to step away from an authoritarian role and become a co-inquirer with their students. I become a catalyst for student collaboration, a facilitator of differentiation and scaffolding, and a model of critical thinking.
As Mina Shaughnessy, one of the definers of modern basic pedagogy, stated in Errors and Expectations, “Few people, even the most accomplished of writers, would say that they always write as well as they can. Writing is something writers are always learning to do.”
Sharing my writing process, my challenges and successes, with students places me in the role of teacher closer to the level of my students and models the process of writing and life-long learning for them. From this vantage, I can keep students engaged in learning by providing high-interest topics to explore, by catering to their specific learning needs, and by fostering a learning environment in which it is safe to ask questions, challenge the status quo, try and fail, and try again. My willingness to be self-reflective and to investigate formative influences in my own life and the development of my perspective alongside my students provides a model of life-long learning and critical thinking while also encouraging engagement and self-expression. My students need to see that I am constantly learning and growing, too; that, like them, I collaborate with peers, read and explore new ideas, try new techniques (some of which work and some of which don’t), and that failure is only a step towards success.
My engaged social-epistemic pedagogy aligns closely with bell hooks’ engaged pedagogy and Nel Noddings’ ethics of care and education in that we believe teachers “create a climate for optimal learning” by understanding “the level of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence in the classroom.” Students learn best when they feel seen and understood. Also, in alignment with bell hooks is my belief that not all minds work the same way. Within any group of students, there will be a variety of strengths, challenges, and interests, and teaching approaches that need to be similarly varied to keep learners engaged. One of the main focuses of the bell hooks engaged pedagogy is the establishment of a safe environment in which students can express themselves and collaborate. Regardless of sociocultural background or educational experience, the expectation within the classroom is one of collegiate support and respect. All writing is acknowledged as an expression of personal perspective and individual knowledge; within the classroom, that experience is recognized and appreciated.
One of the most satisfying aspects of teaching is learning from the students. Finding opportunities for students to share their unique experiences, insights, and talents, not just with me but with their peers, their families, and their community is one of my personal goals. Language Arts isn’t just about reading dusty old novels and writing dry essays. Language Arts is about the power of words, of communication and presentation. I want my students to find their voices and share their abilities with as wide an audience as possible. I accomplish this through regular communication and goal setting with students, learning and practicing real-world application of skills within the classroom, and project-based learning that requires collaboration, both with peers and with members of the community.
In choosing to become a teacher, I made the commitment to myself and my students to always strive for excellence, to learn and grow continually, and to honestly and ethically work towards the best learning experience I can provide. I approach teaching with an open mind and an open heart. I look forward to the adventure that each new day brings.