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I Don’t Even Know Why I Teach: Defining My Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

This coming school year will be my 20th as a teacher. Wow. I came to education in a very unconventional way. I was a psychology major at A & M, and I had my sites firmly set on a degree in psychology which I would then use to become an FBI profiler (I was heavily influenced by Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs– the book, not the movie). With two years of psych under my belt, I was forced to change my major because of a GPA roadblock called Statistics for Psychology that brought my overall average down to the point where the psych department thought that a degree in psychology wasn’t for me.

What now?

I changed my major to English, and I pretty much haven’t looked back, although I do watch the Discovery ID channel religiously, and I’m convinced I would have been a great profiler.

I didn’t pursue an education degree. I got an English degree, all the while substitute teaching for extra money, and then entered the alternative certification program in my area. So I didn’t student teach or any of that. I’m convinced my years as a sub are the trials by fire that shaped my rock solid classroom management style. 🙂

Since I didn’t go the traditional route, I never had to write that paper outlining my teaching philosophy. I had never even heard of that until I saw it on Pinterest a few years ago. In the interest of self-reflection and evaluation, I decided it was high time that I establish for myself exactly what my philosophy is. I liked this article from Thought Co. the best because it asks you questions, and as you answer, you are defining your philosophy.

Here we go!

What do you see is the grander purpose of education in a society and community?

Hmmm… Well, I think that the purpose of an education is to create a knowledge base that allows students to become productive members of a society. School is a place to discover strengths, weaknesses, and passions that define how a person can best live their lives. It should give students the necessary tools to operate within in society in a manner that benefits both them and their community. For example, if a student realizes in middle school that they enjoy learning more about a subject like civil rights, or geometric principles, or biological discoveries, they can begin to explore those interests and possibly use them to direct their choice of employment. All the while they are learning social interaction and communication skills that can assist them in pursuing their choices. They are also discovering weaknesses and learning to compensate for them in a variety of ways.

What, specifically, is the role of the teacher in the classroom?

I believe that the teacher has a multitude of roles that must be fulfilled in the classroom. They should be the guide, the leader, the counselor, the taskmaster, the encourager, the grace-giver, and the voice of reason. Sometimes all of the these roles are needed within one class period. In short, a teacher should strive to have students leave class every day better than when they arrived. Some days they might leave with more knowledge, others they will have gained self-esteem, empathy, self-discipline, or confidence in their own voice.

How do you believe students learn best?

I firmly believe that every student learns differently, but the best thing that I can give all of them is consistency. I think students need a classroom environment that supports them, but is also a place where they know what the expectations are. I think teachers need to set them, and stick with them faithfully, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. On my end of the year evaluations from students in my first years of teaching, students used to say that I played favorites. I began to examine my classroom behavior and policies because I didn’t think I did that. However, we all know that perception is reality, so I needed to figure out what I was doing that made them feel this way because I knew it could affect their ability to learn from me. I began establishing procedures and expectations very early on, and the students knew that they rules were the rules for everyone all the time. In the past few years, I have not heard this complaint, and I hope that I never do again.

In general, what are your goals for your students?

I think my goals for them align with my expectations for myself- they should leave better than when they arrived. I want them to be more confident learners, more empathetic, with a more worldly view. I want them to be able to approach any new experience with the knowledge that they can figure it out and be successful.

What qualities do you believe an effective teacher should have?

An effective teacher should be knowledgeable, but not a know-it-all. They should be fair, kind, merciful, and have high expectations.

Do you believe that all students can learn?

Yes. Unequivocally, yes. Do I think I have always managed to teach every student? No, unfortunately I don’t. The student’s ability to learn is less in question than my ability to find a way to teach them.

What do teachers owe their students?

They owe them commitment. Every teacher should be committed to reaching and teaching each student in every class.

What is your overall goal as a teacher?

I always tell my students that they may not like me this year, but my hope is that, in five years, they will look back and be able to say they were glad they had my class because it prepared them for the future they wanted for themselves.

Whew! Self-examination is HARD! Sometimes learning things about yourself is not pleasant, but I’m glad I sat down and did this. I need to hang it on the wall or something so that I can strive to be the teacher I want to be every single day.