I’m mentoring a new teacher to our school this year and he recently asked me about my teaching philosophy. Our school’s website has these snazzy little bios about each of us that include a picture, contact info, a snippet from our teaching philosophy and a fun fact about ourselves. (Looking at mine, I really need to find something fun to do in my life.) In order to prep his, the teacher I’m mentoring hoped to read over mine to get an idea of what one should look like. And I’m afraid I may have failed him. My teaching philosophy is small and still a work in progress, so I’m not sure how helpful it was.
See, when I started teaching many moons ago, I didn’t know squat about instructional methods, pedagogy or assessment. So when writing my first teaching philosophy, I filled it with edujargon and things that I thought teachers were supposed to say. Looking back at it, I cringe and wonder why my current school ever decided to hire me. I’ll spare you from reading my thoughts on Socratic dialogue and “knowing your audience” (I can’t believe I wrote that). Hidden under all of that jargon though lurked a single thought about teaching that drove me. I think I was too embarrassed at first by its simplicity to share it, and once I ultimately chose to share it, I would downplay it by joking about it. Here was the sum total of my thoughts on teaching physics circa 2002-2007:
I love physics. I will do anything in my power to get more people to learn physics so that I have more people to talk to about physics.
That was it. I’m not sure how I used this to inform my classroom structure or grading scheme, but it was something I honestly felt. Looking at it now, the statement is incredibly self-centered which was probably reflective of the approach I took to teaching my classes at the time – me at the front of the room putting on a show. Thankfully, for my students, I’ve learned some since then.
A year ago, our head challenged us all to articulate our philosophy surrounding our practice and to reflect on it during some summer professional development work. Having taught using modeling instruction for two years and spent my first few months online reading teacher’s blogs, I took a stab at revising mine. It’s not much longer, but here, in unedited form, is what I came up with:
- Science is something that must be done by students. Reading about it will not suffice. Science is an activity, not a topic. (Ex. Modeling Instruction)
- Everybody can learn physics. Physics is often seen as the first gate class which admits smart kids but keeps dumb ones out. This is a damaging view to the students and the subject.
- Students should always know exactly where they stand at all times. This requires timely, descriptive feedback that is not obfuscated by points. Additionally, they should know exactly what you want them to learn. (Ex. SBG grading)
- It is my job to make my students realize that they don’t need me. They are capable of learning about the world around them and how it works on their own. (Ex. being less helpful, confidence)
- Let students push beyond the bounds of your set goals and when they do, reward them.
- Technology must be an appropriate part of the classroom, as it is a part of the students’ lives. (Ex. electronic book, LabPro and many more)
Obviously, it still needs some work. I’ve started to include examples of how I incorporate these ideas and you can clearly see the influence of some of the superheroes of the edublogoverse. I’m not entirely happy with the technology one, especially the examples, but I felt it was important to address it. Tech is not the answer to all of educations problems but it can be a powerful tool for learning at appropriate times. Additionally, I now note that there isn’t anything addressing gender or specifically teaching girls. I need to think about why I didn’t address that. Ultimately, each of the above ideas needs some expansion and discussion, but I wanted to get at the core thoughts I’d developed in recent years.
I shared the above with my mentee and I’m waiting to hear back from him. I’m eager to see what he comes up with as a new teacher more firmly entrenched in this new century and the current educational climate in the country. Until then, I’d love to see what others have written, so if you care to share yours, be sure to leave a link here.