A Work in Progress – My Teaching Philosophy

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.



  1. not my entire philosophy (though you have nudged me to write that up in a blog post some day soon) but here’s one thought for me:

    I did well as a physics major. However, I didn’t really understand physics until grad school. I teach to try to not have that happen to others.

    It’s very me-centric, I recognize, but I know it informs a lot of what I do when thinking about how to help someone else learn something. A lot of that centers around big ideas that I didn’t really grasp while performing well “in the trees” as an undergraduate.

    1. As always Andy, you speak the truth. I didn’t learn 1st year physics until I had to use it second year, and second year only came to me during third year, etc. Sadly, I thought I really got it at the time. I think your statement is a great one and a good teacher needs to address this aspect. We can’t let students move forward thinking they understand physics because they can solve equations.

      I’m looking forward to reading your philosophy.

  2. Brian, I really like this—and I particularly like the point about helping students to realize they don’t need the teacher. I’m going to dust my statement off and publish it tomorrow. Tweet this out tomorrow to remind me just in case I forget.

  3. Thanks a lot for putting into words some of the thoughts I try to express in mine. Additionally, It’s nice to know the promise made to us last spring that, “philosophy of education will be the most important course we take” might actually lend some credence.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to summarize my own. As someone who’s worked in informal education and is now moving to the classroom it will be interesting to see how it changes as I do my student teaching this year. http://reasonoverauthority.squarespace.com/content/2011/8/26/reason-over-authority-or-this-i-believe.html?SSScrollPosition=0

  4. [The anecdote below is a happy outcome of Modeling Instruction: students realize that they don’t need you. I received it on May 18, 2011 from Jim Burrow, a 33-year veteran physics, chemistry, and engineering teacher in rural Page, Arizona — way up north near the Utah border, Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam. Jim took the mechanics Modeling Workshop in 2008. Jim gave permission to forward this to others. — Jane Jackson, Co-Director, Modeling Instruction Pgm, Arizona State University.]

    I need to share a modeling success story. Rich McNamara and Kelli Gamez Warble told us in their modeling course of a highly skilled and respected modeler who tells his students that his job is make himself “obsolete” by the end of the year. I have adopted the same philosophical goal with my teaching as well. It’s a lofty and worthy goal that will make me stretch, but is it attainable for others?

    I now tell you – It is! I was late about 10 minutes to my first period class because of an office meeting. I walked in the back of the room and froze. The class was a sophomore Chemistry class (not physics) reviewing stoichiometry and the students had picked up right where we left off the day before. One student was acting as moderator. Teams had white boards. They had created their own review problem and posted it on the front board. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience.  The student moderator asked the class to raise their boards and prompted them to look for similarities and differences! They proceeded to critique their own and others’ work!!!

    I ducked next door without being noticed. I grabbed my colleague and a flip cam. We went back and eavesdropped for a moment. Then I entered and shot a short video clip, trying not to interrupt their flow, and when they finished praised them for showing me that I’m “obsolete.” I shared with them the fact that they had taken a huge jump toward becoming life-long learners independent of the quality of the “teaching” they received. They were mastering critical analysis for themselves.

    I didn’t stop there. Of course my colleague with whom I’ve been sharing modeling techniques all year was impressed to see this. He could hardly believe at first that this wasn’t staged but immediately recognized the significance of the moment.  I shared the clip with my other colleagues. Each one was impressed as well.

    Later I shared the clip with my principal. He said, “Is this Inquiry?” I said yes -in part, and modeling, and lifelong learning, and critical thinking. It’s all there! I didn’t stage this – they did it on their own! He was impressed nearly to speechlessness.

    I never really expected to become “obsolete” myself. I don’t regard myself a super-skilled practitioner. I’m just a mature teacher polishing up new tricks. My students are no brighter or slower than anyone else’s. I must have been consistent in my modeling approach through the year to the point that my students internalized the collaborative processes and critical analysis skills and are now taking responsibility for their own learning. No other explanation makes sense to me. I can’t wait to see it happen again – maybe next year!

    It really was a professional high point in my career. Rich and Kelli and the other modeling instructors, regardless of content area, deserve the credit.

  5. I am looking forward to learning modeling instruction and bring it back to the Philippines in my own classroom and see my students learn and love physics not only for the sake of passing the subject.

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