Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Teaching Philosophy

“An Amalgamation of Styles Intent on Breaking New Ground in the Field of Education”

Just as you cannot see the sun rising in the photo above, so too do many in the field of education not see the great changes that are breaking the horizon. We now live in an era of massive potential and innovation in the course of teaching our children. Philosophical avenues will be opened that will challenge the very foundations of education and may be labeled as being completely absurd. Technology will continue to transform the mediums we use to teach, think, and create. In time, educators and administrators will either need to embrace these challenges, these “absurdities”… or be left behind.

The above statement is intended to be a summation of my teaching perspective in a neat little nutshell. No where in these statements do I state exactly how these innovations will transpire and, in many ways, I only have small clues at this point of how this will happen. But there is one thing that is certain – I am determined to join the pioneers in these phenomenal changes and to do my part - for the sake of our children. Here are a few of my ideas.

Starting With the Basics

Essentialism, one of the five approaches to teaching, attempts to keep things the way they have always been in the American education system. The Anglo-Saxon core-standards base of this philosophy is rather outdated and for those who still advocate it, in my opinion they are akin to the residual product of the centuries-old patriarchy that has ruled this country. Times have changed. What has worked for centuries is no longer effective. It is time to step down.

The latest product of essentialism comes from our past president George W. Bush. He still believes in essentialism, which guided him to create our current mandated No Child Left Behind policy. In many ways this policy has been ineffective and I believe the reason for this is that this approach is outdated and lacks pragmatism. In my philosophy I would take a few of his ideas and use them as a foundation from which to build a new approach. Rather than scrapping the entire program, let us glean what we can from it.   

The Classic Approach

The perennial approach, although a brother of essentialism, has a couple aspects that I think are useful, one in particular being very essential. Studying the Great Books does give students the opportunity to learn some of the underlying timeless themes about humanity, although I think we need to find books that fit the context of this day and age. War and Peace is ridiculously long and The Iliad is far too complex. Students will never stick with these sources of literature because they are too challenging and will not hold their interest. I do firmly believe that consistently reading books and other publications is critical for lifelong learning and this ideal will be embraced in my teaching philosophy.

The most critical aspect of perennialism that I firmly believe students need is the teaching of values and moral principles. I see this country as a whole heading in the wrong direction with its extreme egocentrism, disrespect of others and their property, and the phasing out of professionalism. All of these traits – including lying, cheating, and even the slavery of consumerism – stem from undeveloped, immature values and moral principles. I will be finding any way that I can to weave values and moral principles into my teaching approach. Students are our future. The pathways of their minds and how they act upon their thoughts will shape the continued direction of our American and global societies.

Student-Centered Approaches

Progressivism, Social Reconstructionism, and Existentialism are more oriented towards the student. It is within these three realms that I intend to forge the core of my teaching philosophy. The progressivists have a wonderful focus on pragmatism which essentially means that if an idea works in the real world than it has merit. One of the greatest disconnects that I see students struggling with is that they do not see how the things they are expected to learn are going to be useful after they graduate. And, I must admit, I agree with them.

Our current system tends to push the essentialist agenda and assert the reasoning that this approach is the best way to learn. In some ways, as well, hands are tied with the state testing. Outside of reflecting school performance, students do not see any real tangible motivations for them to do well in school. Let’s face it – what kid really gives a crap about the statistical testing results of a school? Progressivism moves away from this ineffective approach and builds “the curriculum around the experiences, interests, and abilities of students, and encourage[s] students to work together cooperatively.” (Sadker, 255) I like this aspect of progressivism.

Many of the deepest and most concerning issues that our society faces are centered around racism and sexism. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these topics when they have such a heavy impact on our daily lives. I think to a large degree the social injustices and inequalities that occur in this country stem from a simple lack of education. Teachers and leaders alike are shying away from the hot-button issues because they are either afraid to breech the subjects or their school administrations/parent organizations will not allow certain curriculum to be taught in the classroom. I believe that when students are given opportunities to create projects around race and sex issues they gain an understanding and empathy for the people who have been negatively affected by society as a whole. This makes them better citizens and neighbors. 

Existentialism, the fifth philosophy, is the most challenging approach to tackle. When I first heard about students not studying if they chose not to or that the school’s central role is to provide students with options and choices, I balked at the ideas. But, in hindsight, I believe that this approach has the most potential even though it may be the most rejected. I also believe that pioneers create seemingly absurd ideas that later on make sense to everyone once they have been fully implemented. Existentialism is so far removed from our current teaching approaches that, for the most part, it is alienated and written off as absurd or irresponsible. I intend to research this approach more thoroughly, as I feel it is on the cutting edge of the education field. It is within the “cutting edge” that I intend to forge the core of my teaching philosophy.

Oh, the Traditional Methods

Teachers, as we already know, have been the single driving force in our educational system since its inception. Standing before their students, they bird-fed their pupils the knowledge they believed advanced their learning and give students the edge they needed to survive in the world. Children were expected to sit straight in their seats, face forward, and recite the daily lessons. This teacher-centered approach worked well in an Industrial Age classroom as it produced smarter and more productive workers. This is not to say that certain aspects of the 20th century classroom cannot be utilized today, because they can. The seating arrangements of the classroom need not be in strict rows, but I do believe that the teacher should be a strong focus in the learning process. Teachers possess the knowledge and the processes required to achieve comprehension and application of the academic material. These skills are imparted to the students so that they can “take the torch” and run with the knowledge as they see fit. Our students are the next generation of teachers.

When it comes to assessing student performance, the age-old methods of testing are quickly proving themselves ineffective. It is a shame that our government bureaucracy is consumed with outdated modes of assessment, but I look at it as a starting point. We live in a society that wants tangible results and testing gives them something on paper to shake in the face of progress. The problem is, standard testing no longer works. I believe that in time the alphabet grading system also will be phased out.

We are beginning to see some fundamental changes with teachers promoting digital portfolios as a means of assessment. The portfolios allow students to use any technology or any medium they choose to flesh out who they are, what they know, and all that they have learned. Portfolios are a great start, but the question still remains – how can we accurately assess student performance without having them sit at a desk and regurgitate test questions?

I would assert that the best way for students to be assessed would be to have them show us what they have learned. Projects and presentations are great ways of accomplishing this goal. It gives students the opportunity to reveal how they can apply their acquired knowledge in the real world. This is one of the biggest issues with students, in that they fail to see the value of the curriculum, and using a perfromance as an assessment tool tears down this enduring barrier. As I move forward in my journey to become a teacher, I hope to have a better, more tangible idea of how to accomplish all of my ideas.

Our children need us to be bold and stand up against the status quo. The time for major change has arrived….

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