My personal philosophies on education are eclectic, and I find it difficult, if not impossible to subscribe exclusively to only one school of thought. Working backwards, as I often do my lesson and unit planning, I consider the end goal of a quality education and I believe that it is to develop and nurture our students into capable, moral, intellectual individuals, who can function as ethical and productive citizens in an ever-changing world. When given a problem, they are innovative and can develop a creative solution. When confronted with a challenge, they dedicate time and energy to discovering an answer. When given a response, they can read the subtext to recognize any inherent bias or prejudice. When witnessing oppression in any form, they are not complicit, but morally courageous. Our students must be kind but honest, intelligent but life long learners, confident but open-minded, and strong but just. School is certainly about developing knowledge and skills, but perhaps lacking in many of our institutions today, is the goal of cultivating our students into good people. Good people promote social change and improvement for the betterment of all through critical examinations of themselves, the world we live in and the establishments that make up our world. Schools, as societal institutions, are the ideal place for students to develop under the nurturing care of their educators. Through interactions with diverse people and rich materials, skills and character are developed simultaneously, proving that a quality education has transformative power for individuals, institutions and the world.
A quality education begins with a strong infrastructure which is continuously and comprehensively built upon with regards to both content and skills. Students will repeatedly encounter a core curriculum providing them with an intellectual foundation in the liberal arts, and specifically in English, as communicating effectively is essential to all personal and professional endeavors. This foundation should evolve as students mature, exposing them to more challenging materials, fostering the ability to think critically. Simultaneously, students are encouraged to explore elective areas which are not mandatory, but rather reflect their individual and unique interests. Choice will empower students and give them ownership and passion over their education. They will be active instead of passive learners. After completing a comprehensive liberal arts education, students will have achieved a variety of content and skill related goals: They will be critical and creative thinkers, possess adequate skills in every subject area, be knowledgeable about a range of cultures, and have cultivated areas of personal interest in pursuit of a possible career path. A variety of skills will empower students, revealing that despite a variety of factors, including but not limited to their personal background, socio-economic status, sex, and geographic location, they can pursue anything they choose in life, with determination, perseverance, and hard work and passion.
Teachers have many roles in the classroom-- everything from a coach, to a role model, to a guide, to a mentor, to an observer--sometimes embodying these roles simultaneously. A teacher's most basic role in a classroom is to provide a safe and welcoming environment and to educate all students in the most ethical and unbiased manner as possibly, even if that means putting aside personal values and beliefs. Teachers must ensure that despite controversial information that circulates around all important topics, students are nonetheless adequately informed and inquisitive thinkers, rather than victims of censorship and ultraconservative practices. Teachers are meant to assess students’ individual capabilities, and then encourage, challenge, and intellectually provoke students to question and make sense of the world around them. Fulfilling these instructor duties will help students to develop a sense of self, complete with independently developed morals and values, not ones that are a result of indoctrination and conforming to the dominant society. Teachers should use a variety of instructional methods in the classroom, including discussions, lectures, group work, presentations, technology, role playing, Socratic seminars, authentic projects and assorted class configurations. Lesson should empathize and enforce both real life and literacy skills. Further, teachers must utilize and incorporate different strategies and teaching methods that appeal to all different types of learning preferences, including visual, auditory, read/write and kinesthetic learners. By using different methods, teachers also remain learners, despite their position of authority in the classroom, as there should be continuous reflection on pedagogy and methodology.
My passion for reading and writing as a child, adolescent and young adult led me to this profession, and working with my students has allowed these passions to evolve. My teaching philosophy is rooted in researched best practices and my own experiences as a student and teacher. I adamantly believe that English teachers are a critical part of all educational institutions, as all capable readers and writers have a greater potential to succeed in other subject areas, on any required standardized test, in post-secondary environments and in the workforce. I hope to remain steadfast in my beliefs and goals, rather than blindly adapting to the trending philosophy of the day. However, one thing will never change, and that is my passion for being a life long learner, an educator, an avid reader, writer, and believer in the power of education to be transformative to students and teachers alike.
Below (left): Desks are arranged in rows and students work with partners. Below (right): Students will work in small groups at the round table.
I employ several different techniques to implement an effective classroom management strategy. First, I try and be proactive in that I outline my expectations with students on the first day of classes, regarding guidelines for their behaviors. I also give them an opportunity to contribute to and/or edit our classroom rules if they feel there is an additional tenet that should be recognized.
Upon entering the classroom, all students need to enter into a structured environment on a daily basis, with clear directions in order to focus their attentions. Thus, I begin my classes with a “Do It Now,” or DIN, which is a short activity that introduces students to what we will be studying on a particular day or that is relevant to our on-going studies in class. Examples of DINs include reading a short article from the newspaper that relates to what we are studying in class and answering a few questions regarding a relevant topic. Or, if we are doing a thematic unit on courage, students may answer a question such as “What is courage? Who is the most courageous person you know? Why? Explain.” DINs immediately get students focused and thinking about the issues at hand.
Another classroom management technique that I exercise is having a daily agenda posted in the classroom. An agenda eliminates students’ anxieties about what we will be doing in class and allows them to anticipate our upcoming work, further emphasizing a structured environment. I provide them with a clear outline of what our daily schedule will look like, our objectives, the essential questions that we will cover, and my expectations of what work we can and will accomplish in our class time together.
Another technique that I utilize in my classroom is a general code of behavior with one main tenet: respect. Students must show respect for themselves, their peers and their instructors. Meaningful learning cannot occur in a classroom that does not consist of a community of respectful members. Thus, respect is the foundation of a classroom community where members feel comfortable and strive to collaborate and share.
As of supporter of Brian Mendler, my classroom management philosophies are closely related to the ideas that he promotes. First, I believe in keeping all kids in the classroom so active learning is taking place. When students are removed from the classroom frequently, they are essentially not getting the education to which they are entitled. However, students need to be removed in two cases: when the learning of others is disrupted and/or when physical violence occurs or has the potential to occur.
However, there is a way to ensure that students’ behaviors remain appropriate, and that is through active engagement and interest in the class work. To get and keep them interested, class work involves constantly implementing stimulating work that relates to the students’ lives, such as pop culture, current events, and music. Thus, I teach both ELA and life skills while maintaining their interest. These adjustments will result in fewer behavioral problems because students’ energies are focused on the task at the hand and they are interested and engaged, therefore minimizing potential behavioral problems.
When a student cannot focus, there are several procedures that I use prior to drastic consequences. First, I position myself around the room and am constantly moving around, using nonverbal cues when necessary. Thus, if a student isn’t on task, my presence usually alerts and refocuses him/her. If this method is not successful, I quietly address the student by name and remind him/her of the task and try to direct him/her away from the inappropriate behavior. Finally, if neither of these attempts is successful, a student is asked to leave the classroom. I briefly confer with him/her and issue one final chance to re-join the classroom community. If the student cannot, I ask the student to leave the classroom and meet with an administrator. However, this is a drastic measure that I seek to avoid, as I believe that all students have the potential to be positive contributors to our class community.