Recently, I was asked to write up my philosophy of education. I hadn't done this since my college days. (You know, before I knew anything about teaching!) Needless to say, a few things have changed about my philosophy.
To structure my philosophy, I used the three messages on my classroom podium, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Those messages were created by my wife, who has them in her classroom as well. (I'm a copycat.)
So here is my philosophy of teaching. Hopefully, it will reinforce in your mind what an important job we have as teachers!
Across my plain, wooden podium are three bright-yellow signs with bolded messages: “You matter. Education matters. What we do in this classroom matters.” These three seemingly-simple sentences that I stand behind each day (literally and figuratively) sum up my entire philosophy of teaching. They also serve as my message to students and other professionals.
“You matter.” Ten years into my teaching career, I thought I had everything figured out. My lessons were precise, my units organized, and my objectives clear. But then my whole structure was shaken to the core: I received the devastating news that one of my students—a smart and talented young lady—had made the choice to end her life. All of a sudden it didn’t matter what lesson I had been teaching the previous day or whether or not she had mastered the lesson objectives. All that mattered to me was whether or not I communicated to her that she truly mattered. From that day forward my teaching changed: First and foremost, each student must know that he or she matters. To encourage my students, I began to write each student an individual, inspirational note—one at Christmas Break and one at the end of the school year—telling them something positive about themselves (a practice I continue to this day). According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, until students can feel a sense of love and belonging in the classroom, it is impossible for them to self-actualize and achieve their full potential. To address this need, I design my lessons to encourage students to find that special spark within themselves and then use that spark to make the world a better place. Feeling a part of something larger than oneself is also one of life’s most basic needs, leading to positive self-esteem, so I foster a sense of community in my classroom. Each student must feel a sense of worth and belonging.
“Education matters.” My students live in an environment which in many ways affords them little opportunity. Far away from the amenities of a larger city, our county has few careers, few stores, and few places for positive recreation. Many students have no positive role models in the home, and they wryly observe that everyone they know is a “druggy” or “tweaker.” Everything in their lives seems to have bred them for failure. But one lifeline is afforded to every American child: a free, public education. As a teacher, a custodian of that vital right, I see it as my duty to provide every student with a world-class education—one not limited by location. In fact, the rural setting, for all the amenities it lacks, holds a powerful benefit: the setting itself. Local culture is a teaching tool that I use daily to engage my students. While I educate them about the world, I also show them the value of what is in their backyard. Using every creative method I can, I teach them the skills that can take them anywhere—to the biggest and brightest cities in the world—or back to their hometown to make it a better place. Equipped with education no one is trapped or limited: The choice is theirs.
“What we do in this classroom matters.” Some teachers drag themselves to school, spend the day going through the motions, and head home with the appropriate boxes checked. Many students do the same from their own side of things—rushing through homework, passing by a hair, never caring. When students step into my classroom, I want them to know there is an expectation: Every day we are going to learn. We learned yesterday, we will learn today, and, you guessed it, we will learn tomorrow. I don’t want just to pass them; I want to prepare them. Learning will not be stale. It will be fresh and invigorating. It will challenge and empower. Then the students, finding enjoyment in learning, will themselves sustain the expectation. As William Glasser notes in his behavioral studies, when instruction is compelling and appealing, students will learn voluntarily. Free choice inspired by engagement, rather than enforcement and coercion, is the key to creating a love of learning.
Teachers may think they cannot control what happens outside their classroom, but 150 lives are molded in my classroom each day. What happens between my four walls will radiate out into the world—student by student. So I stand on my three mottos. If I can get them across, I can change the world.