August 27th, 2008

My Philosophy of Teaching


I believe a good teacher, first, has a powerful faith in the future. Like the forester planting an oak seedling knowing he or she will never see the tree in all its glory, I know I may never see the fruits of my labors as teacher. My calling is to plant and nurture seeds that will grow and shape tomorrow.

The good teacher knows and understands students, how they develop and learn. I know that students actively construct and transform their own knowledge based on past experiences and prior learning. I know that students do not all learn in the same way or at the same rate. I believe it is my responsibility as a teacher to be an effective diagnostician of students’ interests, abilities, and prior knowledge. I must then plan learning experiences that will both challenge and allow every student to think and grow.

I believe a good teacher must also understand motivation and the effects of peer interactions on learning. I want all my students to achieve at high levels, so I avoid sorting them and setting them up to compete with each other. I know most learning happens through social interaction; therefore, I structure learning so that students productively collaborate and cooperate with each other the vast majority of class time.

The good teacher must know her subjects and how to help students learn those subjects. I know the good teacher must have a deep appreciation of how knowledge is created in the discipline, how it is organized and how it is linked to other disciplines. I use my knowledge of the discipline to expose my students to modes of critical thinking, encouraging them to analyze, apply, synthesize, and evaluate all they read and hear. I love the subjects I teach, and I know how to make them come alive for my students.

A good teacher cannot begin or continue to inspire learning without being a learner. The good teacher must constantly learn what is new in the discipline. In fact, the good teacher often helps to create new knowledge. To live this belief, I must continuously examine my teaching methods and find new ones. To remain connected to my students, their lives and the schools in which they will practice their professions, I must be a student of society and the constantly changing worlds in which students live. I eagerly and willingly learn from my students as they learn with me.

I believe a teacher is the most powerful of role models. I am ever aware of the awesome obligation I have to “walk my talk” with my students. If I ask them to live their values and beliefs, I must do the same. I expect the best — of myself and others — and, therefore, I usually get the best. I try to treat all people with dignity and respect, and I expect my students to do so also.

Despite writing a teaching philosophy, I really prefer to think about learning and helping others learn as opposed to teaching. I believe many of us have come to accept a working definition that teaching means giving information, which I believe is only the beginning of teaching and certainly only a small part of learning. When one gives information, it is so easy to equate learning with the memorization of that information. Memorization is not always learning because learning requires thinking. I am beginning to understand that the teacher’s greatest gift to the learner is helping the learner be motivated to think, and then to want to learn more.

I believe in the power of questions and questioning strategies to cause thinking. I constantly try to ask questions for which there are no “right” answers. I constantly work to become a better “questioner” for the effective use of questions is the most powerful strategy a teacher has to help students learn.

Finally, I believe a teacher lives to serve. A teacher is dedicated to learning, to his or her discipline, to his or her students, and to making the future the best possible place for all of us to live. These are the challenges I accepted when I chose to be a teacher. I remain committed to them.