Developing a teaching philosophy is an important step for a teacher in their journey through education. Being a second year teacher, I am still working on my philosophy, and I doubt I will ever be able to concretely say, “this is my philosophy and it will not change”. But I do see it taking shape.
First of all, I believe learning occurs throughout life, in everything we do. I believe that we are born without knowledge (I’m not sure if I really believe playing music into the womb develops anything, but I won’t rule it out). Every second of every day, we absorb knowledge, good and bad. As a baby, we learn from experience (baby cries=mom comes to her), modeling (when baby smiles, mom smiles), and practice (the repetition of learning to walk). This continues throughout our lives- we learn constantly, good or bad, until the day we die. We learn a lot of things on our own (touch hot stove, won’t do that again!), by watching others (just about everything my sister did, I watched and did it too), and by being taught (tying my shoe). Of course, physical and mental limitations in few can slow down or hinder the process.
The core of my teaching philosophy stems from my special education background. As a special education teacher, I believe with all my heart that every child can learn. Every child has the ability inside them to grow and advance. Some may learn more than others and in different ways, but all can learn and should be treated with the respect and with an open heart. While this differs a lot from Quintillian’s beliefs, I thought of my students when I read that he believed in recognizing a student’s differences.
As a self contained SPED teacher, I have small groups of students than a typical general education classroom. This allows me to do what I love- develop a relationship with my students based on respect, fun, and a want to succeed. My classroom is very interactive, and always in small groups or one-on-one. I believe in individualized teaching to each of my student’s strengths. We constantly use manipulatives and real-life experiences (like Montessori). I plan my lessons to be short and mobile, with stations so students move around the room. I tell my students that we all have bad days, but no matter what they do and what kind of day they have, I will be their cheerleader, on and off the “field” until they graduate to fourth grade. And I follow through with that and show them. I believe in rewarding positive behavior, but showing that there are consequences to bad behavior. Did I mention already that I believe learning should be fun, whenever possible? I am believe, whole heartedly, that it’s okay to make a complete fool of yourself, if it makes your student learn, want to learn, or at least want to come to your room.
Like Jane Addams, I believe that teachers should understand how the world around you affects your students. Finances, demographics, and family trends greatly affect not only the motivation of your student, but also how they learn. I know that some of my students have issues at home- no money for food and clothes, parents who either work at night or do not have the educational background to support their studies. A teacher needs to be sensitive to the life they have outside of school when developing a relationship with the student, as well as when you are planning a lesson plan (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011).
I believe that the modern day teacher should teach more than just academics. The teacher should also help teach the student valuable social skills. Whether it’s showing the children how they are expected to sit and eat their lunch or encouraging manners such as “thank you” and “your welcome”.
I teach the way I teach because these kids need someone to believe in them. They need a cheerleader in their life, and they deserve to have their teacher believe in them. They deserve to learn what everyone else is taught, but not necessarily the way the other kids learn. I teach this way because I care, and because I truly believe that for my students right now, at this time, it is what is best for them.
As a SPED teacher, my life seems full of goals. Each of my students have an IEP full of goals that I must, by law, work on. But I like to think of their IEP goals as a minimum. Just because they don’t have another goal doesn’t mean we can’t work on it. My personal goal for my students is to have them leave me a better person with more insight and skills than when they came. My goals for myself when teaching is to learn as much as I can from the other teachers around me. I am fortunate enough to have many wonderful special education and general education teachers at my school who are open to sharing their experiences. My goal, this year, is to become more of a leader in my school, by volunteering for more committees and by being more of a mentor to the newer teachers.
We live in a Standards of Living world, and in education today, these tests tell us if we taught our kids well enough. In the special education world, I believe this is not a good assessment of learning. I could go on and on about my feelings about SOLS (good and bad) but I can’t assess my student based on whether or not he passed one test, on one given day. A student who gets a 398 is not a failure. I like to measure learning by two things: 1.) Can the student take their knowledge into the real world and use it (or build upon it)? This can be seen through observation and in-class testing. 2.) Did the student leave you knowing more than they did when they walked in? If I have a student who reads at the beginning first grade level, he’s probably not going to pass the SOL. He’s probably not going to read at a fourth grade level by next year. But if I can help him read at a late 2nd grade level- wow, that’s learning!
I create an inclusive learning environment in every step of every day. My students know we are a family, and that I am their cheerleader. Our motto is” Manage yourself so that you and others can learn”. We work on learning respect and how to manage emotions so that all can learn and be happy. And I foster their time in their homerooms so they develop relationships with kids outside of our small room. The way we do our work (small groups and one-on-one, stations, etc.) helps each child learn in the way that is best for them.
Technology is an area that I would like to become more involved with, when teaching my students. In the past, I have seen the benefits to using an interactive board with my students- letting them be more hands-on in the lessons. This is especially good for students who have a hard time paying attention. I’d like to use more technology in my teaching, to keep their attention better and to keep up with the constant advancements. Google Earth is something I am using this year, for the first time, to teach about the earth, explorers, etc. My kids have loved it, so far! I am also reading a book on literacy stations- I am interested in finding more ways to have my students help teach themselves and each other while I work with individuals. Lastly, I am interesting in learning more about the EPI method of teaching language arts. A speech therapist at my school has promoted it and I really want to try it out on my students.
The United States is a leader in the world. And good or bad, everything we do is analyzed and scrutinized. What we do impacts other countries, especially when our teachers are being asked to teach at schools in other countries. I have a friend who is a special education teacher who is teaching in a country in Asia. Without a doubt, her American ways of teaching will rub off on those around her, while she also learns from them. However, not everything we do is the leader. There are a lot of other countries who are bring up productive, highly educated students, and it is important for us to study them, as well, to see what we can do for our children. For instance, Finland’s students do not use standardized tests, school isn’t mandatory until they are 7, and have a national goal to mainstream all students. The teachers are paid better and the public spends less per student than we do. And Finland’s beating us in almost every area- their kids are ranked (in the world) 2nd in science, third in reading, and sixth in math. And 93% of their students graduate high school! Before you ask it- they have lots of immigrants coming in, not speaking their language. They have plenty of low income kids (Hancock, 2011). We need to see what they are doing, and figure out if any of it would work for us. If you’d like to read an article on Finland’s schools (and don’t have Smithsonian magazine), go to: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html. (I tried to do a clickable link, haven’t figure this one out yet).
Hancock, L. (2011). A+ for Finland. Smithsonian, Sept., 94-100.
Ornstein, A.C., Levine, D.U. & Gutek, G.L. (2011). Pioneers of teaching and learning. Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
(would love to give you page #’s of the chapter I used in Ornstein, but my kindle doesn’t have page numbers showing)
I pledge. H. C.