Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Teaching Philosophy

It's been a while since I have last written anything...but, I'm currently working toward my Master's (shout out to St. Mary's Teaching & Learning program!) and as a part of the program we're blogging, which I think is outstanding. So, to get back into the swing of things here's my philosophy on teaching...
I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a sophomore in high school, I still have clear memories of sitting in Mr. Litecky’s history class, and knowing that someday I would teach social studies.  Starting in the fall of 2007 I was fortunate to land a job right out of college teaching history to eighth graders, and I have been doing it with great joy ever since.  Teaching truly is my passion and my calling, and I feel incredibly blessed to have the career that I do. Over the years I have continuously worked to hone my skills, and in doing so I have really crystallized my teaching philosophy. Each and every day, in all that I do, I strive to prepare my students for an unknown future in the 21st century. The simple explanation for my teaching philosophy is that it is all about the students. However, I would be very worried if a teacher did not put the students first in their teaching.  For me it’s more than “being all about the students”, the goal is to enthusiastically provide a safe and engaging classroom that allows all of my students to grow, learn, thrive, and prepare themselves for their future.

The safety of my students is one of my main concerns.  If my students do not feel safe in school or in my classroom, then they will undoubtedly struggle to reach their potential.  Therefore we spend a little extra time at the beginning of the year creating a safe and cooperative learning environment.  For meaningful learning to take place students must be comfortable and feel at ease. They learn early on that not only do I care about them, but that my classroom is a place where they are encouraged to take risks, to challenge themselves, to put themselves out on a limb.  Might they fall? Absolutely. However, they also know that stumbling is OK. Much of what we do in my classroom involves working together, and that cannot be done if the environment is not right. Of course, when we’re outside playing capture the flag to simulate the American Revolution, or when dodge balls are coming their way as they duck under desks to examine primary sources as we learn about the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War, I must also consider their physical safety! Regardless, the reality is their safety comes first.

My students are not treated like sponges. They do not sit in my classroom and passively absorb knowledge that they will soon forget.  I firmly believe that students must be engaged in what we are learning, and that they must be challenged.  When students walk through my door on the first day of school many of them assume that my subject, history, is something that will be dull and right out of the textbook.  After all, how could someone possibly interact with and bring to life a subject that ultimately focuses on the past? However, they quickly learn that the class will be anything but boring. Instead of reading about the Constitutional Convention and the debates about what our government should look like, my students assume the roles of delegates at the convention and engage in the debates and form their own government, and we then compare their solutions and answers to the historical reality.  Rather than reading about industrialization, students engage in an assembly line simulation, and at the end of the unit they put people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller on trial to determine whether or not they were robber barons or leaders of industry.

I am a self-proclaimed geek. I wear it as a badge of honor, a badge of honor that I encourage my students to earn and wear as well.  I have a passion for my students, my teaching, and my subject. I also happen to really enjoy technology.  Fortunately for me, and for my students, I am able to combine this passion for teaching with my love of technology.  I am lucky to be in a school that has some of the right tools to help engage and prepare my students for a future where they will be required to problem solve, to think critically, to collaborate, and ultimately to make informed decisions that will impact themselves and the world around them.

For better or worse, whether we like it or not, the world is changing at a rapid pace.  One of the driving forces behind this change is the ubiquity of technology. Cell phones, tablets, computers, portable video cameras, video conferencing, and internet access are just some of the many tools and technologies that our students will need to solve the problems of the future.  With that in mind, I make every effort to advocate for, and include, these tools and technologies in my classroom to engage my students, and to aid them in thinking critically, learning, and collaborating.  Rather than debate the merits of this historical issue or that, we use Skype to connect with another classroom. Rather than having three or four students sit around one computer to write a script for a video, we use Google Docs to have all students collaboratively write the script.  Students are provided with the tools, technology, and instruction that is necessary to engage them and to teach them the knowledge and skills that they will need in the future.

My philosophy for teaching my students has, and will continue, to impact my colleagues. I practice what I preach, I use the same tools I expect my students to use, and I collaborate with other staff. I work with the language arts department to help teach persuasive writing and about Andrew Jackson by having the students write persuasive essays about Jackson and whether or not he was a hero or a villain.  I also share what I’m doing with other staff members, I encourage them to try something new and different, and I seek out advice and ideas from others.  I am not on an island, but rather I work with those around me. It is a joy to not only share my knowledge and skills with my coworkers, but to learn from and with them as well.

Yes, I am and always will be all about the students. To me, being all about the students means providing each and every student with a safe, engaging, and challenging education that teaches collaboration and critical thinking, and that utilizes the tools and technologies of today and tomorrow to ultimately prepare them for an uncertain future.

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