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Teaching Philosophy

The principles that guide my teaching extend beyond this list, but these are the ones that I hold dearest. My college experience at a Perrenial and conservative school taught me to value knowledge and the messy paths we take to discover it. But on the other hand, my liberal teacher training and years in the classroom taught me that knowledge itself isn't important: people are important. My current thoughts about teaching blend these ideas together.

Principle 1: 
People are more important than content.

In fifth grade, Mrs. Burt gave us a story-writing assignment. I can't recall the instructions, but I know that I did not follow them: I submitted a twenty-page epic about sisters who traveled to the North Pole to save Christmas. Mrs. Burt was shocked by the size of it, and she told me that I was a great storyteller. She even helped me enter my story in a local writing contest, and although it wasn't selected as a winner, I kept writing. I don't remember anything else that happened in fifth grade, but I remember this moment because I felt proud, special, capable, seen. The following year, a different story I wrote was selected as a winner in that contest, and it was published in a young writer's anthology. 


School should be filled with memories like these. I don't remember the math formula, the date the treaty was signed, the plot of the book, or how my body turns food into energy...but I remember the moments that made me feel inspired, creative, or confident. As teachers, we become overwhelmed by the "tyranny of the content" and in our attempt to pack in everything deemed "essential" by the powers that be, we forget to make human connections. We forget how a single comment from Mrs. Burt can ignite passion and make a child believe in their own potential. 


This educational principle manifests itself in my classroom in a variety of ways. On a basic level, I believe that teachers should care for and respect students as people. They should celebrate student strengths and successes, no matter how small. We know this makes a difference because, in the adolescent stage of development, everyone feels a bit lost. We all wonder who we should become and what we should devote our time to. We all lack confidence and wonder if we have what it takes to pursue our passions, and we all know how it feels to have a caring adult cheer us on and hold us to higher expectations than we have for ourselves. 


Additionally, students should have agency in their own learning. Classrooms where teachers lecture and students memorize information are outdated for many reasons. One of these reasons is simply that students need instructional variety to cater to their different learning styles, interests, and strengths. Another reason is that it causes a lack of engagement: Shujaa’s concept of “Schooling vs. Education” resonates with me because it classifies “schooling” as students robotically receiving information with little agency, while “education” involves giving students choice in both what and how they learn. This personalization improves student motivation and interest, and teaches students that they are the creators of new knowledge, new innovations, and new products…not just the receivers. When we make students agents in their own learning process, we are no longer teaching just content—we are teaching critical, creative, and thinking skills while simultaneously empowering our students.

Belief 2: 
Skills are more important than content.

As a History major in college, I spent many hours memorizing information, writing it in a blue book, and quickly forgetting everything I’d learned after the test was over. Students do not need to know which of Napoleon’s campaigns were successful; they need to know how to identify the characteristics of nationalistic and imperialistic propaganda. They need to learn how to ask critical questions, discuss ideas, and communicate ideas—because ideas (not facts!) are at the heart of the Humanities curriculum. Students need to understand how ideas grow out of other ideas, react and rage against other ideas, and create movements that shape the world. 


Thus, I believe that teaching students how to interact with ideas is one the most important skills that Humanities teachers can impart. “Interaction” with ideas means that students use information in ways that range from simple to complex (Bloom’s Taxonomy). They might interact with an idea by restating it, by building on it, by stating its pros and cons, by explaining how it caused a certain event or change, by explaining how it could cause a future event or change, by expressing opinions about it based on factual information, by expressing opinions about it from the perspective of someone else…the list of ways to “interact” with an idea goes on and on. The more different ways students interact with information, the deeper and more complex their understanding of it grows. Facts fade from memory after a student leaves school, but the ability to think critically about ideas is a skill that stays, and a skill that helps students become considerate citizens of the world.


That being said, a teacher can have good intentions about asking students to interact with ideas in thoughtful ways, but if students cannot comprehend what they read and express their thoughts in writing, those good intentions are futile. Every student is an English language learner—even the native speakers. Thus, teaching students reading comprehension strategies and writing skills is also essential. Pre-reading strategies, targeted note-taking activities, and practice questioning and responding to texts will help students own the information they consume so they can apply it in the future.


The ability to read, write, and speak in academic English is a form of what Lisa Delpit would call “cultural capital”—these skills are a social currency that allows students to access rigorous school content and that provides a common language to discuss it with peers from around the globe. Perceived intelligence is greatly tied to academic communication ability, and every student deserves the opportunity to master these communication skills that can potentially provide more social power and opportunity. Academic English is a helpful tool, which is why I believe that teachers should incorporate English writing instruction, speaking instruction, and explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies in every class. Not only is it important to show students how to, for instance, pose questions while they read a text, but it is also important to explain why posing questions during reading increases comprehension. When I ask my students to make connections or to recall prior knowledge, I explain how this helps build onto the preexisting semantic networks of information stored in our brains—increasing our ability to remember the new information, to later analyze it, and to synthesize it. The combination of how and why is important in literacy instruction for making it meaningful and ensuring student buy-in. 

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