Start with the heart
Author’s Note: I was a first-year teacher when I wrote the following teaching philosophy nearly a decade and a half ago. With the exception of developments and innovations in educational technology and the environment where I teach, I find this philosophy remains relevant and still guides my teaching practices. I teach with the same ambitious spirit as the novice teacher who wrote these words.
Philosophy of Teaching
Literature and language unite humanity. Literature holds the answers to universal questions, and through writing, we attempt to answer our own uniquely personal questions about humanity. Writing is so much more than verb tense and comma splices. These are the instruments to fine-tune communication. However, before we can fine tune, we must communicate. "We must remember that as a baby grows in its mother's womb, the heart can grow first and all else comes from that. We remember that a heart can grow a skeleton, but a skeleton cannot grow a heart. We start, always, with the heart" (Nelson). On this principle, I teach students to start with the heart. Words, sentences, and clauses--writing is a means of providing a skeleton to expressing their individuality, dreams, and desires so those words can STAND. Self-expression is the essential purpose of writing. In high schools, the size of small towns, and colleges, the size of cities, writing may be the one significant way for students to find community while expressing individualism. I sat in English class when the news of the Columbine murders occurred. America schools were forever changed. I was teaching English when the planes hit the twin towers. I was forever changed. I became aware that my role as a teacher was to help students express fear and anxiety, self-doubt, and issues they couldn't talk about through their writing.
Socrates is attributed to have said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I base my philosophy of teaching literature on this belief. My quest is to help my students examine their own lives by studying literature. Identifying aspects of oneself in Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield is a small step towards self-discovery. Literary analysis should not be taught in a vacuum. It is not enough to identify literary elements. I teach how these elements have irrevocably shaped worldviews. Students attach themselves to stories with which they can identify. Protagonists, with similarities to our students, have a greater impact than those characters with whom the students cannot identify. This is why I advocate including adolescent literature to compliment traditional literature in secondary curricula. I am interested in more ways to teach literature more unconventionally, specifically in cross-curricular thematic units with history concepts and in student-centered literature circles.
My goal is to create lifetime learners, those who independently continue to search for wisdom. I could supply wrought facts and figures but I want my students to be capable of more that identification. I could teach the parts of speech by drilling and drilling, and testing and testing. But, all I have taught then to do is fill in the blank and select the best answer. I have not taught them the beauty and the power of language. Instead, my students process the material at higher cognitive levels because I devise creative ways to present information. As Jim Burke says, I dare my students to "go beyond the obvious." With each activity, I construct, I considered Bloom’s taxonomy and create opportunities to evaluate and analyze material. At the same time, I try to teach from the scaffolding model, which presents a learning environment where students are challenged the challenge is just within their reach. I, the teacher, am the scaffold; I provide the security and as assistance as my students take academic risks.
My personal approach to classroom management is to create as little need for discipline as possible. Keeping students on task, with minimal downtime, creates less opportunity for discipline problems arise. However, when disciple problems do occur, students are treated respectfully. My focus is less on punitive consequences, but rather on changes to abide. Respect and responsibility are the two rules by which I abide and expect my classes to abide. My classroom must be a safe environment where each student may voice his or her ideas, thoughts, and feelings. I take responsibility for my classroom with the knowledge that I am the decisive element in the classroom; I can humor, hurt, or heal.
As a new teacher, and as a fallible human being, I do not expect to have all the answers to all the questions of pedagogy, literature, or life in general. I have some ideas, though. My students have their own ideas, as well. Often, they have ideas and opinions that I have never considered before. William Butler Yeats compared education to a fire. This quote has become my compass. Direction as a teacher is not to supply the answers, but to ignite the student's desire to find his or her fire. As a teacher, I have the unique opportunity to witness the enlightenment of lifetime learners.
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