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I have been going through the accumulations of 18 years of teaching and 67 years of life, purging what can be discarded and occasionally discovering things that I had forgotten.

I still had all my papers, notes, tests, etc. as back as taking AP US Government 50 years ago.

I encountered a paper written at the conclusion of my Methods of Teaching course, written in December of 1994, just before I began my student teaching.   I reread it and realized that much of what I thought about teaching as I embarked in my new career has remained constant, even over the better part of two decades.

I also realize that I was a far better writer than I realized.

I no longer seem to have a copy of this electronically.

I am including the ENTIRE paper below the cheese-doodle.  In the frs paragraph I said that I thought my ideas would continue to evolve.  They have, but the basic framework I laid out in this paper, both as to style and philosophy, have remained remarkably constant through more than 17 years, spent in four different schools in two states and the District of Columbia.

I invite you to read what I thought then.

Any additional thoughts I will offer in the first comment.

As I approach my student teaching, I realize that my style as a teacher and my philosophy of education are still being formed, and are likely to continue to evolve, especially after I have had meaningful experience in a classroom.  In this essay I sketch preliminary answers to the questions posed by the syllabus as to how I perceive the issues of style and philosophy.  THey may seem idealistic and even unreasonable to someone who does not know me.  But if I am to be the teacher I hope to be, I will have to draw on what is best about myself, and that is my idealism, and my belief that all students can learn, and that everyone is of value in themselves.

I have been drawn towards becoming a secondary school social studies teachers because of a Jeffersonian belief that the survival of the American experiment in democracy requires a knowledgeable and informed citizenry, and because of a parallel belief that the most effective way of developing such a citizenry is through excellence and dynamism in the public school systems of this country.  in an increasingly diverse American society, which itself is but a small part of an evermore fractious but steadily shrinking global society, the knowledge and understanding required to be an effective citizen require students do develop broader understanding, a greater variety of perceptions, as well as appreciations for differences among people.  I would also like to see my students grow and develop as people:  this requires that same American democracy, and an environment in which they can perceive themselves as of value, so that whatever lives they choose for themselves are meaningful.  Because of this, I have developed a tentative philosophy of education with four main tenets.

First,I believe students must be equipped to learn on their own and encouraged to continue to do so after formal education has ended.  the world and society constantly change, and students are unlikely to remain in static life situations.  they must develop productive habits of the mind as a basis for being able to continue to learn. The second tenet is that as a teacher I must expose students to a variety of methods of organizing information and of approaching learning.   Students need awareness of areas of strengths and weaknesses, and should b shown how to use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.  Also, students may have natural styles of or preferred approaches to learning, of which they may not be fully conscious, especially if their previous education did not allow for such difference.  I include within this tenet issues of learning style, Multiple Intelligences, and use of preferred senses.

The differing approaches just described point toward my third tenet, which is that teachers should help students develop understanding of and tolerance for those who are different from them.  These difference can be matters of learning style, culture, or methods of expression.  Students need to learn to see from differing perspectives, in oder that they do not assume that viewpoints or perspectives differing from their own are automatically suspect or inferior.  Such learning is a necessary prerequisite to my fourth and final tenet, that students learn to think more clearly, and become able to express coherently their ideas, perceptions and beliefs even to those with whom they have significant differences.  They should be able to dialog with those who are different, to espouse to and learn from people whose beliefs, culture, perceptions or values may be at odd with their own.  I believe that ideas, including my own, should be open to the most vigorous scrutiny and challenge, but I also want my students to remember that people are not ideas.  Ideas can be forcefully challenged, but the people who hold them honestly are entitled to respect.  I hope that a minimum this approach will lead to a tolerance for differences without which American society cannot, and the world will not, survive.  I dream that in some way this may lead to enrichment of the students, that they can appreciate the differences that make humans so fascinating in their individual and group variety.  I hope for an America where my students can explore the greatest variety of possibilities for meaningful lives, and have the maximum freedom to choose for themselves from among those possibilities.  Underlying all four of these tents is my belief that all my students can learn, a reluctance to ever give up on a student, an an acceptance that ultimately the student has the right to reject what I as a teacher offer.

My proposed teaching style is derived from purpose (or philosophy) as an educator.  I believe that in general a teaching style should be an extension of oneself, rooted in one's basic sense of being.  I do not believe that I can be effective as a teacher if I am attempting to be something or someone I am not.  I expect nevertheless that I can and must stretch myself as a person, and thus can also stretch myself as a teacher.  My teaching style should reflect this.  I am by nature inquisitive and eclectic, and I expect that this will be a major influence in how I teach.  I am also aware of the great variety of learning styles and temperaments and intelligences I will encounter among my students.  I must, therefore, ensure that my eclecticism does not lead to my imposing my own style upon students, but serves as a toll to help them develop their own styles and appreciate those of others.  I also must maintain metacognitive awareness.  I must be conscious of my effect upon students and fellow educators.  I cannot be locked into methods that are not succeeding, and I must solicit feedback from others, being open to criticism, if I am to continue grow and develop as an effective educator.

I like variety.  I enjoy looking at things in different ways.  I delight in following a line of thought to see where it might lead.  I recognize that I will have students who will need more structure than I might provide were this the predominant approach of my instruction.  some will need to feel solidly rooted, knowing what is expected.  I will have to balance my exuberance and spontaneity with extensive planning, and ensure that I present at least the outline of structure so that I provide a learning environment where all my students have the opportunity to be successful.

Of great importance is that I expect to model for my students my enthusiasm for my subject and my work.  If I do not demonstrate that I believe what I am teaching is important and enjoyable, I cannot expect my students to perceive it as other than a necessary drudgery.  I want them to value the learning we will do together, so that it is meaningful for and to them.  In addition, I know that I am NOT the found of all knowledge, that I can and must learn from others.  It is important that I also model this to my students.  I want them to believe that they can teach me something, for that is likely to given them a greater sense of meaning in their own learning.  I want them to recognize that they can learn from each other, that no one person knows everything.  This is an extension of the concept of openness to difference that I have already emphasized.  I believe strongly that is also an essential part of having habits of the mind that are healthy and supportive of learning.

Stylistically, it is imperative that I require of myself that I see each student as an individual, unique, perhaps capable of more than he thinks.  I must communicate with each student that she is of value.  I also, in modeling respect for differences, must demonstrate my willingness to accept when a student chooses to value differently than I do.  I can challenge the ideas and point out possible consequences of choices, I must not attempt to impose my perceptions upon the student, lest I violate the principles of tolerance and acceptance for difference which I believe are so important for both education and democracy.

I am greatly concerned for the future of education in this country.  I see more and more people withdrawing from any sense of common commitment.  I read of theorists who argue that education is wasted on some people, and perceive that this may be the first step towards cutting the already too-limited resources in support of the education of the denigrated groups.  I also worry that stated national goals and current popular trends focus too much on current perceptions of what is of social utility.  On a personal level, I worry that an increasing conservatism and parallel emphasis on "basics" may create conflict for me as I attempt to teach according to my style and philosophy.

I believe too much emphasis is placed on what Gardner would consider linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.  We cannot perceive what our world will be like in the future.  I believe that we must educate across as broad a scope as possible, in order to have people able to function in all the varied an possible environments of the future.  Here I find it worthwhile to note that understanding of sub-atomic particles, to use one example, cann ot easily by understood by typical Western rational thinking, but is easily comprehendible when approached through tprims of Eastern philosophy, as Gary Zukav has demonstrated in his book The Dancing Wu-Li Masters.  To educate for the world as we know it now is potentially to doom those we teach to lives of obsolescence in a rapidly changing world.  It is for reasons such as this that I remain committed to exploring as wide a variety of approaches to learning and teaching, and to implementing the insights of Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences.  I hope that during my teaching career I can remain committed to these principles.  I want to open to any approach that will my my students learn and believe in themselves.  If I teach students who are mathematically oriented, I want them to know that I am who am not mathematical value their gifts, and hope I can from their insights, even in social studies.  I also want them to be comfortable enough to reciprocate, both towards me and towards fellow students who will not be mathematical in their approaches to life.  If other students want to approach the world through plastic arts or dance or music, I want to help them feel that what they are doing is as important for the souls of men  the future of mankind as the work of those developing the companies that will provide jobs for thousands or seeking cures for diseases.  If I can help my students believe in and have value in themselves, then I have participated in laying a basi for the tolerance and acceptance of differences that I believe is so necessary for tue and lifelong education, for those who do not believe in and value themselves will not truly value and appreciate others.

When I retire (which given my age is likely to be in 20 rather than 30 years), I will not want a retirement party.  I hope that at least some of my students will reflect back and feel that I helped make a difference in their lives.  It would be nice to hear it expressed.  Perhaps ten years after I retire, as I near my 80th birthday, one of my students, born of parents who emigrated here from Iran or Korea or Vietnam or Haiti, will be elected President.  At some point, perhaps even in the Inaugural Address, she will say "I had a teacher once who taught me that my ideas and ways of looking at things mattered.  He helped m to appreciate others as well, to value them, and to want them to feel their lives and beliefs were important. That is part of why I went into public service."

I will be satisfied with much less.  It would be enough that one former student, when asked why decided to become a mechanic even though his parents were a doctor and a professor, would tell his interviewer, "I decided that what I thought and believed of myself is what mattered.  It all goes back to a teacher I once had who helped me to believe that my ideas and desires were real, that ding what really mattered to me is the most important work I could do."

Originally posted to teacherken on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 06:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  this is my tip jar, to get it out of the way (9+ / 0-)

    I will be adding some more current thoughts in additional comments after this.

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 06:10:35 PM PDT

  •  On the four tenets of my philosophy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, radarlady

    The teacher for whom I wrote this, Diane Jacobs at the Columbia Center campus of Johns Hopkins, said that she thought it was likely they would remain the basis of my philosophy throughout my teaching career.  She was right.

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 06:11:21 PM PDT

  •  My MAT program required us to be reflective (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, annetteboardman, radarlady

    this was not the only "final" exercise that forced us to think deeply.  We were expected to do it throughout the courses, and encouraged to continue doing it not only during our student teaching, but continue it as well through our teaching careers.

    I have, but then I have been reflective since I was an adolescent.  It was partly because I am socially awkward, an extravert, and almost painfully shy.  I began to observe, both others and myself.  Since despite being an extravert  I was also at times a bit of a loner, I would often wrestle with my thoughts and ideas and perceptions by writing about them.

    As I grew I developed an ability that is useful, but which I do not necessarily recommend for every day practice.  I can be observing myself even as I am doing something.  As a teacher, it can enable me to quickly self-correct when things are not going as they should or something unexpected happens, and at a minimum it enables me to record things for later reflection.  The danger is that one not giving oneself as fully to the present, which can sap enjoyment, but of greater importance could be perceived by person(s) with whom we interact as giving them less than the full attention they deserve.

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 06:17:02 PM PDT

  •  Final thoughts on looking back at this (4+ / 0-)

    I was significantly older than most of my classmates in my MAT program.  In a few classes there were people who were already teachers and working on an MS in education, but most of my classmates were preparing to embark on their teaching careers.  That was true of all those in this class on Methods.  

    Because I was older, because I had thought and written about education for several years before I decided to become a teacher, and because I am by nature reflective, is should not be so surprising that the philosophy and style I was able to lay out has remained pretty constant for the following two decades.

    There are areas I have tweaked.

    I certainly have broader and deeper understandings of differences, some of which I probably did not consider at the time I wrote this paper.

    I am proud of it.

    Yes, my beloved wife, it could use some editing, as is true still of much of what i write.

    But I think it is honest.

    It may help those who encounter it understand several things

    -  why I was so passionate about teaching, especially social studies, most especially government
    -  why I decided to return to the classroom.

    There is one thing I would change today.  I am now 67.  I hope to be in the classroom well beyond 20 years from when I started.


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 06:22:05 PM PDT

  •  I always thought that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, radarlady

    if you ain't havin' fun teachin' they ain't havin' fun learnin' and vice versa

    Great stuff, thanks Ken

  •  late to the game (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I, too, began teaching later in life (40). Ken's tenets are mine, too. I have to admit that I didn't have the second one in mind when I began, but have evolved to that point. When I graduated from high school in 1975, I told my twin brother that we needed to learn more "how to learn." Our years back then were spent learning lots of facts (good) and how to follow instructions (also good), but little on the tenets Ken lays out.

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