“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
– Attributed to William Arthur Ward
First of all, I apologise for being tardy with getting this blog entry up far, far later than I said I would. I spent the second week of the school holidays at a football (soccer) tournament as a referee coach, mentoring and coaching young referees, and as much fun as it was, I came home on the Saturday before Term started, and was asleep by 8.30 that night, and didn’t wake until 10 the next morning. Then it was headlong into my Internship in a Year Five and Six class. This coming week is my third week, and I absolutely love it so far. I’ve got an excellent CT (classroom teacher), who is incredibly supportive and challenges me to justify what I want to do in a lesson, not to discourage me, but to help me focus on what the specific purpose of that lesson is.
As you read this post, I’d like you to consider why it is you teach. What makes you get up every morning, get to school at seven-am for a nine-am start, and leave the grounds at five-pm, when the students all left at three-pm? For what reason do you do this?
I promised last time that I would post my teaching philosophy, which was partly about making myself accountable for actually writing it, and partly about opening up dialogue on this topic. We were told that we had to write a teaching philosophy for our internship portfolio for university, and that it should reflect why we teach and what we believe about teaching, but beyond that, there was no guidance. I have never seen a practicing teacher’s philosophy, and so had no benchmark or starting point and so asked my CT about his. This led to a long conversation about the purpose of a teaching philosophy how to write it, how to structure it, and what it should be about.
From that conversation came the realisation that it is an incredibly personal document, that should be revisited regularly (my CT said he goes back to his at the beginning of each year) as our lives, and therefore our reasons for teaching, change regularly. I have adopted the same structure for my teaching philosophy as that used by my CT as it makes sense, and helps to make it a real document to me, as opposed to a useless of piece of academia, submitted for an assignment and then consigned to the dustbin.
It is based on three questions, which form the document structure. The first section is headed “Why” and is an answer to the question “why do I teach?” The second is informed by the first, and is headed “How” and outlines how I will teach. The third section, “What” is what I will teach, and is mandated by the syllabus documents we are all required to work within.
I thought I knew why I teach. However, when I sat down to write my philosophy, I found myself writing a series of clichés such as I like working with children, all children should have the opportunity to succeed, and I want to make a difference in the world etc. Although I do agree with those statements, they are not what compels me to teach, and makes me excited to be going down this career path and so they felt hollow when I put them on paper. I knew inside myself what the real reason for my desire to teach was, but have always felt that it was not right/rigorous/academic enough, and so have always shied away from using it on those occasions when the question of why I want to teach comes up.
When I made that comment to my CT, he nodded and said that that is the reason why it’s a personal teaching philosophy, and not an academic assignment. It has to be something that we as teachers can look at on those days when we want to headbutt a brick wall and that will make us smile and remember why we do this. It should be personal to each of us, and so will be different for each of us and it will then influence how we teach. S/He who teaches for money teaches differently than s/he who teaches for a desire to create change in the world.
This, then, is my first draft of part one of my teaching philosophy. I am still working on translating the why into the how in such a way that it makes sense on paper.
Why Do I Teach?
I teach for two reasons. I had two amazing male teachers in my own primary education. Both were strong men whom I looked up to, as both had a strong presence, as they were encouraging of my strengths and chiding of my weaknesses, pushing me to work on them. They were men who were able to work with all of my peers, challenging each of us at our own academic level.
My three younger siblings on the other hand, across their combined eighteen years of primary education, had a total of one year with a male teacher, and the difference that that year of a strong male influence every day at school made on my sister and her self-confidence in dealing with her brothers and in talking to other male, non-immediate family members, was tremendous.
My youngest brother needed a strong male role-model as a steadying influence and to provide guidance on interpersonal skills in the day-to-day situations at school that a father does not have access to. I teach because I want to be the positive male role model for those students who otherwise may not have one.
The second reason that I teach is due to a love of learning and discovery, a love that was instilled by my family, but nurtured by my primary school teachers. It is that love of learning, the desire to know more about areas of interest, and the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined between prior knowledge and new understanding that provides the second reason why I teach.
I would love to hear from other teachers as to how you set out your teaching philosophy, how you utilise it, and even just why it is you get out of bed to teach every morning. This is my first draft, and I’m still working on cleaning it up to make it more academic sounding, but at the same time, if it’s a personal document, do I need to?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
See here for the list of articles in this series.