I am required to submit a portfolio of material to our district’s Teacher of the Year Committee in a few weeks, and one of the requirements is a two-page essay on my “Philosophy of Teaching.” I’ve discovered it’s easier to be an arm-chair philosopher when your thoughts are shared with your spouse or best friend, but they’re not always fit for print. Nevertheless, I’ve done my best to put my philosophy into words that are at least somewhat coherent. Here goes . . .
As a life-long learner, I reap rewards from the process of learning through all of life’s experiences. (After working in three very different, but equally rewarding careers, I should know a LOT by now!) There is something intrinsically satisfying about learning something that I didn’t know before. It’s the sort of attitude I encourage in my students as well.
It’s a hazard of the teaching profession that some lessons simply don’t work; some labs don’t turn out at all as we planned. Sometimes the sprig of evergreen in the baking soda solution produces more oxygen bubbles in the dark than it does in bright light. As we analyze the steps of our procedure, we conclude that after counting bubbles in low light and then in the dark, and by the time the light is shined on the test tube, the leaves have probably produced all the oxygen they’re going to. Time becomes an unintended variable in our experiment. It also provides a teachable moment. While it may not strengthen the students’ understanding of photosynthetic processes, I hope it encourages development of analytical and troubleshooting skills.
This kind of learning requires a genuine openness to discovery and to new experience. In case you don’t have or know one–teenagers may be open to experiences, but they’re sometimes not the experiences we would choose for them. Engaging them in learning experiences related to course material, on the other hand, can be a challenge.
One way I’ve chosen to meet this challenge is by introducing my students to science discoveries that pique their interest. In each of my science classes, we hold a monthly Journal Club. Students are asked to browse through my large collection of science journals and find an article of interest to them. After they’ve read the article, they summarize it in a written paragraph or two, then present their article to the class. Students are also expected to draft two questions they have about the topic that aren’t answered in the article. In this way, students are exposed to the “real” science discoveries of others and gain practice in summarizing and presenting informational texts. Sometimes the most rewarding part of Journal Club is the class discussion that usually follows each presentation.
In my language arts classes, the same types of discussions can be generated by selecting interesting texts that relate to students’ lives and experiences, but which suggest novel ways of perceiving them. I teach and respect classical literature because it demonstrates that there is something universal about human character in all cultures and historical periods. However, contemporary fiction and nonfiction can sometimes be easier for students to relate to. I delight in introducing them to new perspectives that intersect with their own interests and experiences.
As an avid reader and an avowed information junkie, I constantly search for resources and texts that satisfy my own curiosity about the world. Most of the time, those resources also reinforce lessons or teaching strategies, either directly or indirectly. One of the greatest rewards of teaching is this opportunity to learn something new, and to transform that knowledge into a learning experience for my students–not just for a good grade or to pass an exam, but because learning is its own reward.