When we began this series, I thought it would be fun and possibly helpful to take a peek at my very first written educational philosophy. This philosophy was a part of my “teaching portfolio” created when applying for my very first job. The funny thing about educational philosophies is that those found in professional education are not all that different than those found in the homeschool community. The names may be different, but the ideals, beliefs, and goals all tend to be very much the same. The fact of the matter is that we are all on the same team, us teachers and home educators. Most of us are driven by the same passion- a desire to see young people reach the full potential to which God has destined them. We don’t always get to walk that out in the same manner; some of us might face more restrictions than others, but the calling is the same.
So here is my first educational philosophy, written so long ago when I was young, fresh-faced, and very new to my journey. It has guided me well over time, in a variety of classrooms, at a variety of levels, and in a variety of settings. But each time, all for the same purpose- to see students grow. I think this ol’ philosophy still has quite a bit of life left in it. Here’s to hoping that sharing it will provide some insight, spark new ideas, and give someone just what they were needing to start their own journey.
Teaching Philosophy: My Job Is to Help You Know
My job, as a teacher, is to help my students “know.” What does that mean? A good place to start is to redefine what has become education’s common notion of what it is to “know.” The American education system had taken the idea of knowing and made it synonymous with retaining facts. It has been suggested that such notions are a direct result of the need for standardized assessment or living in a culture where measurable, outward signs of success trump all else. Sadly, we sometimes put more value on evaluative marks than on actual learning. We’ve traded education that enhances who we are for the “right answers.”
I say redefine what it means to “know,” but what I really mean is to return. A return to the original concept of learning and knowing would require an examination of how information is acquired at an early age. Children acquire an enormous amount of information before they ever reach school age. They are little learning machines. They progress from newborns whose reactions are due to instinctual behavior to children with a wide array of knowledge concerning the physical, mental, social, and emotional worlds. How is it that children know all of this but have never attend one formal day of school?
Before children reach school age, it would seem that they have no problem being motivated to learn new things. Excited by learning, they eagerly try new things. Roger C. Schank and Chip Cleary, authors of Engines for Education, seem to believe that children are motivated to learn because they have a desire to do something (like learning to talk, tie shoes, or ride a bicycle), rather than a desire to just know something. If Schank and Cleary’s ideas about why children learn so easily before entering school are correct, it would explain a lot about why learning isn’t so easy or fun after children do enter school. For young children, knowing equals an ability to do, enabling them to be participant in all of the life that is going on around them
When learning, young children observe, ask questions, and try. In other words, they experience. They are not afraid of failure. They accept it as part of the process. No one year old has given up on trying to talk just because he didn’t get it right the first time. They simply try again. Children learn and are inspired to learn from experiences. And the excitement of experience makes learning fun.
Additionally, children seem excited to learn when concepts appear relevant or useful. This is not always an easy task when it comes to academic subjects. There might be topics where relevance is not readily apparent. It is my job as the instructor to make the material relevant and to draw connections when the student can’t. It will be my job to create situations which stimulate curiosity and independent discovery, answer questions, guide, direct, redirect, supply facts, help develop skills and abilities, and fill knowledge gaps. I must create an safe environment where fear of failure does not intimidate students and keep them from trying new things, acquiring and trying out new skills– from experiencing. Hiccups, bumps, or setbacks should be redefined as a natural part of the learning process so that the more students try, the more confident they become in their abilities to understand and use information.
In other words, my job is to show students how to know things for themselves through discovery and experience. This is the type of knowledge that sticks with us, that means something to us, is useful and accessible everyday. This is not always an easy task because the responsibility of learning and discovery is placed upon the student while the instructor bears the responsibility of information, guidance, relevance, and environment.
When I handed in my portfolio for the first time at a job interview, I received it back with a yellow sticky note attached. On it were written three words, “Good Luck. Uphill.” Ha! He wasn’t kidding, but I did get the job. Encouraging students to be the best they can be, to learn, to grow, and to think isn’t an easy job no matter if you are doing it at home or in a classroom. In spite of the obstacles, we can’t lose sight of what inspires us about education in the first place.