Philosophy of Teaching

The Master’s of Education program at William and Mary is one year long. It is hard to imagine how much knowledge can be acquired in such a short amount of time. I am constantly amazed at how much information my brain has soaked up during the last year and even more amazed at how this new knowledge has helped shape my philosophy of teaching.

At the beginning of the program, during the first summer session of intense coursework, we were bombarded with new information concerning the foundations of education. There are many different theories regarding the “best” way to educate our students. There are the key figures in the education field who helped influence and create the education system we have today. To understand the present, it is important to understand the past. The Foundation of Education course was an excellent introduction to the program because we were able to start forming our educational philosophy at an early stage. Then, as I continued the coursework in pedagogy and content knowledge, and started the practicum and student teaching experience, I was able to reflect on my early philosophy of education and actively think about what has changed since I have been in the field.

I have attached the first paper I wrote for the Foundations of Education class. This represents my very early educational philosophy based on my cultural background and the philosophers that we learned about in class. I based my philosophy on the philosophers H.D. Hirsch, Jr., John Dewey, and Nel Noddings of the essentialist and progressivist schools of thought.

During my practicum experience during the fall semester, I was shocked to witness how “mean” some of the teachers in my placement school were. I could not remember any of my teachers being such strict disciplinarians. I wondered if these teachers had ever even heard of Nel Noddings and her ethics of care. I wondered why these teachers refused to provide these students with a community of caring. As I entered into student teaching full-time in the spring semester, and was able to delve deeper into the reasoning behind every aspect of the school day, I was able to see that the teachers were providing the students with a community of caring. They were providing the students with a stable, well-structured environment where rules were clearly understood and implemented. This helps the students succeed in the classroom and lets them know that the teacher cares about them academically. When the classroom is run efficiently and predictably, there is more time for the teacher to care about her students personally. This is where my original idea of a community of caring shines through. My philosophy regarding the importance of creating a community of caring has not changed since my first philosophy paper, but it has changed in regard to how I believe it should be implemented in the classroom.

As I experience the Virginia Standards of Learning from a teacher’s perspective, I recall the philosopher E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s philosophy of “cultural literacy” and his belief that there are some essential knowledge points that every student should have in order to most effectively understand the world around them. Although Virginia does not operate under Hirsch's Common Core, the Virginia Standards of Learning are similar in the way that they measure student learning in a standardized way. Each student is expected to have a basic knowledge of the standards set out by the Virginia Department of Education. I fully understand the importance of benchmark assessment to make sure teachers are doing their job and students are making progress each year. My philosophy has changed a bit in this regard since my practicum and student teaching experience. I believe it is important to give each student a basic foundation of education and it is important to strive to have each student achieve this basic knowledge, but it is also important to be able to supplement this basic knowledge with additional, further-reaching knowledge. These tests and benchmark assessments are important and vital to our students’ success in life, just as Hirsch thought, but it is important to show students that there is a world outside of the standardized one they have become accustomed to. The students need to be able to broaden their horizons. The standards are a great jumping off point for doing so.

The most important role of a teacher is to create a caring environment that a student feels safe in which to learn. Following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this is one of the foundational necessities for a student’s success in the classroom. A teacher also needs to provide the expected knowledge set out by the Virginia Department of Education, but should also be able to take this content and stretch it across a larger perspective. Teachers need to be able to broaden their students’ horizons. This can be done by hands-on experiences and engaging learning techniques. Students need to experience learning in many different ways since they all learn differently. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences explains that students learn best in all different ways. The more intelligences (musical, visual, verbal, logical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential) that a teacher can fit into one lesson, the more students she will be able to reach and the better the students will remember the material altogether. It is important to continuously check for understanding and comprehension. Even if a lesson is differentiated using every single intelligence, and the majority of the class understands the concept being taught, there will still be a few students who do not understand. It is likely that those few students will not speak up. Assessment, informal and formal, formative and summative, is essential to use throughout instruction to check for understanding.

Although there have been some changes to my philosophy of teaching, my main beliefs have stayed the same. It is important to create a caring community in which a student feels safe. It is important to teach the basic, required knowledge, but it is also important to go beyond the requirements. Differentiating lessons will help more students learn more content and remember it more easily. My philosophy is simple and I after the graduate program with William and Mary I have the background knowledge to support my reasoning.