I come from a long line of educators. My father was a high school teacher and my ancestors built one of the first school houses in Pennsylvania, where it still stands in Halifax.
|My ancestor's school in Halifax, PA built in the late 1700s.|
|I like imagining the classes in those days and knowing my ancestors taught here.|
|The Schoolhouse my Zimmerman Ancestors Built and Founded in Halifax, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it's now used as a storage shed.|
I first formed my philosophy from the good and bad teachers I had as a child. My bad teachers taught me the importance of compassion. My good teachers taught me to look for the reasons behind a child’s behavior. I was fidgety in school until my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Strecker, discovered that boredom was the reason for my disruptive, outgoing behavior. Instead of punishing or embarrassing me, she kept me meaningfully engaged. She was also a warm and compassionate teacher. Education researcher, John Hattie, says: “It is teachers who have created positive teacher-student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement” (ASEBT, 2016). It is essential that I’m a teacher who connects with her students and has a relationship with them, to give them the best opportunity to succeed.
Another important piece of my teaching philosophy is passion. I’m passionate about teaching and learning, and Hattie’s research also shows that the best teachers are passionate about teaching. In his book, Visible Learning, Hattie writes, “Teachers who are passionate about making a difference are more likely to make a difference” (Hattie, 2009). Enthusiasm is contagious and an enthusiastic teacher creates excitement for learning. Work becomes play, and when the work gets hard, passion will keep teachers and students going.
I am deeply in love with academics and have an insatiable curiosity to share with my students. My favorite books to read long before I pursued a degree in education were about teachers who loved their jobs. Among my reading treasures were books about Jaime Escalante (inner-city math teacher), Ron Clark (elementary school teacher), Rafe Esquith (who taught Shakespeare to inner-city fifth-graders) and The Classroom Management Book by Wong and Wong. I’ve always favored fiction about teachers, too, and these books remain among my favorite reads: Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton, To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite, Dead Poets Society by N. H. Kleinbaum, Christy by Catherine Marshall, and Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Being a teacher who inspires is more than part of my philosophy. It’s essentially who I am. By sharing my enthusiastic curiosity toward learning new things, I inspire students to view learning differently, in ways that connect new knowledge and skills to where they are in their world.
By being an enthusiastic member of a collaborative team with my colleagues, I help shape the culture of the school and my department. Avoiding negative conversations and carefully weighing my words when around other teachers and staff makes me an asset, not a risk. I believe in focusing on the positive. It creates contagious energy not only in the classroom but in the building. Encouraging my co-workers contributes to the students’ well-being. It creates a safe, nurturing learning environment where positive expectations can flourish.
My passion for the art of instruction drives me to become an expert teacher, not just an experienced one. An expert teacher uses evidence-based teaching strategies. The list of strategies is long, but there are some basic things I’ve found extremely helpful, such as connecting students to prior learning (Hattie, 2009), putting the subject into the context of their everyday lives (Hattie, 2009), and asking questions that lead to high-order thinking (Hattie, 2009). I keep a diagram of Bloom’s Taxonomy on my desk and refer to it often:
Source: Aainsqatsi, K. (2008, May 5). Bloom’s taxonomy [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4000460
It is my personal mission to learn as much as I can, not only about teaching, but the
know about many things, which helps me make those connections for students.
Because I’m the parent of three children on the autism spectrum who struggled with academics, I’m a firm believer in finding an open window to a child’s understanding. I enjoy the challenge of discovering the key that unlocks concepts for students. I’m also drawn to children with difficult behavior. I believe that behavior is communication, and I relish decoding what challenging students are trying to say.
For students with behavioral issues, it’s imperative that lessons in the classroom are meaningful and engaging. If they aren’t, it’s a recipe for undesirable conduct. I have a tongue-in-cheek motto: “You can’t teach a moving target.” Most young people have a fascination with something that will keep them engaged. Using that fascination, I believe, is the key to keeping their attention and motivating them to participate with success. Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist with a diagnosis of autism, says that her science teacher’s enthusiasm and encouragement toward her own obsessions and discoveries kept her working hard at the subjects she wasn’t strong in (Grandin, 2014).
I’m an eager proponent of active learning. Research shows that active learning is genuine learning. When students make their own discoveries, students care about and remember what they understand (Bonwell, 2000). In this age of technology and shortening attention spans, active learning is more essential. It not only helps with behavior issues but creates excitement and enjoyment in the classroom.
Regardless of ability, all students have gifts inside them that I, as a teacher, am responsible for unwrapping. Expert teachers focus on the abilities and gifts of a student to enhance and strengthen weak areas. This goes hand in hand with using a child’s fascinations and obsessions to motivate them to learn. When students experience success, they gain the courage and esteem to try new things and practice skills they are weak in (Smith, 2016).
I also realize that a teacher’s patient attention and presence in a student’s life may be the only soft place in the world for that child to fall. Teachers now, more than ever, need to realize they are a hero in the life of their students and may be the only hope some kids have for feeling they matter.
Students who live with hazards in their neighborhood such as poverty, or a nomadic, or homeless lifestyle, have greater chasms to cross on their way to learning. Every community has its own challenges and culture. Teaching strategies should meet the needs of the child, their families, and their culture. Teachers need to be able to recognize the signs of chronic stress caused by poverty and how to change their classroom environment to alleviate that stress. Enriching the classroom environment to include the arts and engaging instruction can actually change a student’s brain, thereby improving not only school performance, but their very lives (Jensen, 2009).
To teach literacy, a teacher should build upon the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of her students. The only way to do this to acknowledge, understand, and respect the student’s culture. A teacher must get to know the student, where they live, who they live with, and what social and emotional issues they bring with them to the classroom. This knowledge will aid the teacher in affirming, respecting and valuing the student. The student’s self-esteem, values, and classroom behavior all stem from a child’s culture and affect their learning. A teacher who takes notice of a student’s uniqueness will increase that student’s participation because the student feels valued and safe (Jensen, 2009).
Contacting the student’s family, inviting them to participate in culturally-sensitive activities, and visiting the home is an important way for the teacher to connect to her students. The teacher should know how to contact the parents or guardians and should work toward effective communication. Nurturing that relationship should include weekly newsletters and notes home, periodical, encouraging phone calls, making the effort to line up translators for ELL students’ parents, or sharing cutting-edge information with parents of children with disabilities. But the information doesn’t go one-way. As a caring teacher, I desire input from the parents. No one knows their child as well as they do, and the information they share is valuable to me.
Teaching students what they can do to change their world is a powerful way for the student to accept responsibility and appreciate the power they possess as an individual. This improves their perception of control of their environment. It isn’t enough to tell students how to act. They must be shown. The teacher is a role model on how to solve problems. A teacher who is genuine with her students and shares examples from her own life about how she overcame a situation can help students learn how to take responsibility and resolve life problems themselves (Jensen, 2009).
Regarding assessments, I believe that pre- and formative assessments are valuable tools in giving students numerous chances to demonstrate success. It also gives the teacher another chance to improve their instruction so that students can learn. Viewing assessments as a learning tool and part of the instruction process help students learn what they need to know. Seen this way, I create learning goals and objectives that can be measured by the assessment I create.
By using formative assessments, the teacher can learn which concepts have not yet been mastered. This helps the teacher to correct her teaching and differentiate the lessons to accommodate differences in learning. If, however, a few students have already mastered the material, the teacher should provide enrichment activities to broaden their knowledge in that subject (Guskey, 2003).
Using formative assessments helps students learn that they can learn from their mistakes. This builds their confidence in their study habits and ability to correct themselves. Studies suggest that students learn best when they are less than successful at first and then learn how to improve (Guskey, 2003).
When learning different forms of assessment, collaboration with other teachers is beneficial. Learning how other teachers are using assessments in the classroom, or how they approach different subjects, helps the teacher to grow. Staying teachable and open to other ideas is of vital importance for a teacher to develop expertise (Guskey, 2003).
The assessment techniques I prefer are performance assessments. These usually take the form of a presentation or project of some kind. However, there are times when selected response exams are required. Whatever the form, it’s important to follow formative assessments with opportunities for students to correct their work before moving on, in the same way, a teacher would when tutoring a student one-on-one. This helps students who are less likely to use the assessment as a learning tool. If the teacher takes the time to use the assessment as part of the lesson during class time, assessments are much more useful (Guskey, 2003).
Expert teachers using evidence-based strategies in any culture will help students succeed. By focusing on strengths, cheering students on through positive reinforcement, and building trusting relationships, students develop the confidence to navigate their academic careers. When teaching to the individual needs of the child, and respecting students as fellow learners, students remain engaged. When I pique a child’s interest to the point they beg for answers, I accomplish the main goal of my philosophy, which is, to guide students toward success not only in school but in life.
Aainsqatsi, K. (2008, May 5). Bloom’s taxonomy [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4000460
ASEBT: Australian Society for Evidence-Based Teaching (Ed.). (2016). Hattie and his high impact strategies for teachers. Retrieved January 2, 2017, from http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/hattie-his-high-impact-strategies/
Bonwell, C. C. (2000, May). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Retrieved January 2, 2017, from http://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/engaging-students-in-learning/promoting-student-engagement-through-active-learning/
Grandin, T. (2014). The autistic brain: Helping different kinds of minds succeed. Boston, MA: Mariner.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. London, England: Routeledge. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11159-011-9198-8
Smith, K. (2016). Positive Behavioral Support strategies for students with disabilities [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/CEED/publications/tipsheets/preschoolbehavior/posclass.pdf