An Exploration of My Teaching Philosophy

21Jun06

Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction

Just as there are many blends of learning styles that can be observed among students, so too can one find a range of teaching styles. Perhaps what is more significant than a teaching style—partly because it influences one’s teaching style—is a teacher’s philosophy about teaching and learning. Although I have had experience teaching, I have never formally considered what my teaching philosophy was; so, before taking an assessment that would help identify my teaching philosophy, I took a moment to reflect the experiences I felt had shaped me as a teacher.

My first memory of school was a private preschool that was located, conveniently, just next door to my home. It was a single-classroom preschool with one wall painted with chalkboard paint and several well-organized rows of desks. The yard at this “school” was simply a paved asphalt lot, and next to that was my teacher’s mini-backyard-“farm.” Occasionally, we would go with her to the farm, help her plant or harvest fruit and vegetables, and collect eggs that her hens had laid; however, education was usually very rigid and concise, strictly serving the purpose of preparing me for my elementary school years.

When I got to elementary school, I began to understand why my preschool teacher prepared us the way she did. Grades, scores, homework, threat of corporeal punishment, and class-rank started coming towards me from my first exciting-yet-terrifying day at school. From my earliest moments at elementary school, I remember starting to feel the pressure of “What high-school do you want to go to?” In Trinidad, you see, at the end of elementary school, one takes an exam (the Common Entrance Exam) that determines which high-school one would be able to attend, and although most of the primary decision lay in this test that took place at the end of sixth-grade, the schools differentiated between the highest scoring students by reviewing their complete elementary school transcripts. As with my preschool experience, this educational setting was highly orderly. The school was of the type where students diligently copied every word the teacher wrote on the board and committed it to memory later that night at home.

By the last few months of my sixth-grade experience—days which ran from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm for formal in-school education and from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm for private lessons from the teacher after school—I was ranked third in class and had my mind set on Naparima Boy’s School. This was without question the top school in the southern part of the island, hence the most competitive to get in to. However, I never did get a chance to take the Common Entrance Exam; two weeks before the exam date, I was on a plane on my way to Santa Barbara, California.

Upon arrival in Santa Barbara, I was enrolled in a nearby elementary school. I distinctly remember feeling incredibly self-conscious and awkward for the short few weeks that I was there. There were no desks, just large round tables that sat four or five students each. I did not have to raise my hand and stand up to answer questions. Occasionally, I would even leave my classroom and join another classroom for a different activity. Every day, we had “free time” and “open reading time” which were relatively unstructured periods of time during which we could engage in a range of activities including arts and crafts, writing, playing board games, and reading magazines. School was fun—although admittedly not very demanding on my intellect.

The extent of the academic rigor I was exposed to in elementary school became even more apparent in junior-high school where I ended up being promoted to an eight-grade GATEGifted And Talented Education. I found the GATE test itself to be quite interesting; while the reason for taking the test was to be placed in more academically advanced classes, the test itself seemed to be based more on logic, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. math class when I was in seventh-grade. Junior-high school, while more structured than my brief US elementary school experience, still opened my eyes in terms of different approaches towards education. My English teacher, for example, was genuinely interested in some of the controversial rock-music that I had mentioned and actually ended up integrating some of the band’s lyrics into our class lesson. My social studies teacher took advantage of the fact that he had a couple of students who had immigrated from different parts of the world and taught a small lesson on comparative world cultures; all the first generation immigrants in his class, myself included, were given a chance to lead some activities illustrating some of the cultural differences we had observed upon coming to the US.

I had many similar experiences when I got to high school. My ninth-grade English teacher noticed that I really enjoyed writing but I had expressed to him on more than one occasion that I felt the vocabulary lessons we were doing were a waste of time. So, instead of having me do the routine look up a word, copy its definition, and write two sentences using that word, he proposed that each week I submit two stories to him—using as many of the vocabulary words as possible—in lieu of the rote vocabulary sheets. I always got my stories back the following Monday complete with very constructive comments and criticisms (and learned my vocabulary in the process). My biology teacher observed that my friend and I had great aptitude with computers, so he gave us source materials and a template for creating computerized tutorials for our classmates. Because we were actively summarizing materials while also engaged in an activity we enjoyed, my friend and I left with a lot more of an appreciation for biology than we would have had if we were simply lectured to. My high school also offered some outstanding electives—something pretty much unheard of in my prior Trinidadian education—including a jewelry-making class that I enrolled in for five consecutive semesters. For the last three semesters, the teacher essentially took me on as a teacher’s assistant and gave me extra access to the jewelry lab after school while she was engaged in more administrative duties.

Essentially what I am alluding to is that as my education progressed, it actually became less structured; however, at the same time, it also became something which engaged my intellect better. Although not a conscious decision, this approach has been the approach I have taken in my roles as a teacher. I understand and appreciate the rigor that I had in my elementary school years, but in retrospect, I do not think that the approach used was necessary, nor was it the best.

As a teacher, I constantly observe and listen closely to my students to be better able to identify their interests, abilities, and learning styles; I do my best to facilitate all of those in the classroom. I engage students in activities which employ a multi-disciplinary approach, for example allowing them to work on their computer skills while learning about history or allowing them to build their own guitar while learning mathematics. I provide students with information which I feel would nurture an interest in self-exploration of a subject area. I come to class with a lesson plan and a lesson objective; while the lesson objective is usually well established, I am always willing to modify the plan—even at the last minute—if I feel the modification would benefit the students. Because each new year brings new students, I do not expect that a technique that worked smoothly with one class would work just as smoothly with another. Students in my classrooms are encouraged to give input about the activities we engage in. Because I want my classroom to feel like a safe, constructive learning environment, students learn respect, honesty, and consideration through modeled behavior.

Because of the lack of an extremely solid “structured” approach to education, upon reviewing the five broad categories of teaching philosophies, I most strongly self-identified with the experimentalist school of thought. From the definition provided for the existentialist teaching philosophy, I did not have too strong of an affinity to that group. “Schools, if they existed at all, would be places that assisted students in knowing themselves and learning their place in society. If subject matter existed, it would be a matter of interpretation” (Wiles & Bondi, 2002. p. 48). Perhaps it is just a matter of semantics, but this seemed to be too vague of a definition; however, upon reviewing the questions on the assessment which relate to the existentialists, I found myself in strongest agreement with most of those. In fact, my final charted strength of responses confirmed a strong inclination towards non-structured learning.

Overall, in assessing my personal teaching philosophy, I would point out that my scores overall were not extreme in any single given section. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, I had not given much thought to a teaching philosophy before completing this assignment. My teaching experience—mostly after-school programsMost of these after-school programs were academic at their foundation in the sense that we spent a lot of time helping students with their homework and trying to add value to the education they were receiving in schools. Hence, the basics of what would be covered was not really up to me, but up to the curriculum that was already set by the students’ daytime teachers.—also has not been one that required me to have a rigorous approach to curriculum design. Also, as I still consider myself quite new to the educational field from the perspective of a teacher, I am still in the process of developing my philosophy. Then again, I suppose that an experimentalist or an existentialist will be exactly the type of person to be so willing to admit to and accept change!

References

  • University of Phoenix (Ed.). (2002). Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction [University of Phoenix Custom Edition]. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
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