My philosophy, and plunging into the deep end

My apologies for the dearth of updates here on the blog. I’ve been quite busy in my job and my college work. For those who don’t know, I’m studying to become a high school biology teacher while also working full time in the public information (spokesperson) field.

After seemingly endless years of pecking away at classes at night and on the weekends and during vacations, the light can finally be seen at the end of the tunnel. At the beginning of the next school year I will do some of my pre-clinical experience assignments. This is when I go into the classroom, do some observing and write about what I see, teach a handful of simple lessons, and essentially stick my toe in the water.

Then in January 2011 I will have to quit my job and go into the classroom for my student teaching, where I practice teaching for three months under the guidance of the actual teacher.

What the hell am I getting myself into? There are budget cuts and teacher layoffs galore out there. This has got to be one of the worst possible times to quit a decent job and jump into the teaching profession.

A couple of months ago I was at a crossroads. Either I continue with my college program or I abandon it. At that point there was no option for stalling or other middle ground. Plunge in or walk away. That was such a difficult decision to make. But then I had to complete an assignment: write a philosophy of teaching statement. There had been many times when my wife asked me why I wanted to be a teacher and I had trouble articulating my feelings. This assignment forced me to wrestle my thoughts and feelings into words. Here is the result:

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Education is about the future. Students are building a foundation on which will rest their entire lives for years to come. Based on what they learn from kindergarten through their graduation from high school, students open up or close off the choices available to them. My personal guiding philosophy that easily carries over into my teaching philosophy is the simple statement: “Knowledge is power.” Gaining knowledge in school – even when some subjects seem unnecessary and meaningless to the student – opens up an ever widening range of choices of career paths and recreational interests. This gives students immense power over their lives. As a teacher, that’s a message that I intend to convey endlessly. This power is not limited to a career choice, but extends to every part of students’ lives. They can better understand the wider world they are a part of, and even make positive contributions to it.

Education should be a time of exploration and even risk-taking – in an academic context – while in a safe and supportive environment. Rather than having students sit static in their chairs doing the same thing day in and day out, all modes of learning should be incorporated in a way that encourages students to be curious. I, as the teacher, should be the students’ guide and facilitator. Optimally, I will be learning new things right alongside them as they explore the paths that interest them. Education should also incorporate a healthy promotion of respect for this world and all its inhabitants. Teachers should be people who care and have a genuine love for teaching and the students. Both of my teenage children have encountered teachers who, unfortunately, are negative in their interactions with students, which results in discouragement. Teachers should help students feel positive about their progress. However, teachers should set high expectations of their students, too. Students will oftentimes match their effort to the level of the material they are given. The higher that level is set, the higher the student will reach.

“What education is” and “what education should be” have shaped my own objectives as a future educator. Working with students and getting to know them will be instrumental in being able to guide them and encourage them to achieve their best. As I reflect back on my own educational experiences as a child, I remember being horrible at math and hating it. Years later when I started college, I had a complete reversal; I enjoyed math. The difference was actually due to one small but vital piece of my education puzzle that was missing. I had not learned my multiplication tables. I was so caught up in counting out things like 8 x 7 on my fingers that I wasn’t able to step up to the next level of mathematics in high school. What’s surprising to me is that not one single teacher ever caught on to that deficiency of mine.

I know that as a high school science teacher I will be responsible for potentially hundreds of students at a time, but an objective that I will always keep in mind is that sometimes a struggling student might be missing some core knowledge that needs to be remediated before progress can be made. That is a significant part of my role as education guide and facilitator, and is my responsibility as I try to load students up with knowledge for future empowerment. I don’t want any future paths to be closed off to my students due to some overlooked knowledge gap.

Defining my purpose as a teacher has contributed to the preparation I need to enter the classroom. Knowing how to explore, research and learn is just as important as the actual subject content itself. I am not just going to teach my students about biology, but also about how to learn. I want them to be actively engaged in critical thinking as they puzzle through problems and science labs, figuring things out for themselves rather than being told what the end result should be. As I prepare to enter the classroom, I’ve been constantly practicing the art of learning and exploration myself, not just in my college courses but also in my own reading and research activities. I’ve engaged in my own personal reading and research projects that have taken me in directions only hinted at in the classroom textbooks. This type of desire for knowledge is exactly what I want to instill in my students.

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Whereas I am OK with my present job, it’s not where I want to be. It lacks a purpose with which to define myself. Giving voice to my philosophy of teaching pointed me in the direction I need to be going. I’m plunging in. All I can do is hope that there will be a teaching job for me when the time comes. Send well wishes my way; I can sure use them.

5 Responses to “My philosophy, and plunging into the deep end”

  1. Tim Says:

    Good luck. I’ve been teaching for science for around 17 years, having been in research before that. There’s no other job I can see like it, it has highs and lows, but the overall level of personal fulfilment is amazing.

  2. M.H. Says:

    Welcome to the world of teaching. With a philosophy like that I will be proud to call you a co-worker. It’s a tough job, we get paid peanuts, but it lights me up and I know that every day I make a difference…and that’s what gets me up and out the door every day with a smile on my face.

  3. Pierce R. Butler Says:

    Send well wishes my way; I can sure use them.

    More to the point, send messages to Tallahassee supporting public education – then in November, send Representatives and Senators there with the same mission.

    Best of luck, Brandon!

  4. Stacy Says:

    Good luck! :-)

  5. Joe Wolf Says:

    Bravo, your philosophy is very inspiring. Maybe there is an advantage in being older when you start teaching.

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