Approaches to teaching comes in many different forms. There are many theorists and more than a few ideologies telling teachers how to teach and what to teach at what times. The purpose of education has been debated for many years, stretching even beyond the forming of the United States of America. Why should we provide an education? Is it to enlighten or to prepare children for the riggers of the ‘real world?’ Education was reserved in the past for the elite or those who were viewed as gifted; should an education be ‘wasted’ on those who do not aspire to greatness, or show now promise in the academic fields?
These questions can be overwhelming, especially to a teacher who is new to the world of teaching and educating the rising generations. A single theory or ideology cannot fit every situation. By examining the key elements of the following 4 ideologies, I will create, present, and explain my own philosophy as it applies to my own career and the students that I love.
The primary belief of the Scholar Academic is that as a people, we have acquired a vast amount of knowledge. This knowledge is our responsibility to hand down to the next generation. All the knowledge that has been gathered is organized into academic disciplines, which are in turn organized by content, framework, and conceptual ways of thinking. These things are taught in universities and schools everywhere.
In addition to passing the knowledge on to the rising generation, teachers themselves are expected to be lifelong learners, constantly seeking knowledge and working toward bettering themselves. This mode of thinking sets an example for new learners and instills in them a love of learning and knowledge.
To an academic scholar, intellect, academic disciplines, and knowledge in the world are basically the same thing. An academic discipline is a hierarchy; at the top are those seeking knowledge and truth, followed by the teachers, and finally the learners. The goal of Scholar Academics is to introduce others into the hierarchy and assist them in moving up through the ranks, so to speak, to the highest form of learning: seeking truth.
Subscribers to the Social Efficiency ideology believe education’s purpose is to churn out individuals who can function as mature adults in society. These said adults would have productive workplace and home lives, built on the foundations taught.
These ideologists believe that children must learn to perform certain competencies determined by set goals and objectives in order to be considered proficient. Teachers are given standards that must be met, and teach these standards using educational strategies and curriculum that are designed to help students meet goals and gain skills.
An educator’s first job in this ideology is to meet the needs of the society. Their job is to create a product: an educated human being that can meet the demands of real life in our world. Key Roles:
Concept of learning/Change in human behaviors
Creating and ordering learning experiences
Learner-Centered ideologists believe that learning and education is unique to each individual. Everyone has different needs when it comes to education. One student may excel in math while another struggle. Learner-Centered ideas focus on growth of the individual while keeping in sync with that person’s individual strengths in intellect, social grown, emotions, and even physical abilities.
One of the concepts these ideologists subscribe to is the ability of an individual to direct their own learning. These learners must be motivated know what they are capable of and to seek to improve in those areas. Learning is adjusted based on the individual, rather than have content taught to everyone. Student A may be learning something completely different than Student B.
Growth is the central theme here. Learning is considered the function of the interaction between a person and his or her environment. (Schiro, 2008, p.6) Everyone is capable of growth. It is the educator’s job to provide ‘context, environments, or units of work, which will stimulate growth in people as the construct meaning (and thus learning and knowledge) for themselves. (Schiro, 2008, p.6)
Social Reconstructionists look at education through the lense that society is failing. As a whole, there is a crisis around us, such as those that stem from race, gender, social, and economic inequalities. Their assumption is that education is there to help redirect and rebuild society in a better way.
The first assumption is that our society is unhealthy as it is and on the brink of collapse. Next, it is assumed that something can still be done to save society from its imminent demise. Education, with specific curriculum, is a medium through which a better way can be taught.
Culture plays a large role in how Social Reconstructionists teach. They consider human experience to be shaped most powerfully by cultural factors and assume that meaning in people’s lives is determined by their social experiences. (Schiro, 2008, p.6)
Basically, society is viewed as a whole, with no single individuals or experiences. Since society is experiencing a crisis, individuals are, too. The aim of reconstructionists is to rectify this by eliminating from their culture aspects that they consider undesirable, substituting in their place social values they consider desirable. (Schiro, 2008, p. 6)
It is difficult to comprehend that some ascribe only to one ideology. From my time in the classroom, I see clear pieces from each ideology in my own personal teaching style. I can see that meshing each of these styles together shapes my own personal philosophy as an educator.
My ultimate goal of education has always been to instill a love of learning in my students and ignite a passion in them to always seek after knowledge. I teach them the power of “YET.” It is never “I don’t know it” but always “I don’t know it YET.” The Scholar Academic ideology speaks strongly to me because of this outlook I have had in my own life. I fervently believe that the knowledge our society has should be sought after and acquired if at all possible. I myself have moved from being a student to a teacher, and even have reached the highest tier of the hierarchy at times, being a seeker of truth and knowledge myself.
While my goal of education subscribes to the Scholar Academic ideology, I believe my views on the roles of teachers and students falls more in line with the Learner-Centered ideology. I believe that each student has individual needs that need to be met. Students are unique and there is no ‘magic bullet’ in the classroom, as one of my favorite professors used to say. There is not a single way to teach that is going to be effective for every student in my class. Learner-Centered education is not easy in a public school environment. Here, the teacher acts as a facilitator or a guide. They lead the students through questioning and creating circumstances to enhance learning. With the primary goal being growth, an educator can measure the movement from the start to finish, rather than basing knowledge on the results of a paper and pencil test.
The downfall of this method has been evident in students who transfer into my class from a charter school. While students are unique and have different needs in the classroom, charter schools tend to take this a bit too far. Many lack in structure and as a result, students fall behind. This leads me into my third ideology that I can see in my own teaching: The Social Efficiency Ideology.
This ideology feels most like the public school system I teach in. We have a set of standards and objectives that we are required to teach. Students are in a structured and fast-paced environment. All the standards are designed to prepare them to move to the next grade, and when they are done with school, to become productive members of society.
I love the structure. Children need that. If you tell a student “go do this and then when you’ve mastered that, I’ll let you move on,” they will not do it on their own. Students like to know what is expected of them. They crave predictability. The standards and objectives that teachers in public schools teach from provide that. One thing they don’t do is dictate how a teacher teaches. There is still room for a teacher to ply their craft, while providing the structure and learning goals for the students to achieve.
My personal philosophy is this: Teachers should have a set of objectives from which they direct the education of students. By using these objectives, teachers should present curriculum and content in such a way that engages students and instills in them a desire to learn through their entire life. Learning should be, whenever possible, teacher-guided and student-led. Assessments should be as close to real-world assessments as they can be. It is not always possible to avoid a paper and pencil test, but wherever you can, you should.
This philosophy is appropriate for my instructional setting in many ways. It coincides with the requirements every public school teacher faces to teach from the core standards and objectives while catering to the needs of the individual student rather than that of society as a whole. It encourages students to develop a love of reading that will carry them through their entire life and teach them about the world they live in.
One strategy that I have utilized focuses on real-world application and assessment. In the 2nd grade core, we are required to teach about the parts of the letter. (Social Efficiency) A few years ago, I had an idea on how to bring real-world experience into my classroom as relates to teaching about the letter. For about a month, I collected junk mail from my mail box. I had credit card applications, random ads, and many other things. After we had learned about the parts of a letter (heading, greeting, body, closing, signature), I gave every student their very own letter to open. They were paired up (low student with someone a little higher) and they opened their letters together. Their job was to look for each part of the letter in their own piece of mail, and to label it.
As I walked around the room, it was easy to see who understood the lesson from the previous day and who did not. Some letters were missing a part, and even though students had been informed that might be the case, some were still confused, because, “you said that every letter needed to have these 5 parts, teacher!” I would respond with a question designed to get them thinking, such as, “Why do you think that there is no closing on this letter?” (Learner-Centered)
I am currently gathering junk mail again, since the time for teaching letter writing is coming again. This is one lesson that accurately shows my philosophy on assessing student understanding and the need for providing real-world experiences. Using this method has increased student understanding of this particular core standard. Since I began using this lesson, I have noticed an increase in abilities when labeling and writing letters.
The second strategy I have used is a mix of all 4 of the ideologies, but strongly rests in Scholar Academic and Social Reconstruction ideologies. While Social Reconstruction isn’t a heavy focus in my personal philosophy, it does have its role in my classroom.
I have several students of various races and nationalities in my room this year. Our school has a large Latino population, along with Native American and African American ancestry. As a result, you can bet there have been problems with racism and bullying.
The 2nd grade core standards require teachers to teach about informational writing. What it doesn’t say is how to teach that. (Teacher craft) For the past 4 years, I have been writing very specific curriculum designed to hit the core while instilling some important life skills into my students.
This unit is taught over the course of 7 weeks. Each week focuses on a different historical figure. Students are encouraged to ask questions and we have some pretty amazing discussions about history and past social norms. Half of the people we talk about are people of color. Race is brought into the spotlight. We talk about how important it is to understand why things happened so that they don’t happen again. We discuss why it’s so important to be kind to everyone, no matter what.
There is far too much content in this unit to include here, but the things that are taught are powerful and fully go along with my own philosophy on education. Social Reconstruction ideology is featured heavily as we work to build desirable social values, especially where race is concerned. Students are encouraged to seek answers to their questions on their own through research (Scholar Academic) and as they write their final report (Social Efficiency) they get to choose the historical figure they want to write about. (Learner-Centered.)
This unit has evolved over the last few years and will continue to evolve with each group of students I have. My students walk away with the skills they need to continue with informational writing in the upper grades, and hopefully also with social skills that encourage them to be kind.
I believe to be a truly effective educator, a teacher must utilize aspects of all 4 ideologies. Creating a teaching philosophy is not the work of one year, or even ten years as an educator. Shaping a philosophy takes time. Ultimately, as educators, we love our students. That love helps us to find ways to reach each one, teaching them based on their needs. Forming our own philosophy the foundation that continues to spread as we grow and learn with our students.