My philosophy on education was formed quite early as a result of my day to day learning in public school, and consequently, it has been undeniably inaccurate. I was a hard-working, driven student, with little inclination to question the nature of my education. I simply came to school, soaked in the instruction of the day, and committed myself to perform well - whether that was in adding and subtracting fractions or finding the theme throughout the latest fictional novel. All of it seemed necessary, but I lacked a true purpose for my education. I entered the teaching profession young and naive nine years ago with a clearer purpose than I had growing up; however over time it has changed dramatically and is far more fluid and developed than it once was.
Education is important; it is important to develop knowledge, acquire capabilities, and assimilate facts into the deep crevices of the brain, but there are more factors at play than a student's ability to grasp a hypothetical concept or study efficiently for a test. What I didn’t realize early in my education was that motivation, interest, intrigue, practicality, connection, and personal value are the principal elements of education (Lovat & Clement, 2008). The attainment of knowledge, sound logic, and the ability to reason, whether it is preferable to the educator or not, come second to a student's affective well-being (Council, Allen, Allen, Kelly & Kelly, 2015). Though most educators join the profession because they love their discipline, only those who understand, embody and satisfy the students' affective needs can be truly successful. Through time, reading and implementation, philosophical elements of American education, such as idealism, essentialism, pragmatism, and perennialism, began to influence the development of my educational philosophy and allowed my views to evolve.
When it comes to instruction, I lean towards perennialism and essentialism, a belief that what has stood the test of time is valuable (Blythe, 2009). Conversely, what has not stood the test of time should be modified. If the best instructional strategy consistently produces mediocre results, it is time to branch out and try new things. What has worked decently in the past is acceptable for a time, but if the goal is to have 100% engagement, and that goal is not being met, I’ve learned I need to experiment and revise old practices. Despite the need to often modify instructional styles, tried and true methods have strong validity. It is important for the students to be supplied with what is essential to their success. Backward design is always implemented in my classroom. I am always asking myself, “What do I want my students to learn or get from this?”. Instructional strategies are also designed to assist the end goals. How I group my students, what I find I need to reteach, and how long we spend learning a topic or skill, all connect to the formative assessments used in my room. These play an integral part in my students’ learning processes and allow me to tweak and modify my teaching. The goal, after all, is to learn the material and apply it - not to get it right on a one-time summative test.
The metaphysics appropriate to my philosophical viewpoints are a mixture of idealism, perennialism, and pragmatism. Like Plato, I strive to know and reflect ideas in my life. I believe a perfect or ideal state exists for each situation and person, and there is always a morally and upstanding position that can be taken (Frede, 2015). Morality is not relative, it is certain (Frede et al, 2015). Practical knowledge, like the perennialists may condone, can be derived from what is tried and true (Frede et al, 2015). Information and human reason that stands the test of time can be considered useful for instruction. Often the latest whim of the educational society is unreliable, and therefore must be tempered with caution. I adhere to pragmatic philosophy, “What is real is what is practical, applicable, and useful” (Frede, 2015), and I aim to make that clear in all my lessons and conversations with my students.
As I have grown as an educator, I now look at education with a multifaceted approach. The rigor and quality of knowledge in diverse disciplines throughout education are a given. This is the overriding focus that the vast majority of stakeholders in education can agree upon. Examining the subject at a deeper degree, one may come to the realization that the reason for this collection of knowledge is to produce capable and successful contributing members of society. Given this larger purpose of education, I feel some leeway regarding the methods by which a student meets the standards may be given. In my day to day teaching, I believe the teacher should have the liberty to select texts and materials that relate and apply to their specific demographic. In my classroom, character education is the center of most lessons and is emphasized throughout selected texts that tailor to the needs of my classroom. The subconscious mantra of most teachers is to kill two (or three) birds with one stone whenever possible; meaning time is of the essence. I believe that character education is a fundamental part of the purpose of education that must be assimilated into the curriculum as each teacher sees fit. It is important for students to succeed with substantial knowledge, but also with a substantial moral compass that can be applied across the curriculum and into day to day life.
The scope of the curriculum should unquestionably cover the standards, the sequence, however, should be up to the teacher to decide. I wholeheartedly feel it is important to start out a new school year very slow, establishing routines, expectations, and confidence in students so that a heavier load of skills and strategies may be applied as the year and curriculum progress. Although there is endless information to cover, the students must be a part of the 'discovery' process. Socratic questioning plays a big part in my class discussions, as students are involved in choosing what they learn to some degree. This falls in line as an element of learning that a pragmatist may endorse. A limited choice between equally helpful and challenging topics supports high standards but also allows for freedom of expression. Concepts in interpreting literature, writing, and speech build upon one another. Time focusing on one particular area is extensive - as I do not believe in a survey of any topic, rather an in-depth focus being the best way to truly learn and apply something.
All students want to learn and be successful, but sadly students enter classrooms with life experiences that have affected their growth. Each student is different, and each student carries different amounts of baggage and predispositions in varying forms. Most days, a large portion of my students come ready to learn, relatively self-controlled, and open for instruction. The remainder of the students, however, have affective filters, skewed philosophies, or domestic disturbances that act as drawbacks to development (Ni, 2012). These negative experiences at home or with peers or teachers, often produce these affective filters. For example, many students and families have counterproductive philosophies, believing that the weight of responsibility lies solely on the teacher to make a student learn. This is a belief of entitlement, and it is difficult to uproot. These students need to be in a position to make choices and see how those choices affect them. I try to teach my students that they cannot be coddled with a lack of accountability, meaning I must show and teach them the flaws in this logic. On the extreme end, students also have domestic unrest. These students are so emotionally scarred that they have trouble accessing any of the information or strategies presented. I’ve learned that these filters must be removed or acknowledged for learning to take place. Often this is an extremely difficult task and it takes time for trust to be built. Regardless, all my students are given some leeway, some love, are affirmed regularly, and shown and told how capable they are.
Philosophies and life experiences aside, the role for me is to equip students for success. Teachers in Massachusetts must follow the standards. The majority has agreed upon these standards and that is what teachers are employed to do. Often the material may seem uninteresting or debatable, but teachers are employees, not supreme rulers of children. Teachers answer to the state, administration, and parents. My district follows a curriculum document that aligns the standards K-12 in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. The cornerstone of all teaching should be to equip students to be successful, so connections to real life must be made consistently and repeatedly. I continue to teach that character education has the end goal of producing morally honest citizens, however, one's ability to distinguish justified belief from opinion may influence how character is taught. If it is assumed that people are inherently evil, the best character education can do is manage students through incentives and discipline. But, if people have equal potential for good or even underlying disposition for good, character education will be embarked upon differently. The latter is my opinion. Character education must be approached with the trust that people naturally want to make good choices - it is only unfamiliarity or illogical fear or embarrassment that inhibits people. The aim of character education and part of the role of the teacher is to invalidate fear that may prevent a student from communicating their innermost desire to be successful and to provide logic for students who need to make clear connections about their decisions and the effects of those decisions.
My worldview is pliable to some extent. I believe each human life has a genuine purpose, immense value, and that morality is not relative. The moldable portions of my worldview include how my beliefs are expressed. The embodiment of my beliefs has changed over time, and I expect it will continue to morph as new experiences, revelations, and information offer new perspectives. In an educational setting, this can be readily applied.
My ultimate goal as a teacher is to provide students with the ability to be effective communicators, both written and verbal, build their character, and become contributing members to society. Students will only be on board to this idea if they first believe that people are valued. If students feel important themselves, they will also see value in other people and see the importance in all education has to offer. Students must also be safe and free, feel secure and respected. The environment in which they learn and the relationships they create is key to the acquisition of who they become as lifelong learners and people. My hope is they walk out of my classroom different than I did, with a clear purpose for learning that is fluid and developed.