Straight Up

Where I’ve Been, Philosophy-Wise:

When I started teaching, I taught how I had been taught: I had no real “teaching philosophy” other than the silly one I had written for my student-teaching portfolio.  It was visually a great portfolio; I used colored paper and a thirty-pound word-processor with a cursive wheel…I know, super innovative!  The content, however, was similar to what I would have written in sixth grade had someone asked me to make a portfolio about being a teacher.  I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TEACHING WAS ABOUT!  What a ridiculous waste of time.

If I had to write my teaching philosophy now, after spending twenty years in the classroom, here’s what I’d write followed by an example of why for each tenet:

#1:  Love students.

During Teaching Year Five, in the teachers’ lounge (I know, I shouldn’t have been in there), another teacher told this story (paraphrased): “Last night, when I was driving home from school, I saw [anonymous student’s name here] walking on the sidewalk, and it took everything I had not to drive up on the sidewalk and run him over.”  True story.  Everyone else laughed.  I started working on my resume and inadvertently began forming my teaching philosophy.

#2: Never be sarcastic.

During Teaching Years Six through Ten, I worked on a teaching team (great idea, in theory) with three men who were the most sarcastic adults I have ever met, a principal who wanted to be friends with everyone, and two school counselors who were better suited for jobs in maximum-security prisons.  I tried.  I really did.  But then I heard this (another paraphrasing): “If you do that again, I’m going to chop off your fingers in this paper cutter!”  Time to update my resume again.

#3: Do what is best for students. Always.

During Teaching Years Eleven through Eighteen, I worked with amazing people who were supportive of what I was doing in my classroom.  I earned my graduate degree; dove more deeply into research about teaching, grading, reading, and writing; developed resources to guide my students toward authentic learning; and participated in the Greater Madison Writing Project.  Then, all hell broke loose.  Wisconsinites, you know what…or, rather, WHO I mean. To make matters worse, at approximately the same time, my incredible department chair and long-time mentor had recently retired and had been replaced by a crazy, anti-administration, pro-union zealot who swam daily in the political cesspool that was drowning teachers around the state.  I knew that what I was doing in my classroom was backed by research, but when he said this (NOT paraphrased), “You are an embarrassment to our department,” I began, once again, updating my resume and applying for teaching positions, but, this time, I started looking for a job 1500 miles away.

#4: Teach for learning, not testing.

During Teaching Year Nineteen, I loved my students (check!), was never sarcastic (check!), and always did what was best for students (check!).  Bummer for me that the philosophy of the charter school where I worked included testing, practice testing, practice for practice testing, debriefing after the practice test, and then follow-up testing.  That’s not exactly how the philosophy was worded in the school’s promotional literature, but that’s basically what it meant.  What it meant for me was another resume update.

#5: Be nice.

During Teaching Year Twenty, I lived by the first four tenets of my teaching philosophy.  Success on all fronts!  However, one little thing kept bothering me during the year: excessively angry teachers. I have seen these teachers at every one of the schools I’ve worked, but this year it affected me more than it ever had.  Teachers angry at teachers.  Angry at administrators. And, the worst of all, angry at students.  Not a day went by that I didn’t hear a teacher scream at a student. But no resume-updating this time!  I’m not leaving!  I’m going to do what I know is best for students by continuing to love them with kindness, not sarcasm, and maybe, just maybe, my example will be the catalyst for the change I hope to see in every school in the country.  Okay, that’s a big goal, but I really want every person to imagine a world in which every student has a positive school experience.  It can happen.  And it should.

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