Month: November 2013

Explaining my Philosophy

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At Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws, I shared with my family how excited I am to be student teaching third grade in the Spring. I stated my hopes that my co-teacher holds the same teaching philosophy as me, and that we work well together. And then the question was posed to me: “What is your teaching philosophy?”

Having worked on this blog, as well as several other projects and assignments on the topic, you would think that this would be an easy answer. Constructivism! Humanism! Social Reconstructionism! Sure, but how do you explain that to someone who has no background in education, and thus doesn’t know what any of those words mean?

As I tried to explain my thinking, I can’t help but think back to the Brooks & Brooks article I wrote about several posts back. I tried to explain my distaste for a “quiet classroom” and love of hands-on learning, only to be met with horror from my Mother in Law, who immediately brought forth images of students doing whatever they desired, with no curriculum, no structure, and no real learning. (Some of the criticisms mentioned by Brooks & Brooks).

Later on at my own Mother’s house, it got even worse when I began to speak about students having agency and voice, and was asked by my rather abrasive grandfather, “How will you keep the little punks under control?”

Well, aside from the fact that I would never refer to a group of students as “little punks,” I admit I did have to pause on that one. I started to give a reply about how we’ll work things out together and as I did I realized – I don’t want control over my students. I want to work together to build a classroom community where everyone feels valued and things run fluidly because it is best for all, not because “we have to follow the rules.”

Another thing that I mentioned, when prompted to share what kind of teacher I hoped to be, was social reconstructionsim. My husband and I both come from families with some fairly stalwart conservatives, so while they didn’t get the full meaning of the term it was enough to raise a few brows and roll several pairs of eyes. No one really had to ask me to go in depth on that particular topic – for many years now I have used my own voice quite persistently to speak up about what I feel is right and when I think something is wrong. Honestly, I think no one wanted to ask more about that because they were afraid what might come out next if they had!

Overall, though, it was an interesting experience, and one I felt I ought to share. Theorizing about the type of teacher and person you will be is well and good, but it is what happens when you are prompted out in the real world and when you are truly put to the test of living it that matters. There are some areas where I divert from that path somewhat (using time-outs, for example, as a teaching tool with toddlers) but overall I feel more and more confident in my philosophy every day.

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Critical Exposure

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Critical Exposure Project
http://www.criticalexposure.org/gallery
“Critical Exposure is a nonprofit that teaches youth to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change.”

I stumbled upon the Critical Exposure Project a little while ago, and had nearly forgotten about it. I want to highlight it here, though, as it does something I feel is incredibly important. CEP recognized that many students have very meaningful opinions about the environment that they are thrust into (and legally required to be there!), and yet for the most part are given no platform to make their voices heard. Low-income or urban schools have scores upon scores of articles, theories, expositions and the like written about and around them, but very few have asked the students themselves what they feel is needed.

This project teaches students to use photography as the conduit to make their voices heard as they speak out for social justice and reform on their own terms. I love seeing this, as it feels far more honest than most articles I’ve read – where someone from outside of the system comes into a school to observe for awhile and then write about what’s wrong/right with it. It also reflects my own belief that if students are to gain anything from their schools, they must feel as if they are valued and their voices have merit and worth.

How Do You Help Young People Care?

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How Do You Help Young People Care About School?

By Sam Chaltain

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/civic_mission/2013/09/how_do_you_help_young_people_care_about_school.html

 

This article was a fantastic read. It talks about a project in Baltimore called “Incentive Mentoring Program” which takes students who have been basically swept under the rug and ignored in normal systems and draws them in to this program that helps them see value in being at school. The keywords here are “never, ever give up.

I love it. So many students get swept aside every day, discounted as unable to be helped. Much of the time, it’s because something is missing in the things that they need to feel like school is more rewarding than the other (often not so great) choices offered out in the world. Sometimes it is as simple as knowing there is someone who cares enough to check on your progress. Sometimes the needs are greater and require a bit more effort from those involved.

In either instance, this is a fantastic example both of what I think of as Humanism, and Reconstructionism as well. After all, they are taking kids who had otherwise been discounted and telling them that they are worthwhile. They are creating a community where these students are valued, and thus value the environment of the school. I think we need more of that – giving reasons for students to actually want to attend, rather than punishing them when those reasons don’t exist.

Challenged

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Yesterday, and the day before, I wrestled with a great deal of frustration surrounding the final science inquiry session with our students. Because we had spent several sessions giving students the chance to mess around, and because I also believe that  writing and literature should be an important component of any lesson, I wanted our last session to be a wrap up and share out style of lesson.

We had spent nearly 3/4 of the sessions just building airplanes and testing them. Over, and over, and over. Though we had notebooks, we had spent no time really setting up a system of recording that was organized, so much of what had been written was all over the place.

For our last session, I had the idea of having students write down individual things they learned and wanted everyone to know on post-it notes, and pasting them onto an airplane cutout. They had several weeks of experiments, 7 different pages in their notebooks where they had taken notes, a KWL chart, and their prior knowledge to draw from. After a few minutes of this, they would pair up and pretend to be the Wright Brothers. This would give them a chance to tell the class all about their fantastic airplane experiments and what they learned.

My lesson was struck down, as I was told that the kids didn’t like to write (of course they didn’t, we had not provided them with enough books, no purpose for their exploration, and just gave them a handout to fill in!) and should experiment again to create a final airplane. So that’s what we did, again.

My frustration, and the reason I am analyzing this is because I look at my lesson, and the one that was ultimately decided on and I question not only if mine would have worked (I still think they would have enjoyed it), but also how the two compare when it comes to constructivism. Some would say that because the experiments were hands on, they are “more inquiry” or “more constructivist” but didn’t we learn that a lesson can fall under those categories while still having structure and purpose?

I don’t really have a wrap-up for this post, but I needed to take a minute to examine what the options were, and if perhaps I was wrong in my beliefs. Having done that, I still hold firm in the lesson I proposed and wrote, and think that it  could have been a very engaging way to wrap up our time together while providing evidence that something was learned. Maybe I am misunderstanding how this philosophy works, but somehow, I think not.

Humanism

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I’ve mentioned constructivism quite a bit so far, but I haven’t had much of a chance to speak on Humanism. I’ve been using this blog to reflect my own thoughts and experiences, and while we often talk about philosophies in a “bigger picture” idealistic type of way, often times it is the little things that can make a difference in a child’s day.

As mentioned before, I’ve been substituting for several years now. And while I enjoy being in the classroom, I often am placed in situations where there are behavioral plans or classroom management plans in place that I have a hard time agreeing with. That leads to a little bit of classroom confusion, as it also means that my own personal style of dealing with students is different than what they are used to.

In one instance, I was stuck making sure students did several problems from a book assignment. They weren’t engaged, and in this school I did not have a lot of freedom to move away from the script to make things more interesting. So, as children are wont to do when they are frustrated and bored, they act out. For one little boy, that meant that two students at the table where he was assigned to sit were spending their time harassing him instead of being productive. He did not say much, in fact it was only brought to my attention because one of the students who was doing the harassing tried to draw me into it!

What I encountered when I came over to see what was going on was a little boy with his fists clenched in anger as he tried desperately to hold back any negative response to these students who were intent on drawing one out of him. He looked up at me with eyes that pleaded for me to understand, as if to say “can’t you see I’m trying?” All I could think of, in that instance, was my own brother as a child having the same reaction to my father’s prodding that he work harder on his homework, his own blue eyes pleading for me (who was trying to help him) to please explain that he was trying so very hard and only needed a little more patience than what he was being given.

When I pulled the little boy away from that table, it broke my heart to see how upset he was, fearing that he had not been able to hold his emotions in enough and was in trouble now. I assured him that he was not in any trouble at all, and I only wanted him to be able to work in relative peace. I asked if he would like to work on the other side of the room for awhile, and I swear the look of relief and joy on his face nearly brought me to tears.

From that moment on, that little boy was the most respectful student to me that I think I have ever seen. He finished his assignment quickly and read quietly, grateful to be in a place he felt more comfortable (I ended up allowing him to stay there for the rest of the day. I wasn’t about to re-seat him with students who were bullying him. For those two, a note was left for the teacher as I was not allowed to do much more).

THIS is what I want to be. I want to be the teacher that my students trust to understand, who they know they can come to me if they are fearful, or frustrated, or just need someone to listen because I won’t react in punishment but in caring. I can still see that little boy in my mind, his whole body tense with anger and fear, preparing himself to get sent to the office before I had even kneeled down to find out what was wrong. I never want to see that in my own room, because if it ever gets to that point, I’ll know I have gone wildly wrong somewhere and hurt someone innocent in the process.