a philosophy of heart and mind

If we are to be radically candid with ourselves, as teachers, we each carry an image of our ideal classroom within us.  We dream of teaching in a school that best suits our skills, with students that reflect our ideals, a classroom designed perfectly for our needs, and a staff and administration that fold neatly into the other as we go about our tasks and goals for the day.  Of course, after the first round of student teaching, this perfect fantasy crumbles and we quickly sweep the pieces away, forever keeping them in the realm of fantasy.  And this is appropriate - a teaching philosophy focused around a transient understanding of the students and school culture is a much more powerful approach in an ever diversifying world.  However, it is important to remember the essence of why we started teaching.  And this is central to my teaching philosophy.

My teaching philosophy focuses on four main pillars.  The first pillar maintains that a teacher is the facilitator of learning, expert in teaching only by setting up the circumstances that lead students to intuitive discovery. The second pillar demands that a classroom is an inclusive and adaptive environment, and this responsibility is set by the teacher but extends to all participants in the classroom.  The third pillar stands on the idea that the classroom is a model for establishing the school culture, encouraging the interdependence of all students and staff in the school.  And the fourth pillar asks that all levels of the school organization maintain an awareness and involvement in the greater community, city, country, and the world.  You’ll notice that the pillars begin with an inwardly inspection of my role as a teacher and each pillar subsequently looks more and more out.  The hope is that with this philosophy, I can nurture ethical, democratic, self aware, and globally conscious students.

Let’s take a look at the first pillar more closely.  What is my immediate responsibility to myself, the students, the staff, and the school at large?  A strong teacher knows that each lesson is a performance.  It is my responsibility to prepare for lessons to the highest degree of preparation so that it will glide seamlessly during the hour long block when I have the students.  As described before, a lesson should only set up the circumstances that lead students to intuitive discovery for it is against my philosophy to act as a gatekeeper of knowledge.  I will not stand before my students as a deliverer of knowledge, and while lectures have a time and place, it will not be my primary mode of teaching.  A constructivist approach suits my philosophy more comfortably.  My role as a teacher asks that I look at each classroom, year after year, as an exciting puzzle that is to be solved.  And the puzzle pieces are my students.  Solving how each of them fit together to make a beautifully coherent final portrait is my primary work.  I become as much a student of my students’ as they are students’ of the subject.  While upholding the highest standards of content knowledge, my teaching is intentionally aware of students’ need for socialization, self confidence, and feelings of belonging and love.  It doesn’t come as a surprise that Drama and English are my specializations as my teaching philosophies reflect a lot of the objectives of the humanities and arts.  My planning and organizing will be considerate of adaptive and ongoing student needs, as this contributes to their wholistic wellbeing.  However, I know that I can’t do all of this alone.  Which is why I call on the second pillar, the help of my students, to establish a strong and safe learning environment.

The second pillar lays a foundation for emotionally healthy and intellectually fair learning to take place in the classroom.  The standards are set as a collective.  What irks you?  What makes you laugh?  Who do you like to hang out with?  Why?  These sorts of questions allow me to explore our shared moral landscape.  And these moral codes form the basis of our collective culture of inclusion and adaptation.  But of course, I come with my own set of beliefs which I undoubtedly think are integral to a safe learning environment.  I invite my students to be considerate of all ethnicities, religions, gender expressions, sexualities, and levels of physical and cognitive (dis)abilities.  My teaching practise closely considers these aspects and I hope to design a classroom culture that lowers oppressive barriers and minimizes marginalization.  Students will learn based on what they need to learn, not based on some false sense of meritocracy.  I recognize that students begin at different playing fields, and it is my task to establish a learning context which all students feel that they are active players in creating such an environment.  I want to give them the confidence to feel as if they are authors in the story of humanity and not just passive watchers.  This begins in a classroom that is aware that it reflects the greater struggles of Canadian, North American, and global society.  When students feel empowered in their classroom, they will feel empowered beyond its walls.  When we can design an inclusive and adaptive classroom, students will become better citizens of their school.  And this is where we look at the third pillar.

As a teacher, I am mindful of my impact beyond the classroom.  It is an important interest how I contribute to the greater school environment.  Establishing hallway relationships with students is just as integral to maintaining healthy learning standards as the classroom relationships.  More so, establishing healthy hallway relationships with other teachers, administration, leadership, and facility caretakers is equally important.  If developing the students as wholistic people who are active participants in their lives, we can best do this by modelling it.  Modelling healthy interwork relationships, modelling anti-oppressive practises with our colleagues, modelling progressive inclusion with other staff; these are the qualities that uplift the entire school.  And ultimately, these are the qualities that uplift the students.  This takes shape when we show, not simply professionalism, but an earnest respect and appreciation towards staff, school property, and events.  This doesn’t mean conflict won’t happen, of course it does! It’s how we deal with conflict that becomes a model.  And if we commit to a pedagogy of love, then we can confront conflict, perhaps even at times firmly, but always with a united intention of forgiveness and love.  If we can achieve that within the walls of our school, then we can be sure to send our students out into a world where they propagate the same philosophies.

If my classroom is a micro-model of my school, then my school is a micro-model of my community.  And these micro-models continue to grow until we’re impacting macro structures in the world.  My teaching will have a community, national, and global awareness.  As important as it is to diversify my teaching at the individual level, it is equally important to contextualize my teaching at a global level.  My hope is that students do not feel like they are separate from society, but rather, that they are society.  Lesson plans tackling specific objectives need to be contextualized in pertinent social trends.  This way of engagement makes the learning more interesting and relevant.  If I can activate their personal interest in the learning, then their social consideration is sure to follow.  How is the theatre landscape impacted by evolving technologies? How does learning about character archetypes in an English class translate to our understanding of expected gender roles in our day to day life?  How does our understanding of expected gender roles contribute to sexism, homophobia, and transphobia?  These and similar questions are the ones that my students are worthy and capable of addressing.

These four pillars described form the foundation of a philosophy that I believe will let me be a malleable and transient teacher.  I will be malleable to the needs of my students, colleagues, and community, and transient to the changing nature of children, youth, and the relevant time.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, we have an ideal dream of a classroom when we enter the profession.  We needn’t keep this ideal dream too buried.  In fact, we should use this image as a goal.  My goal is to nurture ethical, democratic, self aware and globally conscious citizens.  And by accepting and meeting my students where they’re at, only then can I work towards that hopeful and optimistic vision.  ​