I’ll be attending the 2016 Immersion (Teacher Track) at the end of this month, and in preparation for this and for general maintenance of my teaching endeavors I’ve decided to unpack my teaching philosophy as a way of jump-starting my efforts in critical reflection. Lately, 3 things have been on my mind.
- I believe questions are one of our most powerful tools, as teachers and as learners.
In a letter to a senator, Helen Keller wrote, “I used to think that when I studied Civil Government and Economics, all my difficulties and perplexities would blossom into beautiful certainties; but alas, I find that there are more tares than wheat in these fertile fields of knowledge” (Story of My Life). Questions, at least in my life’s experience, admittedly, have only ever lead to more questions, which is not frustrating, but a mouth-watering promise to feed a curiosity that can never be satiated. And to ask questions is to assert power, which l use as a purposefully loaded word, in this case. Which leads me to my second point.
2. It is our duties as teachers to provide the most diverse (in the broadest sense of the word) materials in an environment that respects all forms of literacy and questions all forms of inquiry.
Power structures in the classroom are inevitable, which can be a barrier to those-not-in-power to asking questions. It’s imperative that I remember that diverse backgrounds create diverse sociocultural literacies (Elmborg, 2006), which can make it difficult for people to communicate freely in an environment that does not respect the legitimacy of different cultural literacies. This is something I struggle with, because as much as I want classrooms to be a safe space for questions and debate, this is often easier said than done. It’s also something, for me, at least, that is a constant pursuit, an asymptotic learning curve that I, as someone who was born into privilege, will always hope to approach. And in order to create the dialogue that so badly needs to be a part of a well-rounded educational experience, the person leading that classroom, whether she portends to upholding a hierarchical structure or not, is in charge of that. So it is just as important to ask questions as it is to invite them.
3. Fostering curiosity and the willfulness to pursue that curiosity is easier said than done.
I have lately been fascinated by studies done by psychologists and educational scholars on how to tackle difficult-to-measure and difficult-to-foster measures of success in the classroom. This may be because my only exposure to teaching (other than being a TA for literature surveys in graduate school) has been in subjects that students are classically averse to. I think that this kind of teaching warrants as much curiosity and grit as it requires from students. I think that being an effective teacher also means being a willing learner, opening up to the community of teachers that have already tackled and still tackle these questions, which leads to my last point:
4. Teaching and learning are about engaging in community, in one way or another.
I subscribe to the school of social constructivist teaching, where learners who are can actively participate in their learning communities are more likely to gain deeper understanding. At the least, this creates a democratic learning environment among peers, and ideally, it imbues the importance of active citizenship in the classroom. Whether classmates are communing with each other, or creating something with/for their communities, they are social activists in their own education. At its core, teaching is activism, and to engage productively with one’s community is to participate in social justice.