This statement, from an instructional coach, really surprised me. Her reasoning was, essentially, that once a teacher is faced with the reality of the classroom, a philosophy is useless. She argued, “Knowing that you have the task of motivating those students to learn, managing a group of children, or tweens, or teens who could conceivably turn on you at any point. Trust me. By minute two of that experience, all the philosophy statements you’ve ever written are forgotten.”
Respectfully, I disagree.
Maybe it’s because it isn’t the writing of the philosophy that’s the important thing. After all, writing it down doesn’t mean much. It’s the living of the philosophy that makes it your philosophy, and my colleague implies that a living of a philosophy isn’t possible when faced with reality.
If the philosophy is so far removed from reality that it cannot be lived, then, sure. It’s a messed-up philosophy, and she made a valid point about preservice educators and new teachers being asked to write down a philosophy when they had not experienced the classroom. Sure, I can follow why that might be an issue, but new teachers have to start somewhere. They have to be able to articulate what they're thinking in order to adjust that thinking.
Because a philosophy of education isn’t a stagnant mode of thinking. It’s flexible and changing. So it makes even more sense, then, that experienced educators who have lived the reality (as my colleague has), DO have a philosophy of education. A real, workable philosophy. One that they can convey every day.
My philosophy of education relies on my authenticity with my students at all times, particularly when I am unsure, stressed, or completely wrong because students don’t need a teacher to be perfect. They need to see a mature adult working through what is not perfect. They need to see how to handle things when those things don’t go “right.” And if we go off-track, but immediately verbalize awareness of that lapse or error to move back on track, we have taught those students the most valuable lesson of all: how to be a life-long learner.
A large part of this philosophy entails the willingness of the teacher to be a fellow learner with students. A sense of community brought into the classroom stems from that teacher as student. In our collaborative book, one of my former students wrote:
You learned from us. You made us feel like our input mattered. As you taught us, you also thrived on our myriad perspectives. Due to this simple characteristic, you managed to reach me more than any other teacher had. Because while other exceptional teachers may have managed to draw out our interest as students, they were the teacher and we, the students. Not THEIR students, merely THE students.
But with you, we were all in it together. We thrived and grew off of each other. And while you were clearly the authority, the source of our knowledge, our teacher, you were also our mentor. There with us. Growing with us. ~Daniel
This sense of “all in it together” is a powerful force to embrace, particularly as we find ourselves in the Digital Age. Helping students understand that technology is a tool that can be molded, wielded, created, and enhanced is where teachers are at this moment in education. Integrating technology in curriculum is not an “extra” to be tagged onto a lesson, nor is it something just for the privileged or gifted. If teachers are to ensure that they have adequately prepared students for the kinds of problems that they will encounter in the future, then we must be prepared to learn alongside them, work through the glitches and our own mistakes, and find the balance between what is known and what can be. I want to continue to thrive and grow with my students.
Philosophies of education can aid new and struggling teachers, but they have to have the opportunity to develop them and live them, not just write them down. And certainly, not dispense with the exercising of this thought because it requires an adjustment of perspective. To the contrary, that is why teachers should be asked to reflect on their philosophy, again and again.
Mindy and some of her former students wrote Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school.