Being an educator, I have been challenged to develop a philosophy of education. In my view, these documents are a little silly because they are less pragmatic and more pie-in-the-sky. However, it is definitely fun to consider what the educational world would be like if I had my way. So, the following is my stab at it.
Ultimately, my philosophy boils down to two maxims:
- Education is student-focused.
- All ideas are fair game.
Allow me to unpack those.
Education is Student-focused
As a teacher, I am certainly a learner. In fact, the most difficult aspect of teaching for me has been pulling myself away from my inner-student long enough to grade papers and evaluate how my pupils are doing. The dichotomy definitely exits. I am both teacher and student. However, in my workaday job, I must focus less on my own education and more on that of my students. Consequently, what I do is less about me and more about them.
To this end, I hope to create opportunities for self-discovery. This is why I embrace the Socratic method and open discussion in many of my classes. While there is value to lecture, I think that the most meaningful learning experiences happen when we are guided to learn for ourselves.
My hope is to create a student-focused environment in the classroom that allows students to learn and discover for themselves.
There are two primary challenges to this:
- Student Motivation
- Teacher Preparation
My biggest challenge is to keep students motivated. Ultimately, learning is up to the student. The teacher exists to guide and prod. Anyone who has any fantastic ideas about how I can do this better is certainly welcome to share them with me. I’d love it!
The second challenge is to adequately prepare. When operating within a discussion-based class, the teacher, as leader, needs to be prepared for whatever the students throw into the arena. On one hand, this probably caters to my learning side. I have to know as much as I possibly can about a topic. On the other, this is an amazingly difficult task for me as I like control. The key to a student-centered class, however, is relinquishing some of that control.
The other challenge in preparation for class is learning what kinds of questions to ask, how to ask them, and when to ask them. Asking the right question at the right time is crucial. It’s the difference between a very confused student and a student who has just experienced a profound epiphany. How do you prepare for that? I think you just have to try it out. I fail all the time.
All Ideas are Fair Game
I truly believe that every idea is worth exploring — even if that idea runs counter to my thought, understanding, worldview, religion, etc.
Sometimes a student brings an idea into class that is totally wrong (or just plain weird). Stifling that student, and chastising him/her in front of the whole class is always counter-productive. Rather, because my style of teaching is highly democratic, that student’s idea should be explored.
The trick, of course, is knowing how and when to lower the hammer on an idea that is truly atrocious. Occasionally, you have to do it. Again, I think this is probably learned through experience, and I’m still learning.
On good days, the ideas that students bring are truly challenging. These ideas force me to rethink how I viewed a given topic. Even if I come out thinking exactly as I had before, I am better for having been challenged.
I think the same is true of students. Teachers exist to challenge them and force them to rethink the paradigms and structures that they have built around their brains. Sometimes they’ll continue thinking exactly as they did before. That’s fine. But they’ll own that thinking more than they did before.
Encouraging students to think for themselves is my ultimate goal.