Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Philosophy of Teaching

Ariel, we move on to actual “Teaching.” See if you like these ideas. I wrote these thoughts as one of eight essays submitted toward my selection as RISD Teacher of the Year, 1990-1991 and then as Regional Secondary Teacher of the Year (1990 – 1991).

Teaching is one of the Passion Professions. Teaching is a calling, a mission, a gift, an addiction, a “high.” Writers write from need; musicians play, sing, or compose to bring out what lives inside their souls; philosophers cannot keep from thinking, musing, sharing. The teacher is each of these. S/he does not decide to be; s/he just is.

All teachers do not live in the classroom. Some teachers seem to teach by example, as do leaders. Some teachers teach looking back over their shoulders, as do philosophers. Some teachers teach with a wide angle lens on the now; as do pragmatists. Some teachers teach looking up over the horizon, as do visionaries. The classroom teacher is each of these: a leader, a philosopher, a pragmatist, a visionary.

An outstanding teacher knows s/he is outstanding. S/he does not worry about formal evaluations; s/he self-evaluates constantly. S/he looks into the eyes, hearts, and minds of her students watching for pluses to be expanded and for minuses to be improved. S/he exudes self-confidence, good health, energy and joy. S/he loves learning and her students know it. S/he gets excited about new ideas, and her students want to be the ones to present them. S/he is happy when s/he is in the classroom (literally or figuratively) and misses it when s/he is not. S/he does not bring heavy baggage into her teaching space. S/he leaves it at home. . .or on the jogging track.

An outstanding teacher models but does not preach. She stands tall but not from a pedestal. She facilitates more than she dictates. She listens as much as she talks. She knows that inside each student lies a little pearl of truth and beauty itching to know and to understand more. She knows some pearls are deeper and harder to find while others seem to shine and gleam from the surface. The important fact is that the pearl is there in each and every student. The outstanding teacher does not seek out only the easy students with pearls of great luster and great beauty. The outstanding teacher finds a special privilege and satisfaction in seeking out and finding those deepest, darkest pearls of little luster and little beauty. It is the outstanding teacher who discovers that the greatest effort can produce the greatest reward.

The outstanding teacher does not go beyond her teaching space simply because s/he seeks reward. S/he goes beyond to extend her gift. S/he seeks out a chance to support students outside of the classroom. S/he seeks out new avenues to learn more so that s/he can enrich her gift.

The outstanding teacher is, to a great degree, a visionary. But s/he is also a realist and a pragmatist. S/he knows that all students can learn. But sometimes s/he realizes that there will be failures despite her efforts. S/he knows that it is acceptable to grieve these failures, and s/he does not blame or dismiss them easily.

My greatest reward in teaching has been in the learning. Through teaching, not only am I learning deeper and broader content information, but I have learned that because of the seriousness of the teacher’s responsibility, s/he is dealing with conscience more than many other people. As a new teacher, I did not know that teaching would hone such outcome, let alone reward. As a new teacher, I reveled in the rewards of student discovery, of teacher/student caring and loving, of saved failures, of the excitement of creating. But now, I realize that with each year, with each effort, I have become a better person; a kinder, more adaptive teacher; an intellectually more interested student. And so now I know that the outstanding teacher is, in fact, an outstanding student. I am proud to continue to be both. . .teacher and student; the one enhancing the other.