“I Teach Students, Not Subjects” -Elizabeth B. Moje, 1996
Perhaps the statement that has stood out the most to me over the past few years is the above. The idea that teachers often get caught up in teaching nothing more than the material they are paid to teach. In my own experience, I was rushed through the material at a breakneck pace. Me and my peers were required to constantly keep working, and for the most part, most of what I learned left the day after. As such, my first belief as a teacher is that it is important to teach the students, and not the subjects. What this means is to build relationships with students. Figure out what they like, and take note of it whether through learner profiles or other means. Then, use this new knowledge to adapt lessons to your class. Not every student learns the same. And not every student has similar interests. To me, this is the most crucial part of teaching. Building relationships with the learners in your classroom, and understanding that they are not the same person. They have different backgrounds and hobbies, practices and traditions. It is a teacher’s job to find out how best to teach each student.
Additionally, each student that walks through the classroom door can learn. Sometimes, it may be more of a struggle to teach them, and other times they will respond well to lessons. As a teacher, it is of utmost importance for me to build up my toolkit full of different instructional strategies, ready to adapt my lessons on a moment’s notice. “Each student’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint.” (Gregory & Chapman, 2013, p. 2). This quote is powerful because it really hammers home that students need to be taught in different ways. It bears a resemblance to the idea of assessing a fish’s ability to climb a tree. You can teach them a million times, and demonstrate, but ultimately, it is not in their interest or ability to do so. As such, it is important to be mindful of every student’s abilities. Some of them will respond better to one type of instruction, whereas another might need different supports. Personally speaking, I responded well to teachers lecturing at the front of the room. I was able to do well on exams, and as such I graduated near the top of the class. However, I was nowhere near the best in every subject area in my class. In fact, I learned just as much from my peers as I did in class. Which brings about the next point.
Collaboration is an essential element in the classroom. Working together to figure out problems helps all students grow, not just the most advanced. Sometimes, especially on more difficult problems, having differing view points can help students find solutions. Think of the T.v. Show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”. A common misconception is that adults in various fields should be able to answer all questions up to a grade 5 level. However, that is clearly not the case as evidenced by the show. Just because someone graduated at the top of their field in engineering, or medical school, does not mean they are smarter than everyone else. It means they showed passion for the material, and found something which they could excel at. The same goes with students. Just because one student gets high marks, and another is not quite meeting expectations, it does not mean that student one is smarter in all areas. It can easily just be that they respond better to the instructional strategy. As such, getting ideas from a multitude of viewpoints, and students at different levels is ideal for helping the entire class grow. Additionally, it creates a sense of community within the classroom, which is essential for everyone to feel safe.
Finally, my teaching philosophy revolves around the idea of the classroom being a safe space. If students are to learn, they need to feel safe in their environment. If students feel fear, or any other negative emotion while sitting and learning, they are distracted. They will not be able to focus, and learning becomes a lot harder for those students. As such, efforts need to be made from the start of the year to ensure every student feels like they can be themselves within the walls of the classroom, and even the school. They need to be able to open up to one another, and not feel intimidated to ask questions, make mistakes, or even talk in front of their peers. From my experience in pre-internship, this last point can be especially crippling for students. The students who were shy, or didn’t speak out often, performed more poorly on assessments, both oral and written.