Philosophy Statement

The hallway at South Delta Middle School

Two of my Algebra students at North Panola High School working with Algebra Tiles.

There are many different educational philosophies, or theories.  Perennialisa, Romanticism, Essentialism, Progressivism, Behaviorism, and Constructivism are just a few of the more well know ones.  In reality, there are as many educational theories as there are teachers.  Each theory has positive and negative points to it.  Rather than prescribing to one theory, I prefer to mix and match, choosing the best parts of different theories to create a unique theory all my own. When I began to develop my teaching philosophy I had to think about what, exactly, my job as a teacher is.  There is, of course, the typical view of a teacher, one who passes along knowledge to students.  But a teacher is much more than that.  As a teacher it is indeed my job to pass along information to my students.  I must also develop their problems solving skills, so they know how to use the information they are given.  As part of my job, I must use creativity and enthusiasm to motivate and inspire students to become life long learners.  I am not just interested in getting my students through high school, I want them to WANT to go to college and continue learning.  To fulfill these job requirements, my educational philosophy draws from the tenets of Essentialism, Progressivism, and Constructivism.

Essentialists believe that there is a core of knowledge that all students should know (1). 
Essentialists believe that students use observations about the world and reasoning to discover the truth.  This is subject centered, focusing on basic knowledge that is necessary to succeed in the real world.  As a math teacher I firmly believe that all students need to know the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  This corresponds to the 'student-as-bucket' idea where students are 'buckets' to be filled with knowledge by the teacher.  While I absolutely think that students should be required to learn a basic body of knowledge, filling their heads with random information will not work.  Students need to connect new knowledge to old knowledge.  This is where constructivism enters the picture.

Constructivists believe that knowledge must be integrated and linked to past knowledge forming intricate webs, called schemas, that tie together everything they have learned (1).  Think of a new fact as a boat.  Unless the boat is tied to a dock, already established knowledge (or schema), the boat will drift away, and the new knowledge is lost.  As students are hearing new information they are constantly rethinking and reassessing what they already know and how what you are telling them fits in.  As students observe the world around them they create their own, individual, concept of reality.  As they observe new and different things their conception of reality adjusts to accept the new knowledge.  In other words, students are constantly forming and reforming schemas to make the world make sense.  This ties back into essentialism where students are using observation and reasoning skills to determine reality.

Essentialism's main draw back is that it treats every student the same.  Every teacher learns quickly that each student is his or her own unique individual.  Progressivism allows for students individuality, their interests and creativity.  Progressivists believe that the purpose of education is to develop the problem-solving abilities of students (1).  This is done by shaping problems around a student's interests.  As a result student's are highly motivated.  By using the student's own interests we no longer have to motivate the students to learn.  Another important tenet of progressivism is an emphasis on cooperative learning.  Students learn to interact with each other and a tolerance for different views.  Lastly, since progressivism focuses on the individual, it accounts for individual learning styles.  Not all students learn the same way, there are visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory learners to name a few.

I believe that progressivism has a role to play after students have built up body of knowledge (essentialism and constructivism).  Once a student has gained a certain level of knowledge they can be challenged further by asking them to apply their knowledge to solve a problem of interest to them.  This, again, reinforces the constructivist idea of connecting and building knowledge schemas.  As students use their knowledge to solve a problem they are making more connections. 

I must also give a passing nod to behaviorism.  Classroom management is an important part of creating an environment conducive to learning.  Skinner's theory of using rewards and punishments to reinforce good behaviors and minimize bad behaviors works (1).  By setting behavior boundaries, I can control the environment in my classroom.  The more I reinforce good behaviors, the more well-behaved my students are.  I try to focus on the good, rather than the bad, behaviors.

By combining these educational philosophies I can create a respectful, learning conducive environment where students can find acceptance and love.  This is particularly important today as most of our students are coming from either single parent homes, or homes where both parents need to work.  As a result of absent parents, for whatever the reason, teachers take on an additional role as a role model.  Many students spend more with their teachers than they do with their parents.  We have a responsibilty to do our best to help these students become honest, caring, and responsible adults.

I believe that all students can achieve their full educational potential if they are given the basics the essentialists extol, the indivdualism and cooperative learning environments the progressivists commend, and the reinforcement of behaviorism.  I hope that I can manage to not just impart the knowledge students need, but inspire them to enjoy the quest for knowledge, and to continue that quest for the rest of their lives.

I have come to the frightening conclusion...

That I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration,
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides
whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated,
and a person is humanized or de-humanized.

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse.
If we treat people as they ought to be,
we help them become
what they are capable of becoming.


1 - Notes from Mullins 11/8

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