Statement of Teaching Philosophy

I chose to become a teacher because education is important to the functioning of our democracy and because I love learning.   My classroom is a space for the exploration and creation of ideas and meaning.  I believe learning occurs through meaningful interaction (with people, with ideas, with texts) followed by a reflective repositioning in light of new information gathered through interaction.

Because of its inherently interactive nature, student-led discussion is the foundation of my classroom.  To a large extent, discussions are student led, so that students have the space to make authentic connections and to explore ideas.  I deepen and sharpen their thinking with questions designed to stimulate understanding, analysis, and additional questioning, and I encourage them to respectfully question each other, the texts we encounter, and me.

My students and I also read aloud, both to hear the sound of language and to practice active and engaged reading.  I follow a reading apprenticeship-type model, in which I model my thinking for students and support them in engaging in the same thinking as we read. 

Reflective repositioning comes in the form of writing:  reflections, creative pieces, academic analyses, drafts, and revisions.  Students have the mental space to quietly assess their positions before a discussion and to reflect on where they stand afterward.  I explain that this type of writing allows us to be aware of the process of our thinking, that going back to previous writing allows us to build upon our thoughts.  Students learn to interact with their own texts in the same way that we interact with texts written by others. 

These practices are designed to develop particular habits of mind in my students, including curiosity, active reading, critical thinking, public articulation of their ideas, and the sense that thoughts and opinions develop as we receive new information.  More specifically, because we learn what we do, I structure my curriculum so that students engage in the practices I want them to develop.  This engagement is often playful, which allows for a sense of discovery and allows students to feel more comfortable taking on authoritative roles.

Teaching grammar is one example of this.  My goal in grammar teaching is to develop in my students a deeper understanding of language so that they can comprehend more complex texts and generate more elegant and sophisticated writing.  To this end, I pull examples of specific grammatical structures from good writing (and create my own when these are not ready to hand), and we conduct an inquiry into what the piece in question (and any accompanying punctuation) is doing in the text.  We then play with language that serves the same function but changes the meaning.  Then, students write similar structures of their own.  In this way, they learn grammar by performing the tasks such knowledge is supposed to facilitate:  reading and writing.

Another example of how we engage in authentic practices is the study of literary theory.  By learning about different theoretical lenses, students learn that they can position themselves in many different ways in relation to a text.  They can take a Freudian stance, or a critical race-theory stance, or a gender-studies stance. The permission to look at a text in many different ways opens them up to finding meaning through play.  They play the role of a critical theorist, imagining what he or she might see and practicing the kind of academic language and careful, reasoned thinking that will serve them in college and the adult world.

The academic space for these practices is only part of the puzzle, though.  The social space of the classroom is also an important consideration in my teaching.  Based on my faith in democracy as an organizing principle, I believe that students and teacher should collaborate in the creation of a set of both rules and goals, taking into consideration the needs and desires of all concerned:  teacher, students, and the larger school community.  I believe that the classroom community should foster respect amongst its members.  To that end, I believe in treating my students respectfully and warmly and in modeling the polite and respectful behavior that I expect from them.  At the same time, I act as the executive of our micro-nation, responsible for ensuring that the agreed-upon rules are enforced and that disrespect for the rules, goals, and members of the class does not go unchecked.  When students know what to expect—that agreed upon rules will be followed—they are more comfortable taking risks.