Monday, October 20, 2008

My Philosophy of Education

On my first day of middle school, I wore my boy scout uniform.

To my innocent, sixth grade mind, this seemed like a logical idea.  In elementary school, I wore my scout uniform every Monday, because Monday was the day we had den meetings.  When I graduated from cub scouts to boy scouts in February of my fifth grade year, boy scout meetings continued on Monday.  So I continued to wear my uniform.

I liked wearing my uniform.  I was proud that I was in the boy scouts.  Proud that I knew how to camp outdoors, how to cook, how to use a map and compass.  Proud that the experiences I had were making me a better person, though maybe I wasn’t fully aware of it yet.

Wearing my boy scout uniform on the first day of middle school was probably one of the worst decisions I could have ever made.

Most teenagers know the detailed social rules and taboos of middle school culture would not permit the average student to wear a scout uniform, unless it could be construed as an anti-establishment statement.  Instead, I was embracing the massive organization and the recruitment visions of my scoutmaster by wearing my earthy tan uniform with its bright badges and neckerchief.  Unlike most teens, I had not yet learned those social rules.

I tried to be brave.  A week after that first day the initial pain had dulled and my resolve had hardened.  I wore my uniform again, thinking I or they would get used to it.  I told myself that I couldn’t be the target of their emotional insults or physical assaults forever. 

Eventually, however, I learned that the best way to avoid social conflict was to blend in, or better yet, disappear.  It wasn’t just wearing my uniform that taught me this.  But when I think of those first few days and wearing the uniform, it embodies that feeling of alienation I felt throughout middle school and struggled to overcome in high school before ultimately and finally defeating in college.

I teach to break down social barriers.  To linguistically redefine the common usage of “gay” as an individual’s sexual orientation, rather than the superlative opposite of cool.  To encourage the jock and the nerd to empathize with one another.  To put the Latina and the White girl in each other’s shoes.  To make the 6th grader in his earthy tan boy scout uniform feel that his individuality is valued and that his opinions and voice are an important contribution to his community and have the potential to change lives.  All this can happen in the books we read and the thoughts we write and the discussions and interactions we have as learners inside and outside of the classroom.

While the social aspect may be what drove me into pursuing education as a career, I have a commitment to my chosen profession that makes me yearn to do it exceptionally well.  Before studying education, I thought teaching was a simple mix of presenting information with enthusiasm.  Mr. Keating from Dead Poets’ Society was my idol.  When I took my first real education courses, I learned that while there is an art to teaching, there is a critical science that one cannot successfully teach without.

As the importance of pedagogy became central to my teaching, I began contributing to discussions with other educators online by writing my own blog and commenting on those of other educators.  Edublogging has become my personal form of professional development where I can reflect on my teaching ideas and receive constructive feedback from peers.  By writing about my thoughts on education, I’ve been able to process many of the methods I want to implement when I am a full-time classroom teacher.

Upon completing my college’s professional development program and graduating, I had had the opportunity to practice multiple intelligence theory, differentiated education, applied Bloom’s revised taxonomy, and other pedagogies in a number of classrooms in the middle and high school setting.  My wife and I had applied for the Peace Corps, and I taught as a substitute while waiting for an invitation to serve, expecting a chance to teach English in another county.  Instead, we were assigned to South Africa, where volunteers help to educate primary school teachers.  Although we accepted the invitation, I was terrified – I was supposed to “teach” educators who had been working for up to 30 years when I had just finished college.  What could I possibly teach these experienced instructors?

I arrived in South Africa to find that the majority of teachers received training from an Apartheid led government over 15 years ago.  Those educated after the end of Apartheid fell to a similar fate: they teach as they had been taught.  In a culture where age and experience is respected more than education, I had to be mindful of my youth and race, humble in my interactions with professionals who felt understandably vulnerable, and advocate for pedagogically sound methods.  I had to teach proven methods to the toughest of critics, which further solidified for me the importance of pedagogy and its practice.

I believe I can best continue to explore my philosophy of education in a school environment as a classroom teacher.  The coming of age social struggles drove me to education, but the study and implementation of pedagogy is what intrigues and sustains my love for it.

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