A Teacher's Philosophy

Every teacher, at some point in his or her career, is asked to write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy.  For today's blog, I thought I would share mine.  So, for any teachers out there facing the problem of having to write their own statement of teaching philosophy, here's an example you can use to guide you on your way.  Also, you may email me if you'd like additional resources and templates you can use to define and create your own mission statement for teaching.  I'd also LOVE it if you'd share your philosophies with me!  Like you, I am always learning from others.

Dr. Perdue, her students from the Kigali Institute of Education, another Fulbright Scholar, member of the US Embassy in Rwanda, and friends, all posing in front of Lake Kivu.

This is where Rimwe first began!  Dr. Perdue, her students from the Kigali Institute of Education, another Fulbright Scholar, member of the US Embassy in Rwanda, and friends, all posing in front of Lake Kivu.

There’s a verse in Colossians that instructs, “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.”  That really summarizes my philosophy of both life and teaching:  whatever you do, give it your all and do your best.  That’s what I do every day and it’s what I expect from every one of my students (and my friends and my family and random people I meet on the street).  I am a teacher.  It’s what I am, not just what I do.  Even if I were in another profession, I’d still be a teacher.  I can’t help it anymore than I can help having a green thumb or being drawn to water or loving to learn. It’s just who I am.  It’s my nature to help, to show, to guide, to instruct, and to give others the tools to unlock patterns, solve problems, and apply knowledge.  So, why do I teach?  I teach because I don’t know how not to teach.  Even in simple cases where I could just give ‘the answer’, I just can’t help it; I have to teach:

If you want, I can explain a way that you can use to calculate the tip without needing to use the calculator on your cell phone.  Want to know how?

Did you know that if you both pull with one hand and push with the other during each stroke that you’d be able to paddle longer without getting tired?  I could show you how if you’d like.    

Professionally, I combine several aspects of pedagogy and learning theory with my own experiences, observations, and reflections over many years in the classroom.  I now have a significant collection of strategies, techniques, and standards that have allowed me to successfully teach many students and teachers. 

Like Dewey, I agree that learning is a social process that requires balance between both content and learner to dictate what happens in the classroom, “Abandon the notion of subject matter as something fixed and ready made in itself out side the child's experience; cease thinking of the child's experience as also something hard and fast; see it as something fluent, embryonic, vital, and we realize that the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process.  Just as two points define a straight line so the present standpoint of the child and the facts and truths of studies define instruction. It is continuous reconstruction, moving from the child's present experience out into that represented by the organized bodies of truth that we call studies.” (The Child and the Curriculum, 1902)  As a result of Dewey’s ideas, I tend to use terms like “hands-on learning” to describe what happens when I teach and “problem based learning” to describe how I teach.

From Vygotsky, I adopted the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) and the importance of context.  It’s one of the reasons I use the motto, “No Naked Math!”  x=4 tells you nothing if you don’t know the context of what x represents.  That’s also the reason I create multiple entry points in my class activities, allowing for a larger range of tasks that students can engage and why I specifically create collaborative learning groups among my students to allow them to build upon others’ knowledge as they expand their own. 

From Polya, I incorporated the simple (but profound) process of thinking to solve problems:  Understand, Plan, Do, and Reflect.  I use this cyclic process to teach my students metacognitive skills like what questions to ask themselves in their efforts to solve problems. 

There are others who have contributed to my methodology as well.  Some examples are the use of manipulatives from Montessori, the importance of student activity & interaction from Piaget, and types of knowledge from Bloom. 

My teaching philosophy is fairly simple and straightforward:  learning should be natural and fun.  However, that does not mean it always occurs easily.  Oftentimes, the environment and the task take great effort to set up correctly to induce the learning process.  In addition, understanding often takes time as well as effort – something that is occasionally overlooked by my students.  I believe in cooperative learning, in effective use of technology, in appropriate use of models and manipulatives, and in inquiry-based learning.  However, I realize all of those “catchwords” can be misunderstood as well as misused. Thus, I believe in their use, but only so far as they are appropriate and effective.  Other than common sense and years of experience, I rely on current research and resources from organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) to help me define the right balance.  I will admit to being a reformed “chalk and talk” teacher.  I have seen the profound effect of allowing students to ask and answer their own questions, to guide their own learning, and to take responsibility for their own cognitive processes.  True, this type of teaching takes a lot more planning and preparation time for me as a teacher than simply reciting a 50-minute lecture; however, I have found that it is well worth it.  When students actually learn information, not simply memorize it to recite on a test then forget a week later, it is a beautiful thing.

It’s also how I measure my effectiveness.  I know I’ve been a successful teacher when, for example, one of the students I taught when she was in 5th grade posts on my Facebook wall to wish me “Happy Pi Day” each year and gleefully quotes the approximation to 10 decimal places … 17 years after she was in my class.   That is the love of math I attempt to instill, the long-term knowledge I attempt to impart, and the type of relationship I strive to create with every student I teach. 

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The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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