As I student taught throughout the semester I found myself bringing in ideas and theories that I have come across in my education classes. While I was not always consciously doing this, on thinking about it, I have managed to integrate all of my education coursework into a coherent approach to teaching that reflects both methods that are research-based as well as my own personal touch to the art of teaching. Below are the most important ideas that I took out of each of my education classes, as well as a brief description about how they have affected my philosophy of teaching, and teaching style.
Introduction to Education
In my Introduction to Education class, what stood about to me the most were the social reproduction theory presented by Jean Anyon, as well as the philosophy of teaching articulated by Lisa Delpit.
Jean Anyons work on how schools serve as sorting mechanisms with lower class students being taught through skills and drills methods and higher income students being taught higher-order thinking and critical thinking skills, each group being trained for their place in society, has made me very aware of the approaches that I take in teaching my students. Since most of my students are poor and of color I realize that most teachers have low expectations of them and, consequentially, modify their teaching practices, teaching them lower-level skills, at the expense of higher-order thinking skills. I actively sought to avoid falling into this trap and as much as possible tried to get the students to use critical thinking skills.
The ideas presented in Lisa Delpits article "Skills and Other Dilemma of a Progressive Black Educator" has not only served as an inspiration for me in my journey through an elite institution of higher learning that often didnt reflect my cultural upbringing, but also has given me a framework for my philosophy as a teacher. Delpits argument that students of color and poor students need to be exposed to "the culture of power" is a scathing critique of many theories in the progressive education movement that emphasize student-centered classroom and student autonomy in curricular development. However, Delpit stresses the importance of critical thinking skills and argues for an exposure to the culture of power through a critical lens. This philosophy has greatly influenced how I have and will continue to structure my classroom, ensuring that students get both the exposure to the culture of power that will give them the foundational knowledge that they need to be academically successful, as well as give them the critical thinking skills that can make them agents of social change.
Adolescence has shaped my philosophy of teaching in two ways: first it helped me understand myself better and second it helped me understand how important schools and teachers are in the identity development of children.
Adolescence gave me the opportunity to explore who I was and most of my papers were in many ways autobiographical. This gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own schooling and how schooling validated and invalidated my identities. Having this understanding now makes it possible for me to know what I should and should not do to facilitate identity development among my students, which gets me to the second point.
How Important Teachers are to Students Identity Development
Adolescence has made me realize how important teachers are to the identity development of their students and how important it is for teachers to validate their students and let their students express who they are. I have used these ideas a great deal with classroom management issuessome examples being trying to get both sides of a conflict and to give each side of the conflict uninterrupted time to state their class, and having individual conferences with students to get to know them more on an individual basis. In short, adolescence has taught me the importance of listening to my students.
Educational Psychology introduced me to concepts and theories on how children learn and what teachers can do to facilitate this learning. This was the first class where I was introduced to the work on Paolo Freire and the general foundation of critical pedagogy that have shaped my thoughts on what makes a good teacher good and how teachers can empower their students. In addition it introduced me to the idea of multiple intelligences that has always shaped the way that I organize my class.
Paolo Freire critiques what he calls "the banking concept of education." He describes the banking concept of education as education that sees the teacher as the giver of knowledge and students as the receivers of knowledge. He argues that this dichotomization of teachers and students is oppressive and that to educate for liberation one must use problem-posing education techniques, working with students to develop their own ideas, even if they may conflict with the teachers ideas. This theory has inspired me to use critical pedagogy as a teaching tool and to try to get students to come up with their own conclusions and interpretations. When a student disagrees with me, I see this as a good sign.
The idea of multiple intelligences introduced by Howard Gardner has made me more aware of using multiple forms of activities and multiple forms of assessments. I use pictures, writing, tests, plays, debates, etc. so that students who may be weak in one area will have the ability to shine in another area. This is especially important to do with a heterogeneous class like the ones that I was teaching.
Urban Education has given me a wealth of knowledge that I have used and will continue to use in my teaching experience. The two most important concepts that I have gone away with are multicultural education/bilingual education and resistance theory.
Multicultural Education/Bilingual Education
The works of James Bank and Sonia Nieto have really influenced how I envision my classroom to be in an ideal world. James Bank provides a framework of multicultural education that has given me a conception of how to organize myself. Sonia Nieto goes beyond multicultural education as curriculum organization and has inspired me to affirm all of the students and their backgrounds in my classroom. She also introduced me to the theory behind bilingual education and has convinced me of the importance of the maintenance of the native language for future academic success of bilingual/bicultural students. In my classroom, this was reflected by my encouraging my Spanish-speaking students to speak Spanish and by conversing with them in Spanish on occasion.
Sonia Nieto also introduced me to the concept of resistance theory, the idea that students will resist learning a curriculum that doesnt reflect who they are and will resist learning from a teacher who does not respect their background. I came across a number of students who resisted learning in my classroom. I tried to make the classroom material more relevant to their lives and tried to engage them in the subject matter, with some success and some failure; however, I will not give up and will always believe that all students can achieve if motivated to do so.
Social and Cultural Perspectives in Education
Social and Cultural Perspectives in Education has further cemented many of my beliefs on teaching; however it also introduced me to some new topics and ideas, including the idea of culturally relevant pedagogy, as well as more of a structural analysis of schooling and how schools in and of themselves cannot create equality of opportunity.
Culturally Relevant Teaching
Gloria Ladson-Billings created the concept of culturally relevant teaching in her work on education. It is of a similar school of thought as multicultural education and critical pedagogy (which I am already a supporter of), but emphasizes more the student-teacher relationship, as well as making more explicit connections with the outside community. This has inspired me to be more of a nurturer of my students, trying to develop what Ladson-Billings calls a "community of care." It also has made me more conscious of making explicit connections between what we learn and the lives of my studentsan example being talking about violence in their community after watching a video on violence in another community (as part of an illegal immigrant movement).
This seminar has also convinced me that schools in and of themselves cannot eliminate the inequality that permeates our society; however instead of making me give up it has inspired me to continue and to empower the next generation to make societal changes. I plan to empower them through all of the techniques that Ive learned in the education classes listed above.
Curriculum and Methods Seminar
In my methods seminar I was able to learn the nitty-gritty of teaching including how to make effective test questions, how to write lesson plans, and how to create long-term curricula. The two things that have stood out to me the most and have influenced my teaching style are Blooms Taxonomy and mastery teaching.
Blooms Taxonomy has given me a concrete framework for considering when trying to give my students higher-order thinking skills. While recognizing that the framework is not perfect, I can use it to test my curriculum to ensure that higher-order thinking skills are used in addition to lower order thinking skills.
Mastery teaching has convinced me of the importance of ensuring that students have understood the concepts being discussed. I now know that I should continue on a particular concept until it has been demonstrated that the class has understood the concept. While this has been difficult to do with the structured curriculum Ive had to use I tried to reintroduce concepts many times to ensure that all students were able to comprehend them.
As you can see, my educational journey at Swarthmore has been a journey of discovery of how to empower the disempowered. My student-teaching experience has allowed me to finally attempt to implement many of the theories that I have learned, processed, and critiques throughout my college experience. While these theories have proven extremely hard to execute I have not and will not give up. I see education as one tool to bring about social change. While it is not the only tool, and maybe not even the most important tool, it is one that I will dedicate my life to.