Every day, teachers are given a tremendous amount of responsibility. They are required to know and apply national, state, district, and personal standards in appropriate ways to meet both the unique needs of 25-35 children and the needs of the entire group. Teachers are held accountable for their students’ academic, physical, and social needs and must serve as constant role models. Throughout my coursework at Alma College and time in elementary classrooms, I have developed a philosophy of teaching encompassing these responsibilities that I believe will enable me to make a positive impact on each of my students’ lives.
When teaching, it is important to first consider the big picture: the goals of schooling. I have two such goals. First, schools must prepare children socially and academically in order for them to become leaders of the next generation. Social skills, such as healthy ways to resolve conflict, should be taught in the context of situations that may arise in the school so that they are meaningful to children. It is important to remember that every child learns differently. Academically, teachers must instruct students in a number of different ways so that every child can reach his or her potential and step into leadership roles. Leaders require continuous learning, which brings me to my second goal of schooling. I believe it is essential to produce students who are lifelong learners. This must begin with offering a motivation to discover and explore and then the tools to do so. It is more important to teach children how to obtain knowledge than to teach them specific knowledge. This is done by introducing sources such as the dictionary, the internet, and the library. With this knowledge, students can continue learning throughout their lifetimes.
In order to accomplish the above goals, teachers must fulfill the following responsibilities. First and foremost, teachers must keep their children physically and emotionally safe. Children cannot focus on learning in an environment where they do not feel protected. Teachers must also be advocates for their students. This may include mandated reporting, influencing policies that are in the students’ best interest, and suggesting tests and services for individual students such as special education. Students look to teachers not only for academic achievement, but also as good examples of character. Therefore, teachers must exemplify high moral standards, be trustworthy, be good community members, and be good citizens. In the classroom, teachers need to create a community of learners based on inclusion. Students will learn from their teacher’s example to value everyone and respond appropriately to diversity, whether it be diversity in culture or ability. In addition to their students, teachers also have a responsibility to colleagues, parents and communities.
Teaching should be a collaborative effort between teachers, their colleagues, parents, and communities. Colleagues should share ideas, share lessons, and combine classes for activities when appropriate. Children often work with more than one teacher, and communication is important between colleagues to ensure children are getting the best education possible and that they are not getting mixed messages between teachers. It is also essential to communicate with parents. Parents are a child’s first teachers, and should be valued for their insight into their child. Contacting parents in the beginning of the year with something positive about their child is an excellent way to open lines of communication for later questions and concerns. Teachers should make themselves available and approachable to parents and invite them to volunteer in the classroom. Parents, along with community members, can share with children their skills and professions and introduce real-world application of classroom topics. Schools are an important part of every community, and communities should be updated and encouraged to attend school events. Collaboration between teachers, colleagues, parents and communities is a vital part of student learning.
Students learn in many different ways, but one thing remains the same: Children need to know they are supported for who they are before they can excel academically. Teachers and students need to respect one another, and teachers need to conduct themselves in ways worthy of children’s respect. Once a respectful and trusting relationship has been established, learning is possible. When planning lessons and teaching, educators need to present information through more than one learning style. In a classroom of 25-35 children, not all the students will be auditory learners. Teachers should also include, for example, visual and kinesthetic elements. Student participation in lessons is a great way to keep children attentive and draw on multiple learning styles. Lessons should also involve more than one of the five senses. This helps students remember information better. A lesson teaching spelling words and phonics could involve children tapping syllables on their arm, saying the word, and writing it on the board. Activities should be hands-on and provide children with meaningful experiences. Teachers need to tell students why the topic is important and provide real world learning experiences as often as possible. If children can relate to, and agree with, the reason for learning a topic, they are more likely to have a positive attitude toward their studies. Students will also have a positive attitude if they are given the choice to learn about things that interest them. Whenever possible, students should be included in decision-making about topics to study. For example, reading and writing can and should be taught through a large variety of topics. An effective educator will take into account the nature of student learning in every lesson and activity.
Effective educators must be knowledgeable, organized, flexible, and have the ability to communicate with children at their level without talking down to them. Educators need to know, apply, and balance national, state, district, and personal standards in individually and developmentally appropriate ways. I believe this can be done through careful preparation of lessons and thoughtful instruction. Lessons should be interesting, aligned with standards and assessments, include real world application, and teach content, process, and attitude for each topic. They should also have room for scaffolding and include a balance of whole class work, group work, and individual instruction. Lesson plans must be delivered with thoughtful instruction and with the previous concepts in mind. Classrooms can get incredibly hectic and teachers may fall into to a slump of simply trying to get through the lessons. It is a mark of an effective educator to continually consider and implement new ways of teaching. Teachers also need to be prepared to think of different techniques to break concepts down and teach them if students do not understand the material. This requires flexibility in the middle of a lesson. Even with the best planning and delivery, a lesson can fail if teachers do not effectively manage their classrooms. I believe classroom management should focus on prevention rather than reaction to behavior. Making expectations known in the beginning of the year, keeping expectations consistent and having set routines can prevent many behaviors. When a reaction to a behavior is required, effective educators give instructive guidance rather than simply disciplining a child. Although discipline is sometimes needed, it is not effective if children do not understand what they did wrong and what they should be doing instead. Lastly, effective educators give children options and some freedom in their classrooms. This teaches students how to make good choices, self-regulate and self-motivate themselves.
Teachers have the ability to make an impact on children that will last a lifetime. Children spend years in the school environment. It is our responsibility to apply our creativity, experience, and knowledge of children’s learning and development to ensure that the experience is both positive and educational for each and every child. Although challenging, I believe it is possible to make a difference in each student’s life.