Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's Your Philosophy of Education?

In my many years of teaching and learning, here are a few of the things I've discovered:

1. Feed Them

Most of my teaching philosophy was probably developed during my first teaching job, on a reservation 40 km north of Whistler, BC.  It was 1974.  Attendance seemed to be a suggestion at times rather than a rule.  Together with the kids that did show up, I started making soup.  I had a big pot and a one-burner hot plate.  We'd peel and slice carrots and potatoes.  We'd throw in whatever else we had -- onions, leeks, barley, fish heads - and have it simmering by 9:00 a.m.  By recess, it was ready.  The kids started showing up.  Even the high school kids who studied in another part of our building would line up at the Grade 1 door for hot soup.

2. Feed Them What They Are Hungry For

My second full-time position was in a private school in Ontario. The kids there were well fed but hungered for recognition, attention, and individualization.

3. Feed Them Your Presence and Demand Theirs

A few years later, I quit elementary school teaching and became a graduate student.  As a teaching assistant at university, I encountered young adults, suddenly free from high school, who were hungry in a new way.  They wanted a feeling of being alive.  They were hungry for experience and meaning.

4. High School

Some years later, and hungry myself, I took a one-semester job in a high school.  This group seemed hungry as well, hungry for trouble - and they all seemed much bigger than me.  I couldn't feed them anything.  In fact, at one point, I left the classroom and crouched in a washroom cubicle, broken and weeping.  The department head took over and I told the principal I was leaving for the day.  Some miles down the highway, I stopped at a restaurant near the airport, the Runway CafĂ©, and thought things over.  I phoned the principal:

"I'm coming back," I said.
"After they drive you from the classroom, there's no coming back," he told me.
"I'm coming back.  I'll be there in half an hour," I said.

Strangely, after that, the class was much better.  They realized how much worse it would be for them if the department head took the class for the rest of the semester.

This was an important part of my evolving teaching philosophy.  After they drive you from the classroom, you can go back.  But it's probably wiser to find a classroom where you can teach (or nurture) effectively.

In an earlier post, I wrote about teaching in a jail school.  The young offenders were hungry for music, especially gangster music with parental advisory warnings.  With the right mix of ritalin and rap music, the students could actually get work done on their individualized programs. 

1 comment:

  1. From Roy Eaton
    Here on the Manitoulin Island, a standing rule is "If you want good attendance at a meeting ... FEED THEM. So, for your blog on a teaching strategy ... good one.

    "Strangely, after that, the class was much better. They realized how much worse it would be for them if the department head took the class for the rest of the semester."

    I would debate that supposition. Years of experience seeing young teachers suceed or fail would tell me that it was the change in you that made the difference. Of course, the other fact was there, but going back into that classroom took a lot of courage. The kids would immediately sense that and respect that, despite their previous behaviour. I would submit that you would subconsciously sense their approval and thus you would even exhibit more self-confidence. I'm saying this to you so that, after all these years, you don't give the credit to others, give it to yourself. You turned the behaviour in that class around, no other's behaviour or presence was as crucial. Congratulations, when you look in the mirror tomorrow morning I'd like you to remember that class and give yourself a pat on the back. Then go out and have a great day, champ!