[Note: This was originally written for one of my education courses while enrolled as an undergraduate at Eastern Michigan University. However, I have left it unedited, as I still feel it holds just as true today as it did when I penned it in the year 2000.]
With each new school year comes the special opportunity to exchange my life’s experiences and perspectives with my students. As this window-of-opportunity is limited, it is my goal to make the biggest positive impact on my students within this finite amount of time. Through making this impact, my desire is for students to broaden their knowledge in all areas, while developing critical thinking skills applicable to their respective futures. While overseeing all of this, I also want my students to have input and ownership over their own education—as well as a secure place in our learning community.
While managing my students as they cement a solid bedrock of content knowledge is of vital importance, I feel that a comfortable classroom climate must first be cultivated to achieve this goal. To help facilitate this, I encourage an open dialog between students and teacher. I vow to respect students’ concerns, and while I may not concede to every request, I will at least always listen. Moreover, as teaching is not a one-way street, I also encourage my students to share their knowledge and experiences with me. My belief is that people all need to feel as though they belong to something—this being especially true with teenagers. Establishing a family-type classroom atmosphere is of pivotal importance, as I need to know that students realize they are more than just a name in a grade book. Once this fundamental rapport is recognized in the classroom, I can then concentrate on helping my students succeed in mastering the content knowledge.
In order to assist my students in achieving a high-level of content knowledge, I feel I must provide the situations necessary for student learning to transpire. This may take place through a variety of mediums, including: investigations, cooperative assignments, power point slide shows, essay writing, math games, hands-on activities, and traditional paper-and-pencil assignments and worksheets. No matter which vehicle is utilized, however, students are encouraged to activate themselves by continually questioning their understanding at all times. As a passive approach to learning will not pay dividends, students are reminded that only they are in control of their education, and no one else can achieve it for them. I will not always be around for them to rely on. Therefore, students must actively question and reflect on the subject material in order for meaningful strides to be made. I also place a premium on conceptual-based learning in the classroom. Students are routinely asked to explain the “how” and the “why” of problem solving. This takes precedence over rote memorization skills and emphasis on the “right answer.” It is my belief that knowledge isn’t truly realized unless one can explain a process through either written or verbal expression. To this end, I employ a lot of higher-order objectives on my assessments—in lieu of a bevy of multiple choice or low-level exercises. Hopefully the challenges I pose in class will help foster the thinking skills necessary for students to conquer their own challenges in the future.
In order to gauge the effectiveness of my instruction and students’ learning, I believe that evaluation must center primarily on performance. While I appreciate student effort and benevolent attitudes, I feel that these factors are ancillary to measured performance. Because of this, my aim is to primarily evaluate students in terms of test scores, oral interviews, and written explanations. I believe this will abate grade -inflation and potential rude-awakenings when students progress to the next classroom. Since I ultimately have to assign each student a single letter grade, I want it to reflect their content knowledge as much as possible—not a medley of merged factors such as citizenship, attendance, and organization. However, since research shows tests often only evaluate short-term memorization and test-taking skills, students are afforded the option of alternative assessments and re-tests—working toward the ultimate goal of mastery. As education is a work-in-progress, students are reminded that learning is more important than a grade, and continual improvement is heavily valued, monitored, and reviewed in my classroom.
In addition to a deep content knowledge in mathematics, I want my students to be well-rounded in their education. Although I understand my primary purpose is to teach math, I also believe that it is my destiny to share my knowledge in as many areas as possible. By relating stories and experiences—fielding many questions all the while—I believe I can help my students to expand their understanding across the curriculum. Specifically, I encourage my students to excel in areas such as vocabulary and writing, offering my human-thesaurus and proof-reading services whenever possible. Above all, I value being seen as an approachable role-model and acting as a “problem solver” for any student in need of a solution. As portions of class time are commonly appropriated for talking about students’ futures and potential career paths, all students are reminded to use me as a resource—now and in the future.
In summary, my goal is to enrich students’ scholastic and worldly understanding in as many capacities as possible. Beyond an education in mathematics, I want students to feel important, at ease, and well-provided-for in my classroom. I plan to accomplish this through an open-dialog where learning and student input are prized and respected. I want my students to be independent thinkers capable of making decisions beyond the confines of my classroom. To see this come to fruition, I will offer my support at every turn—whether in class, after school or online. Finally, as there is no universally heralded goal of education, my philosophy is a work-in-progress, as are my students’ educations. As time elapses and more experiences are gained, I will undoubtedly mature both as a person and educator—necessitating my philosophy to mature with me.
~ Ryan Hansen