There is no doubt that teaching and working in education is the text of my life. As trite as it may sound, I have always been passionate about learning. As a young child, I was a voracious reader with a hunger to know more. I devoured books daily, likely, to the point of neglecting other childhood responsibilities such as cleaning my room. It was clear to me for as long as I can remember, that I wanted to take my education as far as I could. Aside from my own interests, the value of education was driven into me via an unlikely source, due to her own lack of formal education. My maternal grandmother was a Brazilian immigrant who, due to the untimely death of her parents at the ages of five and eleven, was unable to get through high school. Education was of the utmost importance to her. I had the privilege of living in the same house with my grandmother as she lived with my parents until her death at 92. Countless times, she stressed how important education is. Countless times, she told me I needed to be sure to work on my studies and do well in school. My grandmother was tough, and was not much of a coddler, but I do know she would be proud to see what I am doing with my life today.
I believe greatly in balance in all aspects of life, and so, it is no surprise to myself, that my philosophy of education, in essence, is about balance. One cannot stray too far into content, disregarding the social-emotional education of children, nor can one focus so heavily on what is new and innovative and ignore some of the core threads of teaching and learning. But, on the reverse end of the spectrum, I whole-heartedly believe in the value of content and skills, as well as process and product, in addition to trying new things and not just sitting on the laurels of what we have always done: balance. I confess, I am a Pinterest fanatic, and often browse through pinning ideas for teaching; but of course also, craft ideas, outfit thoughts, and quotes about all kinds of things. Recently, I came across a quote about the field of education by Todd Whitaker, which really summed up teaching nicely. “The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.” In the beginnings of a chapter of Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe make a point to highlight the lack of the word teaching in their graphics, which illustrate the Understand by Design matrix. They indicate that the word’s absence is intentional, and serves to point out that the true goal should be the learning rather than the teaching. They continue to say that this is representative of the “fundamental shift” required to become a truly great educator. In my last few years of teaching, I have been immensely affected by not only the work of Wiggins and McTighe, but also a great deal by the work of Tony Wagner, Expert In-Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, and the author of several books, which have transformed education. Wagner’s work, especially that of his book, The Global Achievement Gap, has been incredibly influential in shifting my mindset as to what effective teachers should be doing to prepare students for the future world in which they will work. This, I suppose, brings me to one of my most important points in the heart of my philosophy of education: reflection. It seems incredibly important, in this time of the exponential growth of information, to be constantly reflective in your practice. In addition, and tied to, effective teachers are continually engaging with
professional development. Professional development is not only a place to learn more about either content or practice, but also a place of reflection with colleagues. If teachers are able to frequently take the time away from the classroom to, as mentioned, not only discuss newly introduced methodology and content, but also to think and discuss the work they are already doing. Teachers who are reflective and continuing their professional development are thus providing effective instruction due to the mindful work put into it.
As mentioned, I have been greatly affected by Tony Wagner’s work especially that of the Seven
Survival Skills, of which he concludes should be taught to all children in order to close the so-named “Global Achievement Gap.” I would argue to say that effective teachers not only teach children how to do these things, but also should emulate them as well to drive effective instruction. Wagner outlines seven skills that he concludes children should be taught in order to navigate the future workforce, in addition to being productive global citizens. Upon reflection of the list of qualities, I believe that all of these skills should also be qualities of an effective teacher, so I alter the word forms slightly to fit qualities.
- Effective teachers are critical thinkers and problem solvers
- Effective teachers are collaborative and demonstrate leadership
- Effective teachers are agile and adaptable
- Effective teachers show initiative and entrepreneurship
- Effective teachers have operational and successful oral and written communication
- Effective teachers must be able to access and analyze information
- Effective teachers must have curiosity and imagination
Truly, if one is to be an effective teacher then we must model the things that we want our students to learn and do. Now, with that being said, it is incredibly important to describe the qualities and characteristics of an effective teacher in general, more idealistic and conceptual ways, but I also think it is greatly important to describe some more practical, brass-tacks factors as well. I, generally, liken this to the balance we often find described in the teaching of mathematics, especially in elementary school – that of the concepts versus skills, and I consider both to be of value. An effective teacher must have strong content knowledge. The elementary teacher, I feel, is most challenged by this. Given we are required to be the jack-of-all-trades, it seems inevitable that the master of done is close to follow. Over the last years, I have become more keenly aware of my lack of content knowledge, and I have worked extensively to rectify that. Wiggins and McTighe discuss the idea of coverage versus uncoverage. In doing so, they get in to the idea of “getting inside the subject’s processes and arguments. This idea is connected to that of the effective teacher needing strong content knowledge. When a teacher truly knows their content, they can get inside the nuance of the subject. Truly understanding, allows nuance to emerge through. If a teacher does not know enough about their content to get to the level of distinction needed to, as Wiggins and McTighe say, “inspire the need to question” than how can they expect their students to attain such understanding? In additional support, the authors continue to say “the best teacher-designers know precisely what their students will likely gloss over and misunderstand in the text,” and I would add in the content or topic in general.
It seems to me, that effective teachers and effective instruction go hand-in-hand. While one should not go without the other, and the specifics may vary from grade to grade, in general, it is incredibly complicated to describe the two in simplicity. And so, my philosophy or beliefs regarding education are quite complex, and contain a myriad of thoughts, concepts, and ideas
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey - Bachelors, Liberal Studies
Graduate Degree: Saint Joseph's University - Masters, Elementary Education
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