A position has opened up in my school, one that I really want. The district has moved into the 21st century and now has an online application system. So, to apply for this job, I had to go through the application process. Although I find it tedious to complete any kind of application (really, do they need to know my high school gpa after twenty years of teaching–OMG I have been teaching for TWENTY YEARS???) there was one part where I basically had to express in writing my teaching philosophy. There were two prompts: 1) Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher and 2) How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?
I really think that teachers need to reflect on questions like these more often than, well, never. I have been forced to think about these things before because they were part of my principal training, which I completed in 2011. That training included many hours of reflective thinking and writing. I don’t think I would have taken the time on my own to think about things like my vision as a leader or my leadership philosophy. So, even though I am scared to be judged by what I believe, I do think that these types of reflections really need to be written. When things are written, they are there for you to review and maybe rewrite and change as you change.
We want our students to do the same thing…duh! In all of my reading about teaching writing, everyone says that the teacher must write right along with their students. I have tried this, and I haven’t done a good job at it. But now, after answering those prompts and thinking about what I really believe I need to do to be an outstanding teacher, it has helped me focus on my goals for learning in my classroom next year. Putting things in writing holds you to a standard. I think that to make me stick to my beliefs, even in those times when all I want to do is cry, I might print out my beliefs and post them in my classroom. Why not? If I truly believe in what I write about teaching, then why not publish it?
Here are my answers to the prompts from the application:
Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.
I believe an outstanding teacher is able to lead students in learning that is meaningful, applicable to real life, and challenging. Teachers must lead students to identify what is important and relevant in today’s world and use technology to enhance learning. Tackling real-world problems and developing real-world solutions requires students and teachers to step outside of their comfort zone and make connections with other teachers and students to create a collaborative environment that allows students to challenge themselves by working on projects and activities that enhance their strengths and abilities. An outstanding teacher must also know, and let her students know that failure is one of the most fundamental steps leading to success.
How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?
As classes become more inclusive, especially due to changes in the state’s standardized assessments, understanding students’ differences in learning is vital. The most important thing I do is try to create a learning atmosphere of respect and acceptance. I believe that when students understand that each of them has a voice in the class without the fear of being judged or ridiculed for their ideas, then the class becomes more open to differing ideas. Once respect and acceptance are the norm, then student collaboration becomes an effective way to allow students to participate according to their abilities. I also set goals for learning, use technology, provide feedback to students both individually and as a class, allow time for student reflection, use deep and meaningful questioning strategies, provide rubrics for assignments, give choices in learning, and provide many ways for students to show what they know.