It’s important to begin with students and the idea that they are their own agents for learning. Not that the role of a teacher isn’t critical in this process, but as a teacher I am best able to serve when I realize the extent of knowledge students already posses.
Once students are in the forefront of this philosophy of teaching, then teaching becomes how to facilitate so that students can maximize their experiences and push themselves to make broader and deeper connections to the wider world. Some students arrive at the classroom already empowered; their role may be to question the teacher, their curriculum, their fellow students, as well as to sharpen their critical thinking. Other students may arrive at the classroom with a bank of knowledge they are uncertain of how to wield or who refuse to do so. These students are uncertain or refuse to flourish for a variety of reasons. As Herbert Kolh writes, all students have potential, none are failures: it is a teacher’s responsibility to clear a space for a student to learn where they won’t feel oppressed, where their sense of power thrives.
As someone who has been empowered by teachers, I hope to do the same for my own students. The tools I have chosen for this purpose are many but most often are tools of literacy through reading, writing, art, community, and critical thinking. Though reading and writing are both significant aspects of my identity, writing is something I am engaged in as a creator and so it is what it primarily highlighted in this philosophy.
Writing as a form of creative expression allows individuals to explore their ideas, imagination, and affective selves. Writing fluently allows a person to communicate with others persuasively, sometimes lyrically; it also opens opportunities of growth, inspiration and security. R. Craig Sautter wrote that writing is a great medium of thought. Writing is learning and learning is writing; in other words, writing acts as the medium for working out thoughts. Therefore, mistakes should be welcome when students write; drafts should be emphasized, scribbles and frustrations and shifts in perspectives should be embraced. Carl Nagin wrote that writing is a recursive process; these practices will be seen in my classroom.
Writing and reading encompass the exploration of connections; these processes help students pull back the skin to see the interconnectedness between subjects, communities, problems, and solutions, and themselves. When students question my inclusion of historical context or documentary photography in the reading of Of Mice and Men, we discuss the complexities of ideas constructing our world and how literature is bereft of deeper meaning when evaluated alone.
I believe writing can facilitate these connections. When students write personal responses to short stories, I can see their emotional selves connecting to universal themes. When they struggle to write persuasive letters to a newspaper editor about the presidential election, I see them struggling with their own values and the values of their countrymen. Writing research papers allows them to analyze layers of a subject and to wrestle with their own and others’ ideas about said subject. When they write poems and short stories I see them synthesize tropes from poems and stories read in class and then they become part of the world of those published writers, they know they are writers, and they are proud.
Writing can also create opportunities to learn from each other, to collaborate and share. When students write poems together as a class, as with “Exquisite Corpse” exercises, or write short stories together in small groups, there is a sense of joy that comes over them. Students catch glimpses into each others’ lives when they write and a bond of respect grows between them. As a teacher, it is a powerful experience when a student gathers the courage to read their writing to the class and the class falls silent in true, concentrated listening and then, when the reading is over, they offer up praise and hands for high fives and the student who read beams. I use students’ writing for academic models as well. I also share my own passion for writing by writing along with the students sometimes, or by sharing a poem I wrote for a unit we’re studying. Writing, more concisely, can build community.
Technology also has the power to build community, and to promote critical thinking through writing, reading, and beyond. As computers and the internet have been part of many schools across the nation for decades, and with the buzz of 21st Century Skills, technology is making it’s presence even more urgent. The argument for technology in the classroom is that many students are already plugged in; why not meet them in the digital world they are comfortable learning in and manipulating? When technology allows students to practice multiple intelligences, synthesize ideas and medias, practice skills that will develop jobs of the future, and encourages collaborative projects that can span the globe, it seems apparent that I need to bring this into my classroom as much as possible. Of course, this depends on the resources of the school I work at and, as it is with all aspects of society, equal opportunity for technology is not guaranteed.
In order for students to learn deeply they must experience reading, writing, and critical thinking in authentic and engaging experiences. This happens when students are encouraged to tap into their own lives, and when they see their own lives reflected in the people and materials present in the classroom and in their school communities. Students should be able to use their own language when they are writing and they should see themselves in what they read. They should be encouraged to ask critical questions, and problem solve those questions, that are relevant to their own lives. Not only does research show that this works best for student progress, it is what is right and fair to have students show me, as a teacher, their world and for me to reciprocate.
The are other ways for me to be an advocate of students outside of the classroom, as well as many opportunities to develop other professionals goals. I would like to teach creative writing at the college level, as well as in all-ages workshops. I will continue to publish creative pieces and begin to publish articles in the field of education. I will continue to collaborate with other writers, artists, and educators. I plan to write and teach curriculum which integrates literature, history, culture, visual art and creative writing. Hopefully the pursuit of my passions will rush in and merge with my students’ passions.