PHILOSOPHY of LIFE/EDUCATION
In my first year of teaching, I encountered people and situations both in the classroom and outside of the classroom that really helped to shape, what I now consider to be, my philosophy on life and education. I should preface the following with the idea that I believe in transparency. Transparency of the sort that I do not necessarily change from my real life to my teacher life. My attitude, generally speaking, does not change. My demeanor changes minimally. My beliefs, actions, words and general personality traits do not. I'm not sure I intended to present myself in this fashion, but it is certainly what happened. And it is certainly what worked. So that is where I will begin.
Enter a specific female student in her second year of language learning. She was one of the students who transitioned from the previous teacher, to me. In my regular life, I sometimes feel that I should come with a disclaimer, as my transparency is sometimes very blunt. People don't always take to this as quickly as one might hope. It's not as if I am rude or mean, I am quite the opposite. I am straight-forward, honest, and passionate. About everything. This is scary for people. In a school where everyone has known everyone since they could walk and talk, I enter. I do not know them, nor do I pretend to become chummy in a world and community that is unfamiliar to me. While I attempted to assimilate in certain aspects of this new environment, I generally kept to what I deemed appropriate and necessary. I could tell that I rubbed her the wrong way at first. She was short with me, would talk to her neighbor and completely tune out. She would later express stress and uncertainty when it came time to speak aloud, share answers, etc. A few days of this went by, and I pulled her aside to apologize. It was in that moment when we connected. After that she became my biggest advocate. I believe it is this transparency and shift from a teacher being an authority figure to a teacher being a respected and trusted adult that shows our students a good human being. It makes their experience genuine and meaningful because they know from experience that we care about them and are making strides to ensure their successes now and in the future. She trusts me, and has opened herself to learning and taking more risks since that moment. I knew that because of my choice to reach out to her and to show her that personhood exists for everyone, I showed her that I hold so much power to change a situation. I showed her that she also has that same ability to make changes in her own life and see results.
While in another classroom, we have, what I first assumed to be a linebacker of the school's football team. He was a real spitfire; he was my kind of guy. He was a student who could banter back and forth with the best of them, which made for not only an interesting class aura, but also an enjoyable one. His classmates knew him and were familiar with his behaviors. I was not. He was not one to complete homework assignments in a timely fashion, if at all. He was not one whose parents were at our parent-teacher conferences. One day, in passing, my principal checked up on me. It was a day that was more frustrating than joyful, as this student had basically given up on attempting to complete any assignments. It was then that my principal informed me that this student was living at home alone. He lived with his dad but dad worked out of town 6 days a week minimum. Learning this made all the sense in the world. He had no one at home making meals for him, cleaning, doing laundry, and more importantly, no one supporting him academically. In my experience, I would have found it difficult to take care of a home and have to do homework on top of that. I chose to sit down and talk to him, to show him that he holds the power in himself to be a better student and a better person. I shared examples from my own life to show him that I am also a human being and that I also had to learn some things the hard way. Life isn't always fair, but we have the power to make better choices that will help us now and in the future. He never became an "A" student, although he was definitely capable. But the last day of school he said to me "Señora, next year I am going to be better." I learned that if he knew that I cared about his success and that we shared some common ground, he would assume of the responsibility onto himself.
Within the first year of teaching, I was also in my first year of marriage. Before that first year of marriage, we had a tough year. We found out we were pregnant, my older daughter was not quite two years old and we felt the stress of this immediately. We soon after were engaged, all while in the process of buying a house. The house process took over four months to complete, I finally moved out of town, commuted to work and continued to plan our wedding. After our daughter was born, I continued to plan our wedding and commute to work, a couple of months in and our town was struck by a tornado. Our house was damaged, although minimally, my now husband's family saw a devastating amount of loss to three homes and their farm. One month later we were married, two months after that I started a new job and went back to school. Within this craziness of life, our marriage started to become rocky, to say the least. I grew resentful and became a person without grace and full of anger. Eventually I asked my husband to leave our home, leaving me with two children under the age of four, alone to raise them and be their primary caretaker. After spending a few months of our married life apart from each other and missing the celebration of our first anniversary, it finally came to me that as in all aspects of my life, I have the power to change things. For someone who feels like they hold all the power in themselves, it was very uncharacteristic of me to think that the world was going to spin a little differently and things would go back to the way they needed to be. The possibility of a failing marriage snapped me back into my role of "changer" and that is what I have begun to do. In the past few weeks, I have seen first-hand, the power I hold as a human being, a mom, a wife, a partner. In any role in life, our choices make us or break us. We are given opportunity, sometimes we create it ourselves, but what we do with it is what defines us.
In the democratic United States
What it means to be a teacher in the democracy that is the United States of America, in 2015, has evolved greatly from what was once the norm in teaching and teacher/student roles of the past. Like anything, it is constantly changing, and in this case, the responsibilities have not only become greater, but those who hold these responsibilities have taken on what seems to be more in the general sense of the word. To live in the society that has created these changes in responsibilities and shift in expectations is a difficult task. I feel that if I had not grown up and experienced this evolution, it might be more difficult for me to understand it. Personally, I see a large shift between what was expected of me as a student and of my teachers, to what is now seemingly expected of me as a teacher and my students. When I was in high school, I was completely responsible for everything that happened in my education. I was responsible for learning it. I was responsible for clarifying and negotiating meaning. I was responsible for being sure of what exactly the assignment was, when it was due, and what I needed. I was also aware that other students didn't take this responsibility as seriously as I did, but those students were few. In my experience thus far, I feel 100% responsible for the outcome of my students. That is not how I want it. I feel they should be responsible for advocating for their needs as students, just as much as I am responsible for teaching them effectively. I believe that students and teachers should have equal parts of responsibility in the classroom. But they do not. We do not. I have rarely experienced a case where a student is not doing well, and a parent attributes it to the student. Society expects us, as teachers, to make up for everything that is missing in the lives of students. I personally feel happy to do this. I feel happy to be a resource, I feel happy to help. What I see, is that parents have become lackadaisical, and generally believe that once students get to school, teachers will make up for everything the parents missed. We have backpack programs, we have teachers with drawers of food, extra notebooks, pencils, etc. We have speech therapists and a mountain of extra resources to take care of virtually any need the child has. Schools have become responsible for the success of students, and families are no longer to blame if something goes wrong. Part of why I wanted to be a teacher is the way I get to impact lives of students. I get to be so involved in teaching them not only the subject matter, but also model to them how to be a good human being. In 2015, as a teacher, that is our job. We are given so much control over the lives of the students in our presence. We get to make choices that benefit them and impact them in ways that we may never see. We have the power to build great human beings and facilitate learning and risk taking in safe environments. We provide for them what they may not receive at home, and if so, we get to reinforce those life lessons and education.
I boldly declare that knowledge is what we experience. We cannot know something truly if we do not experience it, even if that experience is on the smallest scale. For me to know spanish I must experience it. I must experience it on different levels such a eating authentic foods, knowing people from spanish-speaking countries, and teaching it in my daily life.
I boldly declare that reality is what a person knows to be true of their existence. Realities are made by experiences. My reality is what I experience every day. Realities are different for everyone. I am a mother before I am anything else and that is my reality. Every morning, I get my girls up, get them dressed, feed them breakfast and my day as a mom continues. That is my reality.
I boldly declare that human beings are inherently good. I believe that choices are what make them not good. Choices are what make them continue to be good. A good person is a person who makes a series of choices with good intentions. I say this because although choices may not turn out how we envision them, it is our intent that makes us good. Last night my husband said he was thirsty for some gatorade (we make it with the powder), and I wanted to surprise him. I mixed it up and brought it to him, even though I was tired and had several other things to do. I wanted to be helpful to him. I put too much powder in and he had to fix it. But he was still happy with me for trying.
I boldly declare that there is a continuum of right and wrong, not two separate pools of classification. There is not only two ways things can be done or only two ways that things happen. There is a very messy in between in life called the "grey area." This grey area is for everything that isn't right or wrong or good or bad. In fact, right and wrong does not exist. I declare there is a continuum of positive and negative, although no defining points that are achievable. When I order coffee, I ask for a small latte, plain. Sometimes it's milkier than others, sometimes with a stronger taste of espresso. Neither are wrong, only different.
Life and Education Views
I declare that within my life, I am constantly self-reflecting in terms of my existence. I am always searching for the meaning of my life, daily, weekly, monthly. I am always focused on why I am here.
I declare that I walk a fine line between feeling like I can change the world and feeling like I am the most insignificant human being alive.
I declare, that until I found what I consider to be my "purpose," I was filled with existential anxiety. I would find myself crying as I came home from work every day, because I knew that I was not doing anything powerful or meaningful. I was not exercising the power within me.
I declare that my life and reality of life are a matter of my perception. This is why the person is such a powerful thing. The way we choose to perceive is a direct correlation to what we see as reality.
I declare that my life has been, and will continue to be, full of ups and downs and highs and lows. Good cannot exist without bad and that is to be expected.
Comparison to The Longest Road
Within the reading The Longest Road by Phil Caputo, I realized, almost immediately that he and I share few similarities and more differences than I would have assumed before reading a book that is so reflective. Caputo waited many years between his initial idea of this trip and the execution. This is something that would never happen in my life. If I had an idea that I wanted to do and was curious about, to the high level of passion that Caputo felt (and his curiosity!), I could have never waited. I could have never waited because I am ready to change the world at any turn. I want to change the world and make impacts yesterday. I am constantly taking a step back to self-reflect on what my role is here on earth and as a person. Caputo is quite the opposite. Caputo spent his entire trip interviewing others and not really responding. He was intaking and reflecting on that information, rather than giving his opinions or trying to actively change things. In almost every encounter, he took what the individuals said and used it as information to compile. If it were me, I would have been comparing perceptions and have been chalking it all up to the variances of peoples' perceptions' being the variance of their realities. For Caputo, he held some strong opinions, although he didn't let them out often, and he was not easy to sway from them. I, on the other hand, can accept any idea with good enough supporting evidence. I can very easily see things from other peoples' perspectives, but Caputo was not as empathetic.
For this coming fall, my goal is to continue to create an environment that allows me to cultivate learning. In this course, I was validated in my belief that my role as a teacher is a facilitator of learning. My goal is to increase confidence in my teaching and to have that trickle into the lives of students.
A second goal is to present these things to my students and have them reflect on these perspectives and life views so that they can better understand themselves and human beings and learners. I think that this is so great for anyone to be exposed to because it is validating of the differences that exist within societies.