Every once and awhile an employer or person will ask me about my educational philosophy. As they say — there are many ways to skin a cat — but here is one version of what teaching means to me:
I disagree with the educational philosophy that says children have an innate understanding of knowledge and it is our job as teachers to show them what they already know. However, I do agree with Aristotle when he said, “all people desire to know.” What I teach in the classroom is what to do with knowledge. What do we do with our knowledge of history, the arts, of writing and reading? Mere curiosity is not enough. The role of the teacher is to help students dive into the vast ocean with a canteen of fresh water by their side. The merely curious will end up like the curious cat -- and we know what happened to the curious cat! In sum, teaching is providing our cohorts with the tools to understand what they desire to know.
I love teaching because I was not as a child someone who was primed to learn. I liked to read but I had no guidance in choosing what I read. It was not until a teacher told me, “Greig, I notice you read books in the library. But you seem to have no rhyme or reason to what or why you read the books you do.” She gave me some books she thought were thought provoking and better than the drivel that I had chosen for myself. She gave me books to read that lead me out to other worlds, concepts, and different ways of thinking. I must say that even today I love the pleasure of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and Goosebumps, but I am forever grateful that I was lead out by Alice in Wonderland and the Odyssey.
Master teachers ask the right questions. Students in a classroom do not respect the know-it-all teacher. I agree with Paulo Freire who said that you cannot pour information into the brain of a child and just expect them to conform. Education is not a mechanical activity of depositing raw information into empty heads. We have to put a fire under the belly! For example -- I do not expect to give a one-hour lecture on Shakespeare. I do not want Shakespeare’s plays to be empty information poured into an unloving mind. I have to set up the conditions to enable the spark to ignite. I know that young people are fascinated by love and death -- and I will be sure to lead them into a discussion of Romeo and Juliet with this in mind. Whatever I teach must matter.
My teaching creed stems from my own education. I am excited about the history of philosophy. I love telling stories of the great myths and recounting historical events. I am usually enthralled by the intricacies of a good novel, an excellent coming-of-age story, or funny poem. I thrive in schools where students are in love with a certain passion they see in their instructors. Master teachers must be lovers of their field of knowledge.
To teach means learning new ways to teach. I love working with technology because what better way to think about literature than to comb through the archive of Google Books to look for evidence, or to examine an ancient artifact from Ancient Mesopotamia on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website? Getting kids to form good habits of discussion is awesome. When young people begin to lead others out I know that I have done my job.
I do not teach in a vacuum. I do not believe in going rogue. I think teachers thrive best in a school where the values espoused by the teacher is equal to the school’s own values. For me: it is the love of learning equals desire for the divine. By love of learning, I mean the thirst for knowledge that whets the appetite of novice learners. We love learning because we seek more than what we are.
To put it squarely: I believe in becoming. In this way, I think teaching is an intimate occupation. We must not only be lovers of knowledge, but we must be lovers of others. We must help the kids in the room become better versions of themselves. And in this way, we too are changed.