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Teaching Philosophy

Moss, woodchips, a few rocks overlooking a lake and a circle of my peers: this was the location of the first English class I ever taught. I was a college student participating in an experiential learning program in the New England woods and I was hooked. The programs mission was to study local authors in their environment as well as gradually hand over the teaching responsibilities to the students. We were encouraged to use our immediate experience with our surroundings to inform our analysis of the texts as well as the way we chose to structure our classes. Consequently, I arrived in New England a student and left with an ardent determination to teach. This experience altered my view of education and ignited my passion to teach in this student-centered manner. The serene backdrop in which I began my journey as an educator is a harsh contrast to the florescent lights and white brick walls that surround the lessons I now teach in public high schools, however my philosophies remain the same: personally invest, experiment and foster community. To me, the ultimate sign that learning is happening is when students are personally invested in their experience. A lackluster attitude is to be expected when students view material as completely irrelevant to their lives; however, when students are given some control in shaping their learning, they begin to sit up and assert themselves. I recently taught a poetry unit in which students began by drafting their own original definitions of poetry. We continued to challenge these working definitions through pieces I chose specifically to contradict popular notions such as poetry expresses emotion. In one session, we had a full-fledged debate over whether the rhythm and self-expression in a highlight reel of Tamika Catchings basketball plays should be considered poetry. However, students revised their definitions of poetry in ways that made sense to them as individuals. I could

Teaching Philosophy
have easily supplied one definition to the class, but I dont believe call-and-repeat style teaching leads to real learning. I believe through ongoing conversations, replete with tough questions and ample opportunities to take ownership over their experiences, students begin to get to know themselves through the material. And to me, that is real learning. Once students have personally invested in their experience, genuine discovery becomes possible. As I continue to experiment with my style as an educator, it has become clear that education must be synonymous with experimentation as well. My goal for students is that they discover something about themselves as they write in new styles and read challenging texts. But in order for self-discovery to occur, students must experiment, which means they must be willing to fail. An essential component of this type of learning is a strong basis in community. My goal as a teacher is to breed communities in which every student has the opportunity to develop their voiceas a writer and as a person. One strategy I have found to work well in developing community is arriving to each class as not just the teacher, but as a participant. When I give a journal prompt, I always complete it with my students. Sometimes I am the first to share in order to break the ice and sometimes I dont share at all if its not relevant to the discussion. Through consistent participation I hope to pave the way to written experimentation by first experimenting and being vulnerable myself. My mission as an educator is to bring the experiential, community-based learning I found in New England to public school classrooms. To me studentcentered education means the students are the variables in the equation and instruction must always shape to their individual personalities and life experiences.