My Teaching Philosophy: A Retrospect

Two years ago, I was entering my last year of college.

At the beginning of the semester, I was told that at the end of the semester I would have to turn in my teaching philosophy. Of course, me being me, I put it off until the last possible moment.

I convinced myself that my procrastination was the main reason why it had taken me so long to get the project done. But I was also struggling with the main concept of a teaching philosophy:

Why did I want to be a teacher anyways?

It’s a question that has always been hard for me to answer. I have never been able to consistently express my thoughts concretely. Sometimes, my mind is a maze of wild thoughts with no clear form, they buzz by so quickly and then are gone until I can lay hold of them later. Some never really become clear to me at all.

But this assignment required that I do my best to answer The Question and in my grappling, I produced this post.

Looking back, I was so idealistic. I think I knew I was laying on the optimism a little too thickly, even if I tried to throw in a spoonful of realism. But I’ve always had a tendency to “fake it until you make it” and I was going to get through this assignment and come up with the best version of a teaching philosphy that I could. I genuinely wanted to be that teacher and I would be that teacher come hell or high water.

As it turns out, hell and high water are greater forces than I originally gave them credit for.

I tried to carry that mindset through my student teaching the next semester, but I never quite felt like I got there. I doubted I was making the right decision. Everyday I doubted my ability to make decisions. I wanted someone else to tell me what to do. And if I was so sure I couldn’t make my own decisions then should I really be a teacher?

After all, when I wrote that silly philosophy I struggled to know what to say. Maybe it was because I wasn’t meant to be a teacher. Maybe I was just fooling myself.

Every day I felt an anxiety that crushed and twisted me up inside. It didn’t help that I was also dealing with things in my personal life that were twisting and crushing me in other ways. It brought me down and triggered my depression, the worst I had ever experienced. Everyday turned into me figuring out how to appear alright, to appear that I was functioning just fine. Perhaps it’s pride, but I’ve always hated for people to think that I’m anything but okay. This is an area that I’ve had a great deal of growth in, but there’s still a long ways for me to go.

After graduation I focused on the only thing I could focus on, finding a teaching position. I was still unsure about my career choice, but there was still something pushing me forward. I also had wonderful people around me who encouraged me every day. Eventually, I found a position at the school I work at now. It was time to start the next chapter.

My first year of teaching was a trial, as I’m sure most first years are. I had been told that my first year would likely be hard and I had prepared myself for it to be, but that was before my depression got the best of me. There were days I would go home and cry. I contemplated quitting. I wanted to quit my job. At one horrible point, I wanted to quit life. I felt I had officially taken the whole “fake it until you make it” thing entirely too far. I wasn’t making it.

And yet there was nothing else I wanted to do more than what I was doing.

There were days where I would look at my students and I would want to cry because as frazzled as I was, I loved those kids and I loved being their teacher.

But I was no where near the teacher I wanted to be. The teacher I said I wanted to be in my little assignment I had written just the year before.

Which is silly, if you think about it. I knew when I wrote my philosophy that I had mixed in a level of idealism that I could never hope to achieve, at least not my first year. But there I was, holding myself to the standards of my rose colored ideals. I was convinced I had let myself down, I had somehow lost sight of myself. I was toxic. My thoughts a jumbled mess of doubt and self-loathing.

And to be honest, not all of this was because of my job. There were, as I mentioned before, other reasons why I was struggling with myself. There were also good things and good moments. It was a rollercoaster of a year, 2015.

But, to use a time honored cliche, the night is darkest before the dawn. Small glimmers of light found their way through. It wasn’t that I suddenly became a “better” teacher, I just learned to be fine with being an “okay” teacher. And once I embraced my okayness, things got better.

Yes, I still struggled. Yes, I still had bad days. But it didn’t get to me the same way. I started to let myself grow, and adapt. Again, I found I was surrounded by wonderful, encouraging people and I relied on them more than they realize.

My last day of my first year was a bittersweet one. I was glad to see the year done, but sad nonetheless.

I had survived.

I had survived the tears and the long hours. I had survived the doubt and self-loathing. I had survived the worst of my depression, the minefield that my mind had created for myself. I had survived the desire to quit.

And here I am. I lived through hell and almost drowned in the high waters. But damn it, here I am.

I started my second year of teaching a couple weeks ago. There has been some anxiety and reasons to be melancholy or unsure already. But I know I can handle myself. I’ve learned the secrets of my minefields.

I have decided to let go of the idea of being a “good” teacher and just be a more “okay” teacher than I was last year. A better version of okay. Someday, if I am lucky and work very hard, I can be the best version of okay. And maybe by then, I can look at my philosophy and say I have arrived. Or I may never arrive. My philosophy may evolve over time. It may take me years to be a “good” teacher, or just the best teacher I can be. And that’s okay.

One of my students from last year stopped by my classroom this week. I was working on getting ready for the next class and she made the comment that I seemed like “more of a teacher” this year. She wasn’t implying that I wasn’t a teacher last year, just that I seemed to have new purpose this year. I told her I had learned a lot my first year, and I was starting my second year with a whole new perspective.

As for my depression, I can genuienly say that I’m alright. I’m not always good. But I’m mostly alright and I’ll take that over the alternative.

“Writing is thinking.”

It’s something I wrote in my original post. I even included it on my syllabus this year, along with the O’Connor quote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” When I started this post, I thought it would be focused on what I originally wrote, not a memoir of my life the past two years. But now I see, this was what I needed to write. I have been collecting these wild, abstract thoughts and feelings for a long time. It was time I finally put them into order and see what I think.

I’m still not entirely sure why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. But I do know that the reason I want to be a teacher now is because it’s who I am. I’m a teacher. It doesn’t really matter what compelled me to become a teacher. All that matters is that I am a teacher and I know that come hell or high water, it’s what I’ll be doing for a long, long time.

-Allison

 

 

My Teaching Philosophy

At the beginning of this semester I was told that at the end of the semester I would need to write my teaching philosophy as an assignment.

Of course I haven’t touched it until today. Oh, did I mention it’s due today? Yeah…

But it’s not because I’m a procrastinator (okay, so, that does have something to do with it, to be honest). It’s because it has taken me all semester to even begin to piece together what my teaching philosophy is. It is a thought that has plagued me from time to time throughout the semester.

Why do I want to teach? What does teaching mean to me? Why English? I love history, music, art, I could have taught any of those subjects.
 

Unlike some of my fellow teachers-to-be, I didn’t aspire to be a teacher from a young age. I didn’t decide pursue an education degree until 2013; when I was about to begin my fifth year of college. It’s hard for me to say what made me decide to become a teacher. But since I have begun my journey to become a teacher I have found myself, finally, feeling that I have a path and a purpose for my life (cheesy and cliché, yes, but it’s true). But that still doesn’t quite answer my next question.

Why English?

Yes, it would seem the logical decision seeing as I had for four years been an English major and had already received my Associates with an English major. But I felt I was missing something. Some reason why English was so much more important to me than any of the other things I loved and could teach (and possibly easier to teach). I knew that at some point I knew exactly why I loved English the best of any subject and that this surely had something to do with my decision to teach it.

The answer found me again in the form of birthday gift.

My best friend’s baby recently turned a year-old. I agonized over what to get her. There are a plethora of toys and clothes that I could get a one-year-old, but I also knew that these things would be outgrown so quickly. I began to think back to my childhood and the things I had that I kept the longest.

The answer was books.

In particular, Dr. Seuss books. The first book I can remember reading all by myself was Green Eggs and Ham. Books were my constant companions throughout my childhood. I relished our weekly trip to the library. There were worlds contained in those words. Places and people I had never seen, nor would ever, yet they existed in the pages I devoured. My mother allowed me the freedom to read what I wanted, to inquire, to drink in the knowledge these books could give me. I leapt from genre to genre, following the rabbit holes so to speak. Writing, as it would happen, is something I didn’t come to enjoy until my college days, but by the time I got there it too felt like a long-lost friend.

So I bought baby Selah books, one of which was Green Eggs and Ham.

 

“Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” -John Green


“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” -Alexandra Trenfor

 

As I think back to those early memories and as I look forward to my future as an educator, I feel that these two quotes really establish the cornerstone of what I teach, how I teach, and who I teach.

I am a product of words

Words, sentences, paragraphs, essays, novels, poems, documents, proclamations, drama: these things have defined people and cultures across time. We call the time before written records prehistoric. We know civilizations by the words they left us. The stories of cultures, both familiar and foreign, is how we share both the unique and the common threads of humanity. The way I think, the way I see the world, is based on the words I was raised hearing and reading. Some of these words I was given by those around me, and other still I sought for myself.

For this reason, I choose to be a teacher of words

It is not my job to decide what works of words are more valuable than others, it is merely my job to tell students where they can find the words they need to understand and to be understood. Teaching, for me, is not telling my students what is right and wrong. It’s to tell them how to find the information they need and for them to make their own decisions. I must allow my students the freedom to inquire, and explore, and seek knowledge– much the same way that my mother allowed me the freedom to do this in my youth. I don’t want censorship to become a part of my classroom, but I acknowledge that it’s still a force that will affect my classroom and I hope to work with my school and community to protect my students rights to read and write (“Right to Read” “Right to Write”).

I will respect the words of my students

As a teacher I have to acknowledge and create a safe haven for the words that me and my students have been defined by. We are all products of our culture and our culture is so often defined by the words it produces, for the better and for the worst. My students all have unique backgrounds with rich wells of prior knowledge and I want them to feel comfortable enough to bring their perspective to my classroom (“Supporting”). They may choose to hold tightly too the words they were raised with, they may desire to seek new words. John Green says that “great books” are the means for students to be understood and to understand. My students will all have their own ideas on what is a great book, or perhaps they may walk into my classroom with the opinion that a great book doesn’t exist. They will be allowed to develop their own opinions of what a great book is, without my interference. Who am I to say what a great book is? Because what that student believes to be a great book may be the way they feel understood. Or, it is the only way they know how to understand.

I must also respect the writings of my students. I once had a professor tell me that writing is thinking. Oftentimes it’s hard to share our inner thoughts about things. And this is of course hardest for those who haven’t decided yet how they feel about something. As I guide my students to make their own decisions I must respect the time and effort that may have gone into that student sharing their thinking with me. I may not always agree with their thinking, but my biases must never interfere with how I assess or judge the validity of their writing. If writing is thinking, then the best way for my students to figure out what they think is for them to write.

I would love nothing more than for all my students to read and write for pleasure as well as for mastery. However, I acknowledge that the student that walks into my classroom hating English may walk out hating it still. But I hope that those students will at least walk away with the tools they need to succeed in their future, to make informed decisions, to express their thoughts freely and responsibly.

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” -John Cotton Dana

Life-long learning is one of the concepts that Northeastern State’s College of Education has stressed throughout my journey through their education program. The importance being placed on educators being life-long learners and to foster life-long learning in our students.

I have always been dedicated to being a life-long learner. I feel this comes mainly from my love of reading for knowledge as well as pleasure. Reading, writing, reflecting, collaborating. They are all things we think to have our students do, but they are so much more important to do as an educator.

After all, how can I ask my students to do things that I am unwilling to do myself? How can I foster life-long learning if I’m not also committed to being a life-long learning?

For these reasons, and probably for more that I haven’t discovered yet, is why I teach. Most importantly, a teacher of words. Without we would have no concept of our history, ideas, thoughts, feelings, culture… so many things.

Allison E. Hogue
Teacher of Words

Works Cited

“Conceptual Framework Overview.” Northeastern State University College of Education. NSU College of Education, 07 Aug. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

“NCTE Beliefs about Students’ Right to Write.” NCTE Comprehensive News. NCTE, 01 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

“Supporting Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education.” NCTE Comprehensive News. NCTE, 15 Oct. 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

“The Students’ Right to Read.” NCTE Comprehensive News. NCTE, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

 

What Up?

What up mah homies?

Okay, probably not going to do that again…

But really, HOW is everybody?

It’s been awhile! In real life it’s only been a monthish, but in the blogverse that’s practically an eternity!

What’s even going on in the blogverse anymore? I don’t have a clue!

Not that I had a clue to begin with…

then again… have I ever had a clue?

Anyways, there have been lots of changes and shifts and life going on the last month. If you’re really observant than you will notice a little something…

Have you seen it yet?

How about now?

No?

Really?

Okay.

If you check out my short bio over there you will notice that I now mention that I’m getting my Bachelors in English Education!

Yep, I’m going to be a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, I just never did anything about it before. The last week or so has really shifted my thinking though, so I got things squared away so that I could start my teaching courses.

It’s exciting, and scary, and awesome, and scary. I’m actually going to be spending time interning. I will be getting field experience! It’s an excellent opportunity for me to try the teaching hat to see if I really like it.

Change is the name of the game. School probably won’t be the only change I make here in the next little while!

What changes are you making?