Personal Teaching Philosophy
My personal teaching philosophy boils down to one very important belief: all children deserve a high quality education. It is important not only for the children, but for society as a whole. Without educated citizens, democracy crumbles. Authoritarians prey on ignorance. They rely on keeping the public in darkness and reliant on them, the authoritarians, for light. If we carry our own light, though, then we diminish their power.
It is for these reasons that educators must avoid being authoritarians in their own classrooms. The words “because I said so” should never be spoken, because those words are antithetical to the very idea of education. Education should be a process of working with students cooperatively, teaching to their strengths and helping them with their weaknesses. Schools should not have an “us vs. them” atmosphere of teachers and administrators versus students, because in that battle nobody wins.
I have made a mid-life pivot to teaching because I believe it is the single most important profession I could do. I’m not a biologist, so I’m never going to create the cure for cancer. I’m not a physicist, so I’m never going to discover the secret of faster-than-light space travel. I am, however, a life-long learner and someone who enjoys nothing more than sharing what he has learned. To be an effective learner—and an effective teacher—one must be open to changing one’s mind. As a species, our understanding of the world around us is constantly evolving as we discover new things and learn new information. As individuals, we must be willing to evolve as well. The pedagogy used in classrooms today is vastly different than what was used when I was a child, and thank goodness for that. Teaching as a whole has gotten better and more effective, and it must continue to do so. There is only ever more information to teach, never less.
With that in mind, my pledge as a teacher is to never stop learning, to never be complacent or resistant to change, to always seek truth, and to know that I can always do better. Complacency is the enemy of progress, and it is the enemy of democracy. Those who would subject us to tyranny count on complacency, ignorance, and fear to help them do so. Education is the antidote to all of those things.
A Description of My Classroom
A classroom should be a safe and supportive environment for students. It should be conducive to learning by being conducive to discussion, having the essential tools necessary for students to learn, and being an environment in which students want to learn. A cold, gray box with unadorned walls, harsh fluorescent lighting, and desks all arranged in rows facing the front of the classroom is not a welcoming environment students want to spend time in. It doesn’t foster discussion; it fosters listening to the teacher dole out information.
As I’ve been substitute teaching, I’ve been paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work in classroom layouts. Granted, much of that is subjective. What one person considers decoration, another might consider distraction. There are some common themes I’ve seen emerge in the most successful classrooms, though, and those are the things I want to replicate.
For the seating arrangement, I intend to arrange desks in clusters of four to facilitate frequent small group discussions. Overhead fluorescent lights are out, to be replaced with floor lamps and string lights that approximate warm, incandescent lighting as closely as possible (while still being energy efficient). The amount of bare wall will be minimized through the use of art, informational and inspirational posters, student work, and strategically deployed removable vinyl wallpaper. There will also be a whole lot of bookshelves, stocked with as many books as I can procure without being deemed a hoarder.
To minimize the barrier between teacher and student, I will be using a moveable standing desk or lectern with just enough space for either a laptop or a wireless keyboard and mouse. Even that I will spend as little time behind as possible, instead using the majority of class time to circulate among the students. I will also have a “backpacks under your desk, please” policy to minimize my tripping and falling, which I am especially prone to do.
This unit plan is adaptable to any middle school or high school classroom. The difficulty depends largely on the texts that the students select for themselves, which gives a broad range of flexibility when dealing with different ages and reading levels. At lower reading levels, students can opt for graphic novels or YA fiction. At higher reading levels, they can select any number of contemporary or classic works of science fiction. The questions and prompts used here are aimed toward the middle of the learning curve so as to be as broadly applicable as possible, but they could easily be swapped out or added to for different learning situations.
There is, of course, always a challenge in helping students select the best text for themselves, in terms of both difficulty and their personal interests. A list of suggested texts is provided to give examples of some works that are well-regarded for their particular niche, whether it be graphic novels, YA literature, “hard” science fiction, etc. It is by no means meant to be a definitive list, however, nor one that students should be limited to. They should be free to select their own text with the teacher’s guidance final and approval, should they not find something on the list that interests them. Some students may not connect with the first text they select, so flexibility may be needed with allowing them to select another option if time allows.
One point of contention that sometimes comes up with science fiction is where to draw the line between it and fantasy, a genre with which it often overlaps. The teacher, however, need not be pedantic when it comes to distinguishing the two genres. The primary goal is to get the students reading something of interest to them.
Rationale for this Unit
Genre fiction is often looked down on, or overlooked altogether, when it comes to the classroom. This is to the detriment of literacy education, since genre fiction can be every bit as well-written and meaningful as literary fiction, with the added bonus that students at the middle school and high school level in particular may find it more to their liking. If students would rather read about outer space adventures than the misadventures of Victorian-era orphans, then they should be encouraged to find pleasure in reading where they can.
Far from being frivolous, science fiction is often used to address a whole host of real-world issues such as climate change, censorship, discrimination, and just about anything else one could think of. Not every book the students read will be 1984, of course, but encouraging them to explore the genre increases the chances that they will do so outside of the classroom as well. The more they do so, the better they will become not only at reading but also at selecting worthwhile material for themselves to read.