This was the question that my new (excellent) student teacher asked me this morning. I think when I first started teaching I had this written out on a portfolio or something. I can’t even remember what it said but I am sure at the time it was some bumpersticker-esque quote about empowering students to realize their potential or something about voice and choice or some quote about teaching a kid to fish… I really can’t remember but I am so grateful for the simple question because it got me thinking.
I don’t think I have a philosophy so much as I just have hopes and dreams of what education could be… So here is to hopes and dreams.
This past week I was blessed to take part in a parent night and visit with some of my awesome students parents. I see often on Twitter and other places this back and forth that occurs around the role of parents in education. In some cases it feels almost adversarial, the relationships between teachers and parents. I am so grateful that is not my situation. I had the opportunity to just laugh with parents about their amazing kids. I sat across the table and visited, not just about grades, but about the hopes and dreams they have for their kids. About the infinite potential. As one conversation started to wrap up a parent asked me, “Brent, How are you though? How are you doing?” The question caught me off guard. I love my students but things seem so much harder this year, the joy of it all is harder to find in the moments I am no longer with my students. In this moment with this question I didn’t just feel like a teacher I felt like my answer actually mattered. That it was asked authentically. We had a longer visit. This is what teaching is about and my hope is that all teachers and parents can enjoy these partnerships that can only benefit the students who we all care so much about.
In the past I have always looked at teaching as a competition among my coworkers. I wanted to be the best. I have grown from those days. I still want to be the best and I work hard for it but I now care more about supporting my friends in this journey. I celebrate the practices of my veteran teacher friends and the wisdom they can pass down. I respect the differences and wealth of experiences that each coworker brings to the table. I would love to inspire them to try new things but I also want to respect and honour the gifts they bring. I have a dream where we are all working together for the best outcomes for our students, worrying less about being right and more about being what our students need.
I interviewed for a position that I was not sure I wanted until after I didn’t get it, haha. I was asked the question of what my plans for the school might be. Now at the time I could have rattled off my 5 year plan followed by my 10 and 20 year. I have plans. Those plans all centre on my students. How to activate their passion for learning and what we can do to amplify this afterwards. I want for them the education they deserve not just the one we can offer. I work in a great school, I work with great coworkers. Kids still ask every day why they have to take math, why they have to go to science, what is it we are really learning in Social Studies and about a million times a day, “why do we have to read?” You can have the best school in the world and our students are still not feeling like what we are doing is addressing their needs. I see a common statement on Twitter, “Could you sell tickets to your lesson?”… beyond the fact that I don’t think any kid is buying tickets to attend school if they can instead buy tickets to go to a movie, arcade or just get out of school I don’t think it is the message I want sending anyway. I don’t want my students to be entertained I want them to be engaged and not because it is a party but because the learning is centred around them. Their interests, their skills, their voice. My dream is a school that is fuelled by inquiry, curiosity and passion. My hope is that in the mean time I can find that magic in my classroom at the very least.
A sense of belonging and community has become more and more important over the years. Maybe it is my old age… lol but the more I feel outside of it the more I realize how hard it is. I was thinking about this yesterday and tweeted about feeling valued. I can’t help but think many of our students do not have a sense of belonging. I had a parent tell me a student was not sure I liked them based off of their feelings in class and interpretation of my own actions and interactions with them. This notion could not be further from the truth but because this student felt a lack of belonging to our community and classroom this was their takeaway. I hope that I can help them feel they belong in our community, that I value them as a piece of that community because the alternative, feeling a bit more out in the cold than usual this year, doesn’t feel good and the idea any students may feel this way in my classroom or school is heartbreaking and against what I believe.
You may have notice that sound pedagogy was not listed as a key component. I value that more than almost everything but I feel that comes when the rest are present. Partnerships with parents and coworkers build a strong community. When we focus our instruction on our students needs quality pedagogy should follow. Lately I have been reading more and more on Antiracism, Poverty and Trauma and the impact these factors have on education. When we teach with an Antiracist lens we confront the inequities that come along with a system that for too long prevented students from belonging to our community, when we consider the impact of poverty and trauma we can better understand our students and work to help them again reducing their barriers to belonging.
A community does not succeed when we are not working together to lift each other up. I have so many hopes and dreams for my students. I don’t know if I have a solid philosophy but I do know what I want to see in the days, weeks, months and years to come.