SRG, MTSS, PLC… It’s like a scene from The Wizard of Oz: rather than lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) a teacher might have an acronym chant of the latest buzzwords reverberating through her head (one equally as frightening for her as the threat of vicious predators was for Dorothy).
Summer is a time of reflection. We rework lesson plans, units, and assessments, but I’ve been thinking maybe we need to give some attention to something much larger: teaching philosophy and the ways in which it governs what takes place within the classroom.
Once upon a time we wrote a teaching philosophy. What do we believe, at our core, about teaching? How do decisions we make in our classrooms communicate those beliefs? Over time, philosophy statements have evolved into an ugly beast. They seem now to be a seek-and-find for the buzzwords in education.
What would we learn about ourselves if we sat down to pen an honest teacher philosophy statement? Would it include standards-referenced grading, data teams, professional learning communities, or multi-tiered systems of support? Doubtful. Those concepts are driven by people outside the classroom, not within it. I’m not endorsing insubordination, nor am I discrediting the role of those aspects in the classroom. I would absolutely find some connection to them in my own philosophy, but I certainly wouldn’t name-drop the latest jargon in a quest to mark a box on a checklist. Not if I’m being authentic. How often do we honestly, deeply reflect on our individual philosophy?
I’m thinking about my touchstones, the most important of which is Namaste. This singular word hangs at the front of my classroom. Loosely, it means: the best in me bows to the best in you. As a teacher, I’m not always my best self. The lesson flops. It was sloppy. I’m cranky. I hope I’m not singularly defined by my bad days. The same is true for the people who sit before us. It is our responsibility and obligation to not only see beyond their shortcomings but to actively recognize the best in them, both as students and as people.
Last year I taught a student named Fox. He was spunky, sarcastic, smart as a whip, and a stereotypical underachiever. When his parents came to conferences, they seemed to do so begrudgingly. They sat and, with an exhausted sigh, began, “Alright. Fox.” They were bracing for the blow, but my first comment—an honest one—was about his intelligence and humor. I enjoyed the dynamic he brought to class. Yes, he was getting a low C, but they knew that—it was on the report card. Their response was one of surprise, relief, and gratitude. And the best part? It was true. Fox (and his parents) knew that he was more than capable of doing well in school. They didn’t need to hear teachers belabor the point. They needed someone to bow to the best in their kid, to tap into it, and to help him achieve, one nudge at a time. They left conferences smiling, maybe for the first time.
This is true for high achieving kids too. I did well in school, but my parents returned from conferences disappointed. Each time my teachers scoffed, “I don’t need to see you. She’s doing great!” My parents were never given the opportunity to learn who I was in their absence. What was it that I was doing well? What did I bring to the table? We are working with people – bright, young, real people – and those who love them. They aren’t faceless grades and scores. We need to acknowledge the person, not merely the student. I strive to see the best in young people, to focus on it and talk about those strengths with students and with those who care about them. Then I can prod them to grow.
This is just one aspect of my philosophy, but it’s vital. I want it to be the funnel through which the acronyms siphon, not the other way around. I went into teaching for the people, not for the data or the jargon.
I invite you to take some time this summer to reflect. Acronyms and initiatives aside, what do you believe? Strive to make it evident in your classroom. Let it, not buzzwords, govern what happens there. As I embark on another school year, I know where I want to focus my energy. Where will you focus yours? Namaste.
Haley Moehlis teaches English at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA. She will be entering her 12th year of teaching this fall. She serves as a TLC demonstration teacher and mentors a first year teacher. She loves to read, write, sew, and craft. She and her husband are raising 3 rambunctious boys. Both her classroom and her home are kind of a mess, but beautiful stories bloom amid the chaos.