Saturday, June 13, 2009

Let's talk some education philosophy...

Philosophy!  Thinking, thought and reasoning.  Well, maybe thinking is present and thought is past but you get the idea.  For some philosophy is what you believe.  In the last few years the term "core values" has come to mean someone's philosophy.  I like the term for it has given me much enjoyment of thinking what might not be a core value.  Do we have level of values?  

I'm not a great philosopher but I do derive great satisfaction of thinking about things, especially education.  How do we learn?  I've basically have reduced that thinking into three ways:  Expository, Performance and Investigative.  And I think we do these learning styles from the moment we are born.  When do we learn?  All the time.  Nonstop.  And yes, I do believe us old timers keep on learning too.  I don't believe in the old dog can't learn stuff.  

One of the first courses we have college of education students take when they declare that education is their major is Philosophy of Education, sometimes called Foundations of Education.  Great course--fun to teach but we teach it at the wrong end.  It ought to be the last course in getting one's teaching certificate.   After all is said and done we ought to ask the education student "what do you now believe about education?"  This after taking all the courses we mandate and after they have done so many hours of volunteering in the schools and after they have successfully finished their student teaching or internship whatever it is called now.

But better yet, maybe we ought to ask teachers after they have taught for at least five years what do you now believe education is all about.  And we college of education professors probably ought to listen "real good." We might learn something.  No, I know we would learn something.  I've learned much from teachers even when I wasn't in their classes.

As an aside, did you know that if a beginning teacher makes it through their third year the probability rises that they will become a career teacher.  Research shows that the first year for a beginning teacher is the most tense.  Figures.  They see their colleagues relaxed and getting kids to learn and they are up the walls with trying to get it all done.  It's normal.  The second year is the sickest (of the early years).  The moment a beginning teacher starts to relax, they catch just about every bug the kids bring to school.....every cold, flue, rash  and yes, lice. Ugh.

The third year is the hardest.   Now the new teacher is finally beginning to figure out what she/he wants to do, what the children/young adults need to learn.  But this is also the moment the young teacher begins to analyze their actions.  And they ask the question, "do I really want to be a teacher?"  As I've mentioned, if they make it past the third year, they are probably going to be a career teacher.  

Actually the next dangerous time for teachers remaining on the job is somewhere between the twelfth and sixteenth year.  The research is clear on this.  Why so?  Look at it this way, you are a teacher and you've been teaching the same class or level for the past number of years.  No one supervisors you--you in the classroom with the kids teaching the same subjects each year.  It doesn't matter if you're a grade school, middle school or high school teacher--it has become a grind.  But here is also a contributing factor.  You've gotten cost of living increases, perhaps a pay scale bump (but you still bring home a small paycheck as compared with your neighbors).  Now listen to this:  You've never been given a promotion! No change in title--you're a teacher.  Some in the high school may become a department head but all that means is that you have some administrative work and in many cases, everyone takes turns being the chairman of the department.  And so the experienced teacher begins to ask themselves, "Is this all that is?"  "Twenty more years of this?"  The research appears to suggest that this is a time for some depression.  I think school districts need to be aware of this and do some in house activities that pat the teachers on the back in some manner.  

So back to philosophy....   What do I believe?  It has taken me over fifty years to come to this meager bit of thinking.  I think the first question one needs to ask oneself is "Are we humans a social animal or individual persons?"  "Do we do better in a group or by ourselves?"  Any variation on this theme is a good start for someone's thinking.  I happen to have decided  that we are happier in groups, we survive in numbers--we are a social animal.  If we were strictly an individual, we wouldn't need schools or hospitals or......  

Now what motivates us humans?  I have wrestled a long time with this question.  My answer is "anticipation."  We anticipate growing up, completing school, climbing a mountain, driving somewhere.  We can see it in our mind.  We see ourselves as happy or successful or powerful or loved.  Anticipation is the driving force behind our activities.

But we're also an active being.  We're not an organism that can sit for long.  We have to be doing something.  Perhaps that is why art and music are so popular--it occupies the mind.  But the mind at rest is a rare thing even when we sleep.  

Keeping to this theme, we humans are active and we choose to go to the more complex.  Given a choice of something simple to more complex, we tend to choose the complex task, job, or activity.  Complexity stimulates the mind which is active.  With me so far.

One of my more perplexing thoughts is about right and wrong.  I haven't solved this question yet.  You can advise me if you wish.  I've been told this is the right way to teach spelling and I find some kids learn a different way.  I'm also told we need to teach something that I find is out of date, not needed, old fashioned.  What is right?  

Most teachers have answered questions similar to the ones I've raised.  Dealing with kids makes you think.  Perhaps that is why teachers love their job....they are forced to think each day as to what they need to do to help students.  It isn't just "expositorying" information or giving tests to measure whatever.  It is thinking in your own mind what can I do to assist, help, encourage this unique student who needs my help, drives me crazy, hasn't heard me in weeks, whom I love.......  That is a teacher's philosophy.

Did a teacher help you when you were growing up?  How about thanking an experienced teacher this coming week.  My best to you.

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