I believe that my job as a teacher is to empower students to learn to the best of their abilities, so that they can live full and meaningful lives, in which they are able to not only pursue their own goals and aspirations, but to understand and contribute to the local—and global—community that we are all a part of. I believe in learning about my students, their background, and any conditions they might have, and to tailor my teaching accordingly. I want them to know that I genuinely care about them and their futures. Our learning environment must foster curiosity and reward participation; it must a safe place—defined by mutual respect—with clear behavioral rules and high academic expectations.
In life, it is absolutely critical to understand others’ perspectives and that begins in the classroom through celebrating our own diversity of backgrounds and world-views. This does not, however, mean that every comment or opinion is inherently valid or correct. Although all people intrinsically deserve a respectful hearing, an educated student must be able to distinguish a well-reasoned thought—one which marshals evidence in a logical and coherent manner—from a poorly reasoned or groundless view. For me that is my ultimate measure of success.
“It is better to know some of the questions, then all of the answers” – James Thurber
What I teach?
I teach high school & college students the subjects that I know and love: economics, history, geography, business, and the social sciences (Please visit my resources pages) Of course, one can’t teach these subjects well without a heavy dose of humanities sprinkled throughout. Although my syllabi tend to be heavy with interesting real world case studies my primary teaching focus is on the underlying concepts the case studies exemplify. My students are expected to understand those concepts and then use them as building blocks for their own learning. I emphasize critical thinking skills and my goal is to design lessons where students discover the connections to the world themselves.
How I teach?
I believe first and foremost in cultivating a classroom of respect, where all students feel welcome and share in ownership of our classroom. This begins with firm, yet fair, rules and clear expectations of student behavior. I believe in having high academic expectations for ALL students. Students perform better when they know that strong performance is expected of them. This is not to say that I don’t also believe in differentiation—I certainly believe students learn at different rates and I know from my own experience that differentiation helps—but I think it is critical that we not dumb down the main ideas, but rather work to teach it in mulitple ways. All of us sometimes don’t catch everything the first time, but every student can and should learn the important ideas in the content.
As befits a former project manager with a Master’s degree in Planning, I believe in planning. I also know how limited my time is with students and therefore at the very beginning of the term I sit down with my expected outcomes, various project/lesson ideas, and a calendar and proceed to design my class schedule backwards. I really believe in planning. I also believe in soliciting out other’s input 1. Other teachers nearly always have great ideas and working together one can create even better lesson plans. My resources pages serve as my online network of teachers but I love to work face to face. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, unless we have to. And of course, I believe very strongly in project and experiential learning. As Aristotle wrote, we learn through doing.
I believe very much that critical thinking is the most important skill set a student can receive in their education. I use a mix of different projects and testing techniques in order to get students thinking. I like trying to find creative juxtapositions that inspire them to make their own connections. I also am a huge fan of allowing students to harness their own creativity through developing quality projects. I don’t, however, believe in just doing projects for project’s sake; they must be related to our core content, no matter how attractive–or interesting–they may be. I love complimenting students as encouragement, but compliments work best when the students know it is an accurate assessment of their work.
How do I access learning?
I believe in using a variety of techniques for assessment, including tests, essays, projects, and presentations. I certainly believe in the power of testing—studies have shown how effective testing can be in developing long-term memory—but I do not believe in teaching to tests. I think one must strike a balance between more traditional assessments and allowing students to express their learning creatively through projects—which are more and more critical to today’s modern economy. However, my overall favorite technique is to require students to formulate questions. I require this of nearly all my students during both my lessons and when listening to other student presentations (I usually have them write down questions). Asking questions is an active process, that gives the student freedom to come up with their own thoughts, rather than simply repeating back something I already said.
I like this technique because it forces students to listen closely to content throughout the class. As classes progress I cycle through all of my students, individually calling on them by name. In general I do not allow students to repeat questions, coming back to them if they do. Sometimes a student can struggle to find a good question and just gives a simple one, which is fine with me as content repetition enhances learning. Often a few students will have a funny question intended to make the class laugh, I usually laugh too and am appreciative of good-natured humor related to the topic. I can nearly always count on some students to have very good questions that generate further discussion. If good questions are not raised, then I know that the lesson was not successful, or that I lost their interest and therefore must reassess my technique or even the entire plan. We all live and learn.
Why I teach?
Is it too cliché to say simply because I love it? I love ideas and I love working with young adults. I was always the student who stayed after class to continue talking about whatever interesting fact came up in the lesson. My goal is to infect my students to share my curiosity, and then help them develop their own thoughts and creations. Nothing motivates me more than the glint of eureka in someone’s eye. The world is an utterly fascinating place and one of the benefits of working with young people is that they often see things in ways I didn’t think of. In fact, usually they infect me with their own curiosity and we head down some rabbit hole together on a learning journey.
Please see my brief essay, Learning is What It Means to be Human, for more on the philosophical underpinnings behind my teaching philosophy.
1 And, of course, it goes without saying that checking with administration is an important part of planning, their expectations are hopefully quite explicit.