One of the things that I have been struggling with since moving from Philadelphia to Oakland is the fact that I will need to go through the process of getting certified as a teacher in California. This week I wrote a letter (partially to myself, and partially with a future employer in mind) to remind myself why I teach, what I love about it, and how I run my classroom:
One of my longest-held beliefs is that no one learns by being told what to do. I often think of my 9th grade Western Civilizations teacher whose motto as “Question Authority”. Out of all of the facts, skills, strategies, and wonders I learned throughout my K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education, this phrase has always stuck out to me and inspired me. The idea that one should “Question Authority” is one that drives my own philosophy of teaching and inspires the way I run my classroom.
In my classroom, I try to lecture as little as possible. I tend to focus in on a specific skill for each lesson, so that my “lectures” can be under 10 minutes. In a 50-minute class period, I believe that it is incredibly important to give most of the time to students to have “at bat” time with the skills that we are working on. I usually structure the class with three main sections: Do Now, Direct Instruction, and Student Practice. The Do Now usually links to previous learning and frames the mini-lecture that I will give during my Direct Instruction. The Student Practice portion of class lasts the longest and can take shape in a variety of different ways. Students might work individually, in pairs, or in groups. Students might be writing, discussing, moving between stations, or even drawing. I believe that this time is vital to student learning.
Through the extended practice that students have on their own or in small groups, they are able to synthesize information and form their own opinions about our topics. I welcome debates between students and love when students get excited about topics. It is personally gratifying when students are able to relate our classroom texts to their own lives and experiences. Most times, I do not insert my own opinion and let students come to a consensus on their own. One of my favorite discussions was relating police brutality and mass incarceration to the Salem Witch Trials while we were reading The Crucible.
I believe that making appropriate links to students’ experiences is the only way to get students engaged in classroom discussions. Students are invested in reading material that pertains to them and it is our job as educators to show them how the texts in the classroom connect to their own day-to-day experiences. I began this school year by posing the following question to my students: What do 2Pac, George Orwell, Cardi B, and Friedrich Nietzsche have in common? After receiving a lot of confused looks, I told students that we would study texts from each of these artists and writers to explore the effects that power has on people. Students were excited and quickly started talking about lyrics from 2Pac while making wild guesses about who Nietzsche was and what he might have to say about power. As an educator, my goal is to inspire my students to become agentive participants in their local communities by teaching them how to self-advocate, be good allies for others, and engage in political discourse. I believe that this can be done by building curricula that reflect students’ own lives while also giving them a window into the lives of others. It is my dream to one-day work in a school where I can set my own curriculum.