Randy Bright 7095
Dr. Steven DeGeorge
Philosophy of Education
Triumphs and Failures: The Makings of a True Educator
“If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.” This old Chinese proverb exemplifies the goal I have in becoming a teacher. To grow people mentally, physically, and spiritually are the most important reasons why I am studying to be a teacher. Life has many opportunities to succeed as well as fail, but it is in these times that people find opportunities to grow. Yes, being a teacher is not just about guiding the next generation and teaching them, but it is also about growing and learning as an individual.
Education is the most important aspect of being an American in my opinion. Many nations around the world do not offer free public education to everyone. Nothing is more important than educating the next generation so that they can be contributors to society and live productive, healthy lives. Education does not just train the mind on various subjects. It also grows the learner socially, physically, and even emotionally. To be educated is to be a well-rounded individual, having knowledge and skills that can aid in daily life, especially in a profession. It is my goal as a teacher, to develop these traits in my students.
The nature of the learner is essential to understanding how to teach. Many philosophers have had controversial discussions on this issue. The first issue to discuss is the idea of society and the individual. I agree with Plato, one of the very first philosophers to investigate this, when he said he believed humans have a social nature, that society is not an artificial human convention. This is to say that the social structure of education is incredibly important (Lee). Students do not learn just from the classroom. Many other aspects of education are important: friendships, family, mentors, and teachers. For example, in “Plato’s Cave,” Plato makes this apparent when he says an individual goes out into the light and is enlightened by all that he sees. After he gets past the change of moving from the darkness of the cave to the light, he realizes that he wants his friends inside the cave to experience what he has (Plato). This clearly illustrates how society affects learning. The person that goes back into the cave wants to help his friends be educated just like him, which is just like education today. Whether people know they are doing it or purposely seeking to help, every person in a student’s life influences him in some fashion, whether good or bad.
In addition to the general nature of how a student learns, there is the question of moral character. Jean Jaques Rousseau believed that “human nature is essentially good. He therefore rejected any notion of ‘original sin’ and proposed instead a notion of the human being as a ‘noble savage.’ Man is naturally good” (Cooney 65). He says later that society is the thing that corrupts us. I cannot agree with this on either account. Because I am a Christian and have studied the Scriptures, it is apparent to me that we have all done terrible things in the eyes of God. In Romans 3:23, it says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” No person is inherently good outside of Christ. This is to say that I believe a student learns to be a “good person” by learning from those around him. Now the opposite (becoming a bad person) could definitely occur, but as a teacher I want to be one of those influences that shows a student how to be an upstanding member of society.
To understand how to teach each student, one must realize that each student is different. Physically, we are different. Each person has a unique fingerprint, never seen anywhere else. There are hair color, height, weight, build, and many other characteristics that show who a person is. Of course, learners are different in many other ways than the physical. When learning, students have differing ideas and feelings. These feelings govern their actions. This is why I agree with Rousseau that first we have feelings, then ideas. John Dewey said that the learner or “knower” is always is in constant interaction with his environment. In fact, he is involved in it. (Dewey 3). This means that the environment largely affects the learner. It is this that gives students feelings and therefore ideas to use in the classroom. Each person develops differently though which is why it is of utmost importance for a teacher to observe students, ascertaining their needs.
By observing students, teachers can often see much of what they need. Students by nature need many different things to be able to function well in the classroom. Dr. Donovan Graham, in his book Teaching Redemptively, states “We have needs that must be met if we are to live, and those needs channel our motivation in a particular direction” (Graham 146). Children’s motivation stems from the needs they either receive or not receive at home. For example, if Robert is hungry, tired, and neglected as a result of his parents, his motivation will not be to energetically study the American Revolution. He will not want to do anything. I believe that as a Christian and his teacher, I would need to observe this behavior and show my love to him in every way possible and meet his needs if I am able to do so without trying to single him out. This is the same with students who have all their needs met. They need a specific form of attention as well that teachers must be made aware.
The main, natural characteristic of how a student learns is the way he develops. Jean Piaget is the most important educational philosopher, in my opinion, that postulated a theory called Piaget’s 4 Stages of Cognitive Development. In this, Piaget said that at a specific age range, a child would learn a certain set of skills. This occurs through assimilation and accommodation (Edwards). Through these processes, the brain takes in information and finds a way to use that information and store it. Teachers can ascertain which stage the student is in (Sensory Motor, Pre-operational, Concrete Operations, and Formal Operations) by their age range or how they seem to learn. Of course students learn in different ways, but overall this system is accurate. This is why I agree with Piaget’s theory. It helps a teacher incredibly in how to deal with issues that may arise in the classroom.
Because the nature of the learner is the desire to acquire knowledge, Horace Mann came to believe that it should be required for the state to give free public education to every individual. In Mann’s “Lecture on Education,” he says, “Education is to instruct the whole people in the proper care of the body, in order to augment the powers of that wonderful machine, and to prevent so much of disease, of suffering, and of premature death” (Mann 52). Mann believed that education is directly tied in with the health of the human body. Without education, he believed that the body would cease to exist. In a way, I believe this is true. I do not, however, believe that it is true of every person. Some people can survive without seeking after formal schooling and still be successful. It is just unlikely that this would occur. Symbolically though, the lack of knowledge and the ability to acquire it may cause students’ minds to die. If the mind is not fed, it does not grow. Therefore the person does not grow as a whole.
Mann believed in this philosophy so much that he was successful in having the government carry out his plan. There is more to this though. Teachers need to take into account the needs of the learner. Students have needs such as shelter, food, love, and safety. If any of these are not present, it is more difficult for students to learn. This is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Huitt). This is exactly why it is important for teachers to discern if there is a problem with their students. If a student is neglected at home, it is the teacher’s job to make sure that the student’s needs are met at school. Better yet, I believe that the teacher needs to meet the needs that the parents or guardians do not, if it is within bounds. For example, if Lucas was not given money to eat lunch one day, his teacher should give him a way to pay for a lunch. If a student’s needs are met, they are able to learn. Sure, there is no way I can meet all of the students’ needs, but meeting even some of them can still help immensely.
Especially for a Christian education, this idea of meeting students’ needs is extremely important. In John 13:34-35, Jesus tells his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Albert Greene stated in his book Reclaiming the Future of Education, “If we as Christians were to learn and practice what it means to put love first in all our relations, our activities, and our understanding of life, we might well be amazed at the impact we would have on today’s self-centered society” (Greene 226). Because of this, I believe that it will be my first concern to show love to my students. In doing this, I can achieve many goals as a teacher and be effective.
By meeting the students’ needs, teachers are then able to look at how the actual teaching in the classroom will be. Students are more attentive and have a greater desire to learn, making it much easier for the teacher. John Dewey says that teaching should be student-centered so the student can learn by experience and creativity. The relationship between teacher and student is learners together (Dewey 4). In this philosophy, Dewey is trying to say teaching should be more about making a creative atmosphere for students to want to learn. It should not be a strict style of teaching.
Philosophers like Jean Piaget, however, believe that the mind is strengthened through strict academic enrichment. His stages of cognitive development state that every student learns in stages, at different ages in life. The teacher needs to teach to those stages. I believe that both a structured form of teaching in the traditional style and a student-centered form are useful. This way the student is able to explore what he wants to learn, and the subjects that the students need to learn are still taught. I am a firm advocate that different, exciting activities in the classroom can aid immensely in student learning. Worksheets and assignments may be interesting to some students, but other activities such as projects, group work, speeches, and field trips can really be beneficial to meet everyone’s needs.
In addition to student-centered and strict, academic learning, B.F. Skinner had another approach. This approach is the behavioral approach. He says that reinforcing a behavior will return a consequence. This reinforcement can be positive or negative depending on the behavior. Skinner called this operant conditioning (McLeod). It is mostly important with behavior issues but it also can apply to learning. Anything a student does returns a response from the teacher, positively or negatively. The student learns by seeing what is the result. I think teaching should definitely include this. Students need to know what is expected of them and what they should and should not do.
I believe that all of these forms of teaching and learning are valid. Each have their faults and their successes, but in conjunction with each other, they can be extremely effective. As a teacher, I want to be diverse, interactive, loving, and caring for my students. Even though teaching needs to include getting all the subject material taught, students remember a teacher that was interesting. Because the teacher was interesting, the student will remember what he taught them. It seems simple, but that is the mind of a child. Not everything is as complicated as most might think.
Mainly, deciphering how students learn defines what role the teacher has in creating atmospheres for the learning to occur. Many philosophers differ on this issue as well, but I believe that teachers should first follow the curriculum given them by the district and state. There can definitely be different ways that they go about teaching the required material (projects, group work, field trips, experiments, and so on), but at the end of the day, teachers must adhere to their jobs of teaching the subjects that are essential. It is in this way teachers are sure to retain their jobs and be able to educate more students as a result.
Plato and Piaget show this characteristic of structured learning most in their writings. Through the “Allegory of the Cave,” Plato shows that when someone is enlightened (the teacher), that person should want to teach those that are still not enlightened (the students). They have not been outside to experience the sun (knowledge). Sure they would learn in the cave, the shadows on the walls and the pictures, but these teachings are not what society demands for children to learn to be successful. Piaget explains how society does expect children to learn. He says people learn in stages. These stages are divided by the age of the student. A teacher’s role is to observe students in their environments and see how best to teach them based on their stage in development (Edwards). I believe both of these approaches of education are essential to a good teaching philosophy. The teacher must instruct instead of sit back and let the student learn for himself, and then the teacher needs to guide the student in learning according to how he is developing.
On the other side of the spectrum, Maria Montessori believes that students can learn on their own. They have spurts of time where they are inspired to learn a certain subject or topic. It is in these times that it is the role of the teacher to be prepared with an activity that best adheres to the students’ needs. In this relationship, the teacher is seen more like a facilitator or coach, willing and able to step in and work with a student to help him in his study. I only agree with part of this philosophy. Teachers should observe their students so that they know when the students are ready to learn a subject, but educators should not sit back and wait for students to decide when to learn. Then nothing will ever get done. Students may never decide that they want to learn at all and may never have those spurts. Then what does the teacher do?
Rousseau sees the teacher as a co-learner with the student. Teachers need to learn just as much as students. There is never an end to knowledge. In Richard Riesen’s Book, Piety and Philosophy, Riesen says how a human should think according to the Bible. He says, “Everywhere we are asked to understand doctrine, ideas, theology. All moral suasion, all exhortation, is built on a foundation of teaching, most of which requires hard thought” (Riesen 52). As a Christian, I believe that understanding God’s word is one of the highest callings I have as a believer. I need to constantly strive to be more knowledgeable about the Bible, and to do this, I must continue to be taught by others around me. I believe that students can play a huge role in this endeavor. For example, each individual student behaves in a different manner. There is not a set way that they think so teachers can observe how their students think and adapt their teaching style. Learning how others think can shed light on how I think as well. It might allow me to see that I am not looking at an issue in the correct manner. I might need to approach it with the mind of a child, making it easier.
To sum up, I believe that the role of the teacher should be as a leader in the classroom. He should be a strong leader as an authority figure, but still have the ability to step back and observe his students and learn what their needs are at the moment. It is my mandate as a Christian educator to go out of my way to show a student love and yet be a strong presence in the classroom, one that seems to be an expert on the subject that I am teaching but still not seeming like I know everything about all subjects. I am a teacher not to just instruct students but also to be taught myself. Education does not end after a degree is obtained. Education is continuous and never-ending. It is my goal to be an observant teacher, adhering to the curriculum and yet also be flexible to teach what the students desire to learn. In so doing this, I might impart my wisdom and still be able to learn abundantly from my students as well.
As a teacher, I know what my role is in educating my students to the best of my ability, but what exactly is ethical in teaching? Basically, what is the right and wrong way to instruct my students? First of all, I believe that it is right to inspire a good work ethic in students. If a student learns, especially at a young age, to work diligently with energy, he will be much better off in the future. In high school and college, projects and assignments build up if one is not too careful to work ahead. An excellent work ethic can immensely aid a student in excelling in school. So how is it that a teacher can inspire this quality in his students? The best way that I know how is by exemplifying this quality in everything I do as a teacher. I must always be prepared for class with an organized lesson and deeply engage in the students’ lives. If the students see that I am excited and work hard at what I do, they will most likely respond in kind.
Next, how involved does a teacher need to be in educating his students? By this I mean, should a teacher be the authoritarian in the classroom or should he let the students learn mostly on their own? Many theorists have debated on this issue, but I believe there is a happy medium between these two stances. A teacher must be the leader in the classroom and command respect. Otherwise, students will not give their respect. This can lead to many hardships on the teacher in learning and in test results. On the other hand though, teachers should not be too strict as to restrict students from learning on their own. Rousseau said that education is about learning individually with our feelings as our guides. It should be about personal progress (Rousseau 217). To achieve this middle ground of authority for the teacher and autonomy for the student, I believe teachers must have rules established and adhere to the curriculum, but they also need to be flexible to change their plans if students desire to learn something different. A teacher must be confident yet flexible. In my opinion, this is the mark of an excellent teacher.
There are many issues in the classroom that do not pertain to the actual education process that teachers must be sure they are aware. As aforementioned, students come from all different kinds of backgrounds. These might include a broken home, neglectful parents, lack of love at home, money issues, and much, much more. The question is where do teachers need to step in? If students are not having their needs met at home, shouldn’t teachers try to meet some of their needs in the classroom? Well of course I believe that they should. The Bible says that it is extremely important to love God but also to love our neighbors and treat them as we want to be treated. This includes helping others when we are able. God will bless those that follow His commandments and show love to their neighbors. If students are not loved and do not have their basic needs met, teachers need to try their hardest to show love to their students and give them what they need. In so doing this, students are more apt to learn, and it allows an easier learning atmosphere. Teachers should not be taken advantage of though. If parents see that their child is getting help from the teacher, they might purposely allow that to keep happening. In saying this, I just mean that teachers should be cautious about helping, but they definitely should.
A teacher is not just an educator but also a guardian. It is a teacher’s duty to teach the whole student. I believe that entails more than the curriculum. It is about teaching students how to live and giving them the tools to live a prosperous life. It is through this that students can be productive citizens of society, socially and in their careers.
Being a teacher is a hard task, but it is my philosophy that a great teacher seeks to inspire a desire to learn in his students through love and through example. A teacher can only show this by having excitement in what he is teaching. It is my goal to be the kind of teacher that meets the needs of my students inside the classroom as well as outside. I want to be an educator that is an advocate for the student and one that follows the curriculum standards given to me by the school system. It is through this that I can be the best teacher I can, one that is respected, loved, and admired.
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