I've always imagined that my ultimate philosophy of education statement would be concise, well-worded, and succinct. Over the years, I have failed at this over and over. I think I have finally realized why.
Teaching is not always concise and well-worded. It can be. Often, though, it's messy and loud and interesting and real. That's how I like it. If I did have to pick a single statement to describe my own philosophy of education, I would say this:
I have unshakeable faith in children.
Words will fail me, computers will stop working, batteries will run out, but my belief in children will never wane. As long as I watch them, as long as I listen to them, they always, always show me the way.
I am one of those frustrating people that always knew what she wanted to with her life. It caused a great deal of stress for my brother. Seriously, how must it have felt for him to be around someone who always seemed to know what she wanted to do?
Yet, I have never been able to explain why I wanted to teach. I just did. It was like trying to explain why purple is my favorite color or why I like to swim. I just do. It's a feeling and while sometimes I question it, I never doubt it.
Teaching is one of the biggest gifts of my life. When I think about it from an outside perspective I know that I am doing something meaningful and worthwhile. It's hard for me to imagine a more worthwhile job to have. But it's more than that.
It's learning more about myself day in and day out.
It's seeing the small microcosm of my classroom running the way I believe the world should be run. It's seeing everyone knowing and caring about each other because they are part of our community. It's the children realizing things and making changes in the way they learn and are with others because of the modeling and discussion we do regularly.
It's the amazing gift that I discovered a few years ago:
I will appreciate every child that I have the luxury to work with. It won't always happen right away -- that's not realistic. However, the more I get to know them, I find that point with every child where I love them for every bit of who they are, even the things that may drive me crazy. Those little idiosyncrasies make the relationship more important. I know their little foibles and I love them for it.
They also know mine.
My students know that if they ask me for something and I say, "Yes," they probably need to write me a note because I might forget, but if they write me a note, then I won't forget. They know that when someone has just said something and I have tears in my eyes, it's probably because someone has done something very kind or smart and I'm overwhelmed. They know that I collect frogs. They know that I love Harry Potter. They know that I care deeply about them and I don't hold grudges.
You mess up. You fix it. It's over. Let's get back to work.
I often have wished that the leaders of the world and my country would come and watch my students solving problems. Years ago, when I was teaching Kindergarten, during our April break, there was a horrible experience at Columbine High School in Colorado. When my students came back after the break, we were discussing what they'd seen on TV and discussing very scary images and thoughts. Then one of the students brought up what was going on in Kosovo and one of the students asked,
"Miz F, What is war?"
When I tried, very inarticulately, to explain that it was something that countries did when they'd tried everything and couldn't figure out how else to solve a problem (and, honestly, how do you answer that question -- even for yourself?), one of my students said:
"Well. That's not very smart. We solve everything in here. They just need to come to our classroom and go sit in our Conflict Corner and work it out."
"Yeah," said one of the other students. "And we can help them if they get stuck."
I thought: We leave the world in charge of adults why?
I teach because there is nothing that challenges me and makes me think every day in the way that this job does. I teach because I never learn more than when I'm discussing or investigating something with a child.
My students have taught me a little bit about what it is to be a white teacher teaching in a school that is primarily non-white. They've taught me that they will take on every responsibility I think of for them and some that I have not. They've taught me that it's okay to show emotion in the classroom - but to talk about it. They've taught me the value of beginning with a lot of structure and then taking it away little by little until we have a much different feeling in our classroom. They've taught me that every person is worthy of listening to, even those that I don't agree with.
Sometimes especially them.
Over the years, many people have told me how pleased they are that I am a teacher and other wonderful and respectful things that have truly humbled me.
I'll tell you a secret, though: I think that being a teacher is one of the most selfish things I could do. I trust that I am a good teacher, I know I get better year by year, but, it still feels selfish. I do this just as much for me as I do it for them. Nothing makes me feel the way it does when I'm in the classroom.