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Teaching Statement

      There is more information available now than ever before. In the palm of a 16-year-old, 7,580,000,000 bits of information are now available in 0.7 seconds. However, information is not knowledge. Knowledge requires learning, and learning opportunities must be available to any and all. True learning requires digging beyond the surface to the how and why of the world. A thirst for knowledge has made me a lifelong student of the Humanities and an accomplished educator.
     An experience that I had in second grade greatly shaped my approach to teaching. In math, we were doing timed tests. The pressure of it being a timed test and not really having the luxury to reason out the problem was a struggle for me. Our teacher, probably in hopes of motivating her students, hovered over those of use who were slower and chanted, “faster, faster, faster.” As I sat in my room one night, I determined I would do well on the next timed test, and I had a game plan. The next day when the test began, I used my fingers to calculate the problems. I was flying through the test. I was doing great! Suddenly my teacher stopped the test early. “Everyone stop. Put your pencils down. Students, I want you all to look at Shalisse. Don’t use your fingers like Shalisse. You will look stupid. We will try this again tomorrow.” From that day forward, I knew that I was not good at math. This belief followed me throughout my educational career. Math had actually been my favorite subject in kindergarten and first grade— not anymore. As an adult, I learned that my brain doesn’t hold onto the numbers to add them up. If I write it down and have a visual, I can do the math. I didn’t learn the way she was teaching. I’ve often wondered how anyone learned the way she was teaching. This incident helped shape my personal methodology to education and knowledge.
      My pedagogy is reflected in the medieval notion of universitas that was used in the formation of the early universities. The concept is one of students and teachers coming together to learn. It is not an atmosphere of dissemination of facts and a weeding out of the weak. Teachers must establish expectations of rigor and high performance in the class, but must also be willing to act in a mentor capacity. Inevitably, I hear complaints from students like, “This is stupid.” Early in my career, I learned not to take these personally. It is the students expressing that the task is out of his or her comfort zone. It is challenging them. Perhaps they just don’t understand what I’m asking them to do or the relevance to their life. Human nature tends to lay the blame of weakness on something other than ourselves. Students are no different. Sometimes when learning is occurring, it is easy to admit confusion. At other times, we are not even sure that we are confused or what it is we aren’t understanding. The role of the teacher is to help students through this moment of growth.
     One important element in facilitating learning is the growth mindset. I establish a classroom where mistakes are considered learning opportunities. I am not here to weed out students; I am here to facilitate growth. I challenge my students to adopt a growth mindset, especially when it comes to their education. That way of thinking and metacognitive reflection regarding one’s own learning instills the principles that will lead to a life long learner. Furthermore, it is important that the teacher model this mindset. Don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake. Be approachable for the students, and show them that you are on a life long learning track yourself. Encourage open, honest, and respectful discussions. I like to use the phrase, “Tell me about your thought process on that.” Standards and benchmarks in learning are important tools, but a more holistic approach is necessary if true knowledge is to occur.
     Students leave my class with genuine, not contrived success in the experience of accomplishing something hard. My students have access and ownership of their own data. This goes beyond the grade. I break it down into the specific skill or task. Not only do I use rubrics to guide my assessment, but to chart and show student growth. Students are expected to participate in this process, often times charting their own data as we conference together. Along with the ownership of data, students are expected to reflect formally and informally on their own learning. Reflection is an essential tool in long term learning, problem solving, and critical thinking. All these skills are foundation to not just getting an education, but becoming successful in any profession. Additionally, I use essential questions and goals to guide my instruction. These are based upon the needs of the students. These are shared and discussed with students as we begin each class so they know where our targets are. Students always have the opportunity for revision, and it is a vital part of my grading system.
     As a veteran educator, I have the privilege of working with students and adults from varied backgrounds and levels of knowledge. Many come convinced that they are “not good at” whichever of the humanities topics I am teaching, be it history, English, creative writing, literature, or humanities. To support student in overcoming barriers and achieve genuine success, I help them realize the connection between the subject matter and their own lives. Preparing students to become life longer learners is the essential motivation behind my approach. The humanities teach critical thinking and creativity. That is the essence of innovation and melds with the varied careers of today’s global economy.


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