Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Staying on the Right Path

thinkerAfter reading Philosophy of Education.... on one page from Outside Looking In by Scott Shelhart, I decided to share with you my philosophy of teaching that I turned in on my Teacher of the Year application in 2007. I think it is important to write out and review my philosophy at least once a year. By doing this, I can see if I still believe in the same things and that I’m doing what I believe in. It keeps me on the right trail and helps me not to stray off the path.

If I can improve a student’s self concept, I firmly believe it will help them learn. Many students have such a negative opinion of themselves that it is severely detrimental to their learning. They feel that they shouldn’t even bother trying because they will fail anyway. Over the years, they have convinced themselves that they cannot achieve success because this is the message they have gotten from their friends, parents, and even teachers. It should be obvious that we need to focus on a student’s strength more than his weaknesses. By building on a foundation of strength, we can strive to overcome the weaknesses. Every student in my class must write “I’m a born winner.” on their paper before they turn it in or the paper will not be accepted. Since I teach many of these students for four years, students begin to change their perception of themselves. I also set up small situations where the student will be successful. Once the student begins to see some success, the student begins to try and little steps become bigger steps. At the end of every year, I have my students fill out an evaluation about my class, curriculum, and procedures. Many feel that writing a class motto has really helped improve their self esteem.

It is crucial that we connect our teaching to real life situations. If students can understand how the skill relates to a real life situation, they can better understand the importance of learning that skill. Often students don’t comprehend why they need to learn a skill or feel that it is just “busy” work, designed to occupy their time. A “big picture” approach is required to help demonstrate how each skill learned is a step towards success. By such incremental achievement, students feel they will be able to use their new knowledge in their own lives, and hence, they are more eager to learn new skills. Implementation of such an approach could decrease the dropout rate of high school students.

Every student and parent has my home and classroom phone number in case they need to contact me. Most parents want the best for their child but cannot always be as involved in their child’s education as they would like to be. I call every student’s parent at least every two weeks to inform them about what we are doing in class and answer any questions. I may call to brag about the student or express my concern and parents appreciate the contact. If I have a behavior problem with a student, I immediately call the parent so the three of us can work out the problem. Students know that I really care about them and this helps them work harder in my class. My monthly newsletter also helps keep the lines of communication open.

Each negative cycle should be broken with a positive one. When I brag on students to their parents, the parents praise the student, who in turn works even harder for me. In the spring I invite the students and their parents to my home for a hot dog lunch and we play games. I also invite former students and parents to give support to my current students and parents. Students need to see that there is life outside the special education class and that they can lead normal lives. Parents are able to exchange ideas and concerns about the future. The parents, students, and I make up a small community and we need to work closely together to ensure the success of the student.

Functional life skills are crucial for all of my students. Many of my students come from single parent homes or where both parents are working. Parents do not have the time to teach students some of the basic skills they will need in life like balancing a checkbook, budgeting, cooking, or sewing. Even socialization skills are necessary for students to function on a job as well as in society. My classes are portrayed as a company and students receive a “salary” for their work. Instead of a discipline plan, we have “job duties” which spell out the expectations for the class. Using their salary, students may pay for privileges or fines for failure to comply with company rules. Students may be docked pay for tardiness to work or leaving work early. In this manner, students can relate functional life skills to real life situations. Students also learn to appreciate that they sometimes have to do things that they might not do willingly in order to take an active part in society. Teachers must take an active part in teaching these skills and acting as good role models for our students.

Convincing students that “an error is not a terror” is another important philosophy. Perfection is not a requirement to success and even teachers make mistakes. Many of my students fear making mistakes to the point they are even afraid to try. Not knowing an answer is not the end of the world provided one is really trying. Knowing the answer is not as important as knowing how to go about finding it. That is the key to learning. As teachers, we need to encourage students of all ages to be curious and seek answers to their questions. We need to teach them how to find the answers in appropriate ways and how to avoid dead ends in their quest for knowledge, a quest that should continue even after they end their school career.

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'Thinker Close Up' by: Todd Martin


Lona said...

Thank you, Pat. We need to remember just why we became Special Education Teachers...or educators of any kind. I will re-read this often!

loonyhiker said...

@Mrs B I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Sioux Roslawski said...

I agree with Mrs. B. Reminding ourselves about what we consider important as teachers helps keep us out of the ditches and between the lines...

I love the phrase "an error is not a terror." I'll be using it in my classroom!

loonyhiker said...

@Sioux I actually learned that from a book when I was in high school. I never could find it again to give the book credit but I've kept that phrase close to my heart! (especially when I mess up!)

Scott Shelhart said...

An error is not a terror... love it!

Thanks for the mention, and thanks for sharing your thought and feelings. Reading the philosophy statements of others is always a enlightening learning experience.

teachermum said...

Thank you for the great article. It certainly reminds exactly of what we are committed to as special education teachers and you give us so much to aspire to.
One thing though - I think you are very brave to give your home phone number to parents and children. It is something I could never do - and we have also been advised that it is something we should never do - espcially following a sexual abuse case we had in our area.
Having said that though, I do undertand the total importance and necessity of communication with parents and students and make sure I am always available or return calls and emails asap.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom

loonyhiker said...

@teachermum Now with the ability to use google voice which is free, I think parents need a way to contact teachers outside of the school day. These calls can be forwarded to your home phone without anyone knowing your actual phone number. Thanks for reading my blog and leaving your comments! :)