Throughout my educational journey, I have come to acquire a wealth of knowledge that has shaped the way in which I view education. Through my educational experiences, I have gained a more profound and enlightened perspective about the purpose of education and my purpose as a teacher as well. At the heart of my pure devotion and passion for teaching is my firm belief in social justice. I believe that teaching through a social justice lens will eliminate issues of race, gender, sexuality, or culture that may exclude individuals in an educational setting which in turn could affect the teaching and learning in the classroom. My goal is to use social justice as a vehicle to give all students in my classroom agency. It is my hope that igniting a social justice spirit in my students will create a classroom community where justice, fairness, and issues of equality help to develop a sense of awareness and consciousness in and outside of the classroom. In addition, I want to provide my students a strong foundation of intellectual resources that will help them to succeed.

Purpose of Schooling

As a prospective Special Education and Elementary teacher hoping to work with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, the purpose of education for me can be best described by William Haley who states, “Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure by the time they leave school, every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” Schooling should provide students with the knowledge, skills and abilities most needed to master core content areas, but it should also help to bulid character, empower them to be productive citizens, encourage creativity, develop critical thinking, cultivate social activism and inspire leadership.  In order to facilitate this, my primary objective as a teacher is to foster that lifelong love of learning by provide them with a diverse set of meaningful educational experiences that will help to motivate and inspire them to have an intrinsic desire to learn and succeed. Intrinsic motivation will enable students to keep that “lifelong desire” which I believe is key for a positive trajectory throughout their school years.

Personal Motivations for Teaching

When my children were younger, I lived in an area where the school system was low performing, and I was unhappy with the quality of education being offered to my children. I realized that “free and appropriate education” doesn’t always equal a well- rounded, quality education. With this in mind, I decided to homeschool them. By doing this, I had the opportunity to expose my children to many things, and gave them many experiences that they would not have had if they had gone through the school system where I resided. I saw my children develop into inquisitive and knowledge-driven individuals who had a strong desire to learn. Seeing that I could make a difference in my children’s educational development, motivated me to give other children the same opportunities and experiences.

Dilemmas in Education

There are many dilemmas that exist in education. However, when these dilemmas present themselves in schools it can affect the schooling experience. Some of these dilemmas that I observed are related to classroom organization such as class size and the limited time a teacher can spend with each student, especially those students needing extra assistance. Others dilemmas stem from school curriculum concerns, standardized testing, and inequalities within education. Often times, these dilemmas create a more challenging educational environment that make it difficult to meet the goals and objectives of the classroom.

Classrooms are filled with students from a variety of backgrounds with varying abilities. However, despite this challenge, the goal is to provide students with exceptional educational experiences that will benefit every child in the classroom. This becomes difficult when classrooms are overloaded with students. Some classrooms have 30 or more students. This large amount of students in the classroom makes it more challenging for the teacher to provide quality instruction. I saw this firsthand during my student teaching experience.

I was in a classroom with 27 students and two teachers.  Even having a veteran teacher in the classroom, it still took several months to get the class in order. There were many days where the teachers appeared to be overwhelmed with trying to implement classroom management, which took away from valuable classroom instruction. Often, the students that needed more attention were neglected because the teacher had limited time to spend with each student.

Teachers also face the challenge of having to use a curriculum that is not conducive to the learning needs of their students. I observed this during one of my teaching placements where I had the opportunity to observe a ninth grade self-contained English classroom. In this class, there were students that were very low performing and had trouble with identifying common words like “that” and “the”. However, the school’s curriculum required that these students read Raisin in the Sun, a book that contains non-standard English and difficult to understand jargon. The teacher did not agree with having to teach students that struggled with reading and lacked basic phonological skills how to read and interpret such a book. Restricted by the curriculum, she so had no choice but to find innovative ways to make the book understandable for her students.

Standardized testing is another big dilemma in education. No Child Left Behind is the biggest reason for test misuse. High stakes testing puts a lot of pressure on teachers that sometimes forces them to teach to the test. I saw this during my student teaching experience. The teachers were only concern about teaching students concepts that were related to the test while neglecting others more important academic areas. This put some students at a disadvantage, especially the lower performing students who were not receiving the foundational skills needed to understand more difficult concepts.

Inequalities are by far one of the biggest dilemmas in education. Brown vs. Board of education was a landmark case, as it marked the legal beginnings of school desegregation. This ruling began to give African Americans access to educational opportunities that only Whites had been afforded. However, decades later, there still remain many disparities in education. Jonathan Kozol (2005) refers to our educational system as “educational apartheid”. He uses this term to describe and emphasize how segregation and inequality are still very prominent in our schools. “One cannot claim that integration has been established if there are still “black” schools and “white” schools, as this is often the case in urban, suburban, and inner-city communities.” Further, he points out the various forms of inequalities in education. Of those inequalities, segregation, economic deprivation, and the physical conditions were the most disturbing (Kozol, 2005). These three components are often times characteristics that define schools in low- income communities.

There are also inequalities found in the teaching approach in low- income communities. From my teaching experience in urban schools, it appears that schools that service the poor and economically disadvantaged lack in their approach to teaching and instruction. Kozol (2005) noticed that the “Skinnerarian” approach dominated the climate of these schools. This approach imposes the act of enforcing negative or positive consequences for one’s action and is used to establish “direct command and complete control” over the students. These schools also had less resources compared to schools in more affluent districts. According to Anyon (1980), students in “working-class schools” are being taught with the assumption that they will be among the working-class. Affluent schools and elite schools have teachers that provide instruction based on the expectation of what paths they want their students to take. These differences can certainly be seen in the quality of instruction that is given to the various groups. Control and “rote behavior” is directed for the working-class, and creativity, autonomy, and critical thinking for the affluent schools. School should be a place to gain valuable experiences and knowledge that will enable students to have endless opportunities despite their socioeconomic background.

How Students Learn

I have had many teaching experiences from homeschooling my own children to doing my student teaching. These combine experiences have given me more insight into how students learn. I have had the opportunity to teach typically developing students, low performing, students with IEPs, English Language Learners and others with varying disabilities. What remains consistent is that ALL students can learn, however, the ways in which they learn vary.

Students learn best if teaching meets their individual learning styles. Some students are visual learner and need to have instruction that includes pictures, videos, graphics, graphic organizers, charts to name a few. Others are auditory learners. These students respond to instruction that stimulates their hearing such as audio books, being read to, music and verbal instructions and explanations. While others, are kinesthetic learners. These students need to have instruction that is hands-on. Learning is enhanced for these students when they can engage in activities where they can use items such as manipulatives to increase understanding. Take math for instance. Some of my students could solve a word problem by reading it and looking at pictures. Some would need the problem read to them several times to understand. Others needed to use math manipulatives or play a game to solve the problem. However the learning style, I had to embrace it and differentiate instruction to meet everyone’s needs.

In addition to considering the various learning styles of students, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is a great philosophy when thinking about how students learn as well. According to his theory, in order to help students to understand the content, there should be different test or instructional activities that cater to the various intelligences. Gardner’s research has shown that giving learners of any discipline the opportunities to use their strengths to master the subject matter, greater progress will be seen. He recommends that teachers use multiple ways to tackle the subject because “genuine understanding is most likely to emerge and be apparent to others” (Gilakjani, 2011).

One of the most significant things when reflecting on how students learn is to think about how they don’t learn. The collaboration of my observations and teaching experiences has helped me to see the differences between effective and ineffective teaching in students’ learning process. Some of the teaching approaches that I observe were very “skill and drill” oriented. Learning was very rote, boring and linear. This approach did not motivate or create students that had a desire to want to learn. Others teaching approaches that were more constructivist in nature created students with an intrinsic desire to learn. I plan to take from my teaching observations what I saw as being effective and had positive outcomes and incorporate them into my own teaching.

How I Want to Teach

In my quest to assess, analyze and highlight different pedagogical styles that I wish to utilize, I looked to Gloria Ladson-Billings, author of The Dream-keepers, a book, which shares stories of successful teachers that teach through a practice, she refers to as “cultural relevant teaching”.  She explains that a cultural relevant teacher tries to learn about her student through their work and interaction in the class and “help students develop necessary skills” (Ladson-billings, 2009). Cultural relevant teaching seeks to “build bridges or scaffolding that meets students where they are (intellectually and functionally)” (Ladson-billings, 2009). I wish to incorporate cultural relevant teaching in my classroom.

I like to view my overall teaching style as inclusive. I take into consideration the many different learning styles and intelligences of students, as well as their various backgrounds and family dynamics that may affect or contribute to their learning process. Teaching from an inclusion standpoint, can incorporate a variety of teaching methods that will meet the needs of all my students.

Important Approaches/Methods

One effective method that I plan to use is differentiation. In this way, I can implement my objectives by using a multidimensional approach that will cater to all my students and their various learning styles. In order to effectively differentiate, I plan to use a lot of modeling and scaffolding to give students a visual representation of what is expected of them.

Along with encountering a variety of differences in ability, there are also differences in backgrounds and interests of the students. I will respond to the differences by building a classroom community where students understand that it is through their differences that our community is enhanced. One way to create an environment that embraces these differences is by making instruction culturally relevant where every student knows that their individual differences and abilities are important and have a place in the classroom. I will make sure that these differences are represented throughout the classroom by making sure books, lessons, games and even pictures on the wall represent my students.

I want to implement a constructivist and collaborative approach to teaching as well. I believe that creating a classroom where that teacher encourages students to be involved in their own learning helps students to be intrinsically motivated. In addition, collaboration helps students to obtain and access information and construct ideas by working with others.

Assessment

Assessment is a very important teaching tool, which I plan to use formally and informally in order to get an idea about where my students are, if learning is taking place, and what I can do to improve my own teaching to meet their needs. Some of the assessment approaches I will incorporate into my own teaching are observations. This is a good ways of seeing how a student approaches a task and where they may be having difficulty. I practiced this a lot during my student teaching. In addition, questioning helps to further the teacher’s understanding of how the student is thinking when approaching a task. Although questioning is more of a strategy, I used a lot during my student teaching It helped me design instruction that enhanced the students’ understanding based on their thinking. Other assessment tools that I plan to use are exit slips, pair- shares, and journal writing.

Meaningful formal assessment will be incorporated into my teaching. Often times, formal assessment are rote and do not give a true indication of a students ability. Although, I cannot negate the fact that standardized testing is mandatory, I do not plan on teaching to the test. Rather, I would take more of a backward design approach. This will allow me to identify where my students have to be at the end of the year, and design instruction that ensures that they will have the knowledge and skills needed to pass their assessments.

Technology

Technology and computers can enhance a classroom and make it more cohesive and conducive for learning. I plan to incorporate technology into my classroom in a variety of ways. Although I did not personally observe technology being used in the classroom in the most effective or efficient way, I do realize that incorporating it into the classroom is very beneficial for students in so many ways. This is especially true for students with special needs.

Currently, we live in a technologically advanced society. There are many ways a teacher can use it to enhance learning in the classroom. Incorporating audio books is one way. Audio books are a great way to engage learner that may not be proficient in reading. According to Wolfson (2008) “Audiobooks can model reading, teach critical listening, build on prior knowledge, improve vocabulary, encourage oral language usage, and increase comprehension.” Essentially, audiobooks supports development of language.

Another form of technology that I will use in the classroom to help support learning are blogs. A Blog, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, is a “Web site that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer”. Blogging can serve many purposes in the classroom. The teacher can create a blog site where homework or any relevant handouts and assignments can be posted so that students and parents will always have access to assignments in the classroom. Students can use blogging to enhance writing skills by reporting on issues of current events or any other related themes the students are studying. Another great component of blogs is that it is a collaborative space that allows the teacher, students or parents to comment and give feedback. Will Richardson (2010) states that he saw how blogs, wikis and other types of multimedia transformed the lives of his students. Moreover, he realized that technology could help to create “powerful learning networks and communities” that helped him reflect on ways he could change his own teaching.

Ipads are another effective tool that I plan to incorporate into the classroom. Ipads can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom as well. The teacher can customize lessons from all subject areas to individualize instruction. Students can play interactive learning games, read books, or solve math problems. Another great component of ipads is that they are interactive and can provide some hand-on learning experience for the students. Take for instance, if I am doing a unit plan on amphibians, students can use an interactive app on the ipad to dissect a frog. This will extends the learning and help the students to make better connections about the content.

One important reason to incorporate technology into my classroom is because I want my students to get exposure and access. There is a “digital divide” that is present in our society today. This idea stems from the fact that there are inequalities between certain groups in terms of their access to technology due to socioeconomic reasons. In order to close this gap, students, especially in urban and low-income communities need to be exposed to technology and a variety of multimedia in order to and gain experience and knowledge.

Conclusion

I have read stories of successful teachers and experienced them during my student teaching as well. I have also experienced teacher with a teaching style that did not compliment their students’ learning style. It was evident that these types of teachers are failing their students. I don’t wish to be in that category. It is, however, inspiring to see that there are still teachers that are great examples and provide their students with a well-planned road map towards success. While I anticipate the many challenges that I will encounter as a teacher, I hope to envelope my teaching with social-justice, constructivist and inclusive elements that will turn my classroom into a place of active learning and discovery that inspires students to succeed.

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