Today’s educators have the important responsibility of preparing students to find knowledge and create meaning in a diverse and constantly changing world. Providing adequate and appropriate learning experiences for all students is a challenge that educators must approach with an open mind. In the end, it is educators who encourage students to develop tolerant and peaceful lifestyles. In the words of Maria Montessori, “establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war” (wisdomquotes.com, 2006).
Progressivism is the philosophy of education with which I most align myself. Like most progressivists, I believe that education should be child-centered, dynamic, and should prepare students to discover knowledge and truths throughout their lives. The curriculum should reflect, to a significant degree, the interests of the students, who are expected to take an active role in their own education through determining their own areas of interest as well as driving the learning process. The teacher’s role is that of a facilitator of their students’ learning; the group, rather than the teacher, should be the focus of the classroom. Students should be encouraged to think critically, to problem solve, and to work with others to find solutions.
Essentialism and existentialism also play roles in my view of education, though I only accept certain portions of these philosophies. Certain elements of essentialism support the ideas behind progressivism, and one of these is that education must prepare students to live life, that it should be practical. A progressivist education is practical in that it equips students with the tools they will require to manage any future situation. It is also essential that freedom is present in the classroom; progressivists allow students the freedom to direct their own learning, while existentialists believe that students must have the freedom to interpret the world in a way that is individually meaningful. My students benefit from the freedom to do both.
The philosophy of social reconstruction also plays an important role. Like progressivism, social reconstruction values an education that extends beyond the walls of the classroom; parental and community involvement play an essential role in an education that focuses on local and global issues. In order to create global and digital citizens capable of confronting international issues and forming a “world civilization of abundance, health, and humane capacity,” (Parkay, F.W. & Stanford, B.H., 2007) schools must be the agents of change.
My view of the student and the teacher stems also from an understanding of humanistic and constructivist philosophies. It is essential that students have personal freedoms and choice regarding their education. They also hold the ultimate responsibility for becoming educated; no student can be forced to learn anything. Students must derive individual meaning from material presented by the teacher rather than simply internalizing information the teacher apportions. It is the responsibility of the teacher to provide a learning environment based on mutual trust and respect that encourages the student to take the necessary initiative in their own learning process (Parkay, F.W. & Stanford, B.H., 2007).
The most important thing that I have learned in my nine years of teaching is that in order to be a truly great educator, one must inspire students. It is the teacher’s duty to engage students so fully in the act of acquiring knowledge that they develop a thirst for more. A teacher’s enthusiasm for learning and excitement about teaching can tip a student from simply being present during a lesson to being actively (and excitedly) involved. During one of my first formal experiences as an educator, I was shown William Arthur Ward’s famous quotation: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” (quotegarden.com, 2007). I have never forgotten the lesson it contains, and I always strive as an educator to inspire my students.
Parkay, F. W. & Stanford, B. H. (2007). Becoming a Teacher. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.