The thing about being a teacher is that whatever I experience, whether it’s an activity, an article or book that I’m reading, or simply something observed, my mind thinks like a teacher. How could I use this in the classroom? What does this connect to? An overarching web extends deep and wide over all that I do, think, say and hear, such that I’m always in teacher mode searching for ways to make learning meaningful for my students.
Recently, I came across an article on Edutopia, a website for educators, written in a blog begging the question: “Teachers: What is your Motto in the Classroom?“ In it, Elena Aguilar, traces how she developed her own teaching motto, which got me thinking about mine.
So often, practices are in place either instinctively or inherently based upon my own personal experience. When I actually put a name to them, they become part of my repertoire. Like teaching belletristic non-fiction. I knew what it was. I’d been teaching it as a form of creative and expository writing, but I didn’t know it was a thing until I came across Lynn Z. Bloom’s work that I could put a name to it in order to make it part of my knowing.
I know what a motto is. A motto is like a mission statement in the simplest of forms. “Just do it,” Nike: “I’m lovin’ it,” McDonalds: “It keeps going and going and going,” Energizer. I teach maxims and aphorisms as devices of literature and creative writing. The novel Wonder, R.J. Palacio, put the word “precept” in students’ vocabulary. Yet, I never associated the word motto with my own educational foundation. I’d always associated it with businesses or athletic teams.
Years ago, our school, as a collective effort, established a mission statement which we’ve been revising to remain relevant to the changing times. At first, “mission statement” equated to business, but quickly it’s evolved. When I read Aguilar’s article, it made sense to me to hone in on one statement, distinct to my classroom (not exclusive, but distinct), a premise all students can expect upon entering through my doors.
After 24 years of teaching, suffice it to say, I have a wealth of experience in goal setting. Over the course of this time, I’ve amended my own goals for my students based on a host of experience.
- I’ve always been of the mind that teaching English (or any other subject) isn’t so much about the skills (yes, they are necessary to learn, but they are vehicles) as it is about finding oneself through many discourses, thinking critically about the world and our place in it, and, finally, developing the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas out to the world. In essence, it’s an exploration of self through various discourses: literature, non-fiction, visual media, the arts– in the world of teaching English.
- One of the foundations of establishing this kind of exploration lies in creating a safe environment, a community of readers, writers and critical thinkers, who collaborate with and respect one another. I want my students to feel comfortable challenging themselves and each other in order to reach a deeper understanding of whatever it is that we are learning.
- It is essential to learn to connect to people and to connect ideas to other ideas. In all of my classes, I teach students what Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy is in order to empower them to develop all of their thinking abilities. Moreover, I try to provide opportunities for each of them to refine their strengths and develop their weaknesses, inspired by Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Every single person has something to offer this world, a worth unique, but the trouble is that too often the model of learning in the public school system is the equivalent of trying to put a uniquely shaped peg into a square whole.
- For even the unconventional students, those who seem lost in public school, those who just can’t or won’t subscribe to the rules of the game, I try to help them develop their voices. Communication is paramount to learning. In whatever career anyone eventually pursues, the ability to communicate, through a variety of forms, is essential to moving forward. Everyone has a voice. I hope to give all of my students the platform to not only develop it but to feel confident about what they have to say and how to say it.
So, in thinking about these goals, and in thinking about what I do to assist students in achieving these goals, I’ve decided my motto is simply this:
I’m going to make a sign of it to display on the door of my classroom and on my website and syllabus. I encourage you to create a statement for yourself whether you teach English or Social Studies or even if you are in another career altogether. Just a simple, catchy phrase that embodies the signature of your beliefs.