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I spent yesterday guiding my students through the process of developing their belief/philosophy statement on teaching.  I participated alongside my students.  To spend a significant block of time to reflect on my values and beliefs regarding education, teaching, and learning, was quite refreshing.  I haven’t seriously reviewed my belief statement since I was student teaching.  I was amazed and inspired by how much of my teaching practice was reflected in my belief statement.  It makes sense though.  As I write in my book:

An education philosophy statement is the bedrock of any master teacher; it encapsulates the principles and beliefs you bring to your teaching, creating the foundation to guide your teaching practices.

If you haven’t review your belief statement, then I encourage you to reflect and answer the following questions:

  • What motivated you to go into teaching?
  • What values and beliefs would an ideal teacher have?
  • What are your beliefs about students, learning, behavior, respect, school systems, etc.?
  • What changes would you like to see happen in our education system?
  • What values do you want to model for the students inside and outside the classroom?
  • Of your beliefs, which ones are non-negotiable?

Interestingly, one of my students proposed a longer school year for a change she would like to see happen.  Then I asked the class if they would like a longer school year.  Eyes began to shift.  I reassured the students their responses would not leave this room.  Nearly 75% of the students raised their hands in favor or a longer school year.  Hmmmm…

If you are in the process of writing a belief / philosophy statement then read my post on Topics for Philosophy Statements, especially if you are have trouble writing one.

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I asked myself “what is it with this class”several times during 3rd period.  Today’s class started off on the wrong foot.  A student walked into the class screaming “WHERE’S MY CHAIR ?”  Mind you this is about 30 seconds after the bell.

“Really.  I have about an hour and half left with this the class, and this crap is already starting!” – I thought.

The class went south after that.  I upheld my expectations of classroom behavior, and followed through on my discipline steps.  Meanwhile, I didn’t feel good about it.  I felt too much of an authoritarian – which I suppose is necessary from time to time.  Yet, the feeling that somehow this isn’t an enjoyable class is still present in my mind.

I have taught the same class over a dozen times before and it’s been engaging, fun, and a great learning environment.  This class is beginning to feel hostile, tense, and negative.  This is unacceptable.  Who wants to teach in a class like this?  Or who wants to learn in a class like that?  There many reasons I suspect have led to this situation.  Regardless, I need to reverse it.

I have been mulling over some ideas to improve the classroom environment.  Two that I will implement ASAP is celebrate student successes more often and change-up the curriculum so it’s more engaging for the students.

I’ll have the students back on Friday.  Let’s see what happens.

UPDATE – 3/28 – – – – – – – –

Well the good news is that the class recovered.  I changed up the curriculum, making it more engaging and relevant to the students’ lives.  This helped drive down misbehavior.  More importantly, I stuck by my guns, setting clear expectations that I want all students to learn and there are rules that have to be followed to ensure this happens.  In the end, I believe the students respected me more as a teacher, although at times it didn’t feel like it.

Concern

In my district, I am evaluated twice.  Is that enough to identify areas of improvement, provide targeted professional development and feedback, and measure its impact on student achievement?  Absolutely not.

Evaluation as a Tool

Don’t wait or hope for administration to tell you how you are doing or what you can improve on.  Rather, use the single most important resource in your class: the student.  The student knows when they are learning, engaged, and in a productive learning environment.  Twice a semester (4 times a year) I ask my students to evaluate me on a series of criteria: curriculum, instruction, learning environment, teacher professionalism, and teacher support.  I do this for every class.  Sometimes I create a quantitative analysis from the results, but most of the time I can just look at the data/comments and get a feel as to how to improve.  I usually then jot down my thoughts and steps that I will take to improve.  It’s the only way I can remember it after a few weeks, plus it provides a record (baseline) that I can measure my progress against.

It’s a little unnerving at first, but the more I do it the easier it is.  Couple tips before implementing this:

  • Give a word about how you take this serious, using this data/info to change your practice.
  • Ask for constructive feedback, reinforcing the idea that they should not hold back.
  • Tell students not to write their names on the evaluations.
  • Have a student collect the surveys in a manila folder
  • Avoid giving this right after doing a REALLY FUN activity or bribing them with candy; this defeats the point

Problem/Solution

Once you receive this date, pick 1-2 items you can improve.  In my latest review, students ranked me lower than I would like in “listening to their needs.”  Problem is I start class right at the bell and I am off running, leading to little time for 1-1 student comments/concerns.   This is not to say I don’t address individual student needs, but its an ares that I can work on.  So, I decided to take action.  I decided to implement a question/concern box (wrote about this in my book) that I used in middle-school.  I have students put their questions (not related to curriculum or day’s objective), concerns, and/or comments in the box.  I then reply to the students within 24 hours, via note or call home.  It’s really effective, allowing for more instructional need and attention to the students’ needs.  Students are happier; not to mention, I am calling home more often, which is a positive.

I look forward to seeing how my students will evaluate me next round in this area!

Please see attached a copy of the evaluation I have my students use on me.  If you have one yourself, please email me (eric@road2teaching.com) and I will post it as well.

RESOURCES

Student evaluation of teacher effectiveness

P.S. If you are a student teacher, this is  great evidence of your ability to evaluate and reflect on your own practices.  Be sure to include your reflections in your teacher portfolio.

I remember first learning what a philosophy statement was in my teacher training program. The education professor explained that the philosophy statement was my guiding framework of ideals and beliefs regarding learning and teaching. Then, as a class we reviewed some sample statements. To be honest, I was a little intimidated. These example statements must have been written by student teacher gods. They were about 2 pages long each and nailed every education buzz word. Wow!

My advice for new pre-service teachers is not to freak out when your education professor gives you this assignment. Rather, use it as an opportunity to really reflect on what motivated you to go into teaching and what you want to accomplish, and how you are going to do it. State your beliefs, but be honest and avoid an overkill on the educational buzz words. Hiring principals and veteran teachers can see through this in a heart beat. Also, keep in mind that this is a process. More than likely you won’t knock out a finished philosophy statement in one sitting.

A great resource that I used in writing my own teacher philosophy statement and that I referenced in my book is a website from Oregon State University. I like this website because it provides simple suggestions in how to create a philosophy statement and it provides two, great (realistic) philosophy statement examples. I will add this link under the link category “Thinking of Teaching?” for future reference.

For additional guidance, relating to writing a philosophy statement and student teaching, in general, then check out Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job.  You can purchase a print version or the e-book version.

E-book version – $8.99 (Lulu.com)

Print version – $13.99 (Amazon.com)