As everything changes all around me, I’ve had time to really reflect on what it means to be a teacher, what it means to me to be a teacher, and finally, what it means to me to be a teacher in the midst of a pandemic. Everything changes every 5 minutes, and you hardly have a chance to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of trying to figure out how we are going to be able to keep everyone SAFE, let alone LEARNING, amidst a global PANDEMIC. But does that mean that my entire teaching philosophy needs to change to adapt to a new environment?
Being a Teacher
A teacher is… well, a teacher is everything. A teacher can be a friend, someone to talk to, someone who cares for you, someone you learn from, someone who motivates you, or even someone who you despise. A teacher has many definitions far beyond just “to teach”. We are innovators, communicators, hard-workers. We are resilient, we are strong, we are quirky, and we are human. We teach more than just the content, we teach how to become lifelong learners and human beings and productive members of society. We teach children how to be kind, understanding, and to stand up for themselves. We are there through the home-runs and the strike-outs. Most importantly, we care. In some cases, we may be the only ones who do.
My Teaching Philosophy
At my core, I chose to be a teacher because I love to learn. I know that sounds odd, but think of the things that you learn as a teacher every day! The relationships you build with your students and the things they teach me are more valuable than gold in my eyes. I love my students, and I love to interact with them. They come by in the morning before school starts just to chat and ‘spill the tea’ which apparently means they just gossip and tell me about their lives for 10 minutes straight. I don’t know if they know how important that is to me, but hopefully, if they’re reading this they’ll understand. They teach me so much every day about culture, the world, and give me new perspectives on life. I don’t know how I truly lived before I developed these relationships. My world must have been so small.
As such, I think that it’s important to me that the learning in my classroom is much more than just the absorbing and regurgitation of information, but a transference of ideas and knowledge that stem from something greater than just mathematics. I like to think that through my silly stories, conversations, and the examples that I set for them, students learn life skills too and more about how to be themselves. I think of myself as a role model for these students. So, I make mistakes – and I recognize and fix them. I do my very best to be balanced and principled, but am unapologetically myself in every instance. My high school math classroom involves so much more than math. Mastery of the course content, of course, is always at the center of every lesson, but there are unspoken principles that I find to be an integral part of the learning environment that I choose every day to put as my priority in the classroom.
I base everything on these principles. I try to be true to my students and expect them to be true to me. I am HURT when students are dishonest academically, just as they would be if I purposefully taught them incorrect material. I tell them that. I push the necessity to organization and balance and give them the tools to help them remain organized. I show them that it’s possible by staying organized myself. I don’t use a teacher’s desk, because I don’t like the implication. I simply chose a desk to sit in and engage with students rather than going back to my desk during independent work time. I also have the ‘mega desk’ as a reference to the office, which is just a bunch of extra empty desks that students can come up to if they’re struggling and I provide 1:1 or small group support for them.
Being a Teacher Today
Things are changing, and fast. Our whole world is changing. In the matter of a week, we were told to figure out how to transfer everything to an online setting, and let’s be honest – we tried, but I know that my connections with students suffered during this time. As we look ahead, most schools are opting to partake in 3 weeks of remote learning, at minimum, at the start of the school year. Everyone is worried that this will affect their relationships with students. That things will change. I hear other instructors express their concerns that this intro will just be a do-over of a difficult end to last year. As they say these things – I implore them to consider – does your teaching philosophy need to change?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I think you can still be all of the things that you want to be as an online teacher, you just need to take the time and consider what is important to you, and find the tools necessary to incorporate those things into your online classroom.
- Do you value communicating with your students and building relationships? Take the time to pre-record some of your lessons as videos that you can release at a later date and use that live zoom session to build those relationships with your students. Find an incredible icebreaker that can help you to get to know them as people.
- Do you enjoy movement in the classroom? Encourage students to find things around their house, incorporate scavenger hunts that they can do from home. Teach them extra movements that correspond to things that they are learning and host a chat where you can all participate and move together
- Do you value student interaction? Incorporate more discussion forums in your online classroom. Most LMS’ have an integrated or built-in discussion platform that allows students to interact. Better yet – encourage group note-taking or collaboration on a group project via dynamic documents.
Note that none of your core principles needs to change. You don’t need to alter your beliefs in order to teach online. Just adapt. Reach out. Learn from others. Or turn on your notifications for this blog as I walk you through my new series – planning for a remote classroom. Until next time, what principles are most important to you in your classroom? Why did you begin to teach?
Kristin Usrey is an alternative certified math teacher working in Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD. Kristin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Technology Management from Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Tarleton State University. After working for SpaceX, she brings the ideals of corporate collaboration, real world connections to mathematics, and effective communication in the classroom. Unafraid of and instead inspired by failure – she loves all things technology, digital innovations, and incorporating new tools into her classroom.