Philosophy of Teaching
An important aspect of my teaching is bringing my full authentic-self into the classroom. This includes talking about my struggles as a student. As a student, history was hard for me. During Junior year of high school, I learned I had a learning disability. It had to do with memory and organizing my thoughts in the right “filing cabinet.” One thing that helped me was thinking about History like a movie or TV show. I love TV shows. By talking about history in this way, it was easier for me to visualize and remember. Whenever I step foot into my classroom, I try to bring love and empathy for all my students and the struggles they work to overcome.
A key component of my teaching style is fun. Fun and laughter are extremely important to help build confidence. When students feel confident they are more willing to push their thinking. When students feel confident I can continue to push the cognitive load from me to them. This shifting of cognitive demand can be seen in having end of unit socratic seminars where students are given a prep packet and prompt and given space to dissect the question without the teacher participating. Socratic Seminars have allowed students space to figure out their ideas with each other and to build on what their fellow classmates have said. During a Socratic Seminar, I only try to intervene to give them reminders around making sure everyone talks. Socratic Seminars allow students to have agency over their learning because they have a way of synthesizing their own thoughts and applying it in a conversation that they are in control of. Some of my favorite activities to create a fun classroom are: World Cafes, Chalk Talks, Gallery Walks, and Four Corners. Each of these activities get students out of their seats as well as gives individuals opportunities to develop their own thinking.
One goal of having a fun classroom is to also create a safe space. Ways I do this is by having weekly community circles. A key aspect of community circle is that I lead the circle for the first couple of weeks, but eventually I want students to run the space. I try to model ways to facilitate by offering silly or serious questions as well as Dylan Daily Adulting Advice. One piece of advice I gave was about deciding what hill to climb. After I hurt my foot at rugby practice, I was out for the rest of the season. Recently, I did sprints for the first time and they were awful. It made me question if I even wanted to climb the hill back to where I was in my fitness. I told them that I had to do a lot of soul searching. I knew that what I wanted to do was to be back at the top of my fitness and that meant fighting through the bad sprints. If I can model what it is to be vulnerable, honest, and open for feedback, I hope that that will translate to a vulnerable, honest, and open for feedback classroom.
Because of my experience with learning differently than most students, inclusive education is incredibly important to me because it helps my students feel seen and supported. One way I support my students is by scaffolding. Scaffolding is meant to support the students with the most needs; however, it supports all students. Whenever I am designing a lesson I always think about the principles of Universal Design for Learning. UDL can help the student that needs the most help as well as use scaffolding to help others and bring more challenges to those who need it. It is also helpful to do backwards design so that students can see what the goal is and the reason behind their learning. Students should feel pushed to make meaning on their own, but it is helpful for the students and for the teachers to have a clear arc to follow. Another way to create an accessible curriculum is by utilizing different learning modalities. This can include discussion activities, using videos, acting out, reading articles, or taking traditional notes.
Another aspect of bringing my whole authentic-self to school is being honest about my journey as an anti-racist educator. This involves being honest with my students about my journey especially when I make mistakes. As a White, Jewish, and trans teacher, there are many aspects of my students lives I can empathize with. However, I am still white and know that the system that I am working with actively uses the education system as a way to oppress students of color. This is why I fell in love with history. The only way to break the cycle of oppression is to name the fact that there is a cycle in the first place. I fell in love with history to become a better advocate for my students and the oppression my students of color face daily in the classroom. To understand why most students on the D and F list are students of color and so I can best support them and their needs.
Different ways I like to work with culturally relevant pedagogy has to do with flipping history on its head and having students question the historical stories they are told about themselves and their identities. For example, I ran a World Cafe that focused on the questions, “what does it mean to own land? What does it mean to steal land?” When talking about history, we often talk about colonizers conquering land, but what does that really mean? Other ways are by having a diverse set of books in the classroom so that students can see themselves in literature. This includes having graphic novels featuring queer main characters as well as authors of color that one might not normally see in a classroom. Representation is important for students to know that they matter and that they have a story worth telling.
My hope for students who leave my classroom is that they know that learning is fun, challenging, and actively fighting against the oppressive systems of our current society. I also hope that students gain agency in becoming future change makers by developing a critical lens of the world and tangible ways to make the world a better place.