My Philosophy of Education
Fundamentally, my job as a teacher is to contribute to the process of further developing the minds of young adults who can think critically and independently while I use various instructional methods that help them know more both about the subject of history itself as well as how to reason about written documents in general. Since I’m enthusiastic about the subject of history itself, I would have an ability to transmit some of this attitude to my students. I would make history instruction relevant by using examples from more recent history they would be more apt to be aware of or from current events. A guiding principle of history instruction in my class would be based on Santayana’s famous dictum about those who forget the past are condemned to fulfill or repeat it. History is important from the viewpoint of “voter education,” since knowing basic facts about it and how to reason historically can help make people listen more critically to the claims of politicians on the campaign trail. I would constantly strive to make seemingly “dull” facts or people of the past important by mentioning how what they did or believed still affects us to this day. By using the principle of “scaffolding,” I would aim to aid student learning while avoiding doing so much work for them that they didn’t learn as much as they could have. When working with students of diverse backgrounds and levels of ability, I would aim to find a balance between challenging the high achievers to reach for excellence while still finding ways to help the slower or less motivated students to catch up.
The overall guiding principles of teaching I would use would be based on Ausubel’s concept of reception learning. So when I would lecture, I would use PowerPoint presentations using advance organizers and listing key points in order to set themes for lectures and to enable students to know the key points to write down for their notes. Here the strategic use of questions, especially when doing class readings of primary sources, is particularly valuable, since they help them think on and comprehend the material being presented. I would also show that the textbook can’t be regarded as an infallible authority since the selection of material covered in it inevitably reflects the bias of the author. As for specific methods of teaching, I would attempt to supplement lecturing with cooperative learning (small groups). By using combination three-level and reaction guides based on the textbook’s material, I can produce individual accountability in the small groups and be more likely to keep the students on task. The small group projects also would help develop critical thinking skills since the students would have to reason on what they read in the guides and the textbook, and on what they would discuss in their groups. Since I would make essay questions a major part of the grades on my tests, I would also push students into actually using correct essay form based on what they had learned from writing and English classes that they had taken.
By drawing on my background in philosophy, I would emphasize the “big questions” in their appropriate context when covering significant figures of the past, such as the still-relevant issues the philosophers of the past pondered. This emphasis would also aid in developing the critical thinking skills of the students in the class as well. I would show that Western civilization itself had a great diversity of people involved in forming its foundational ideas (the Semitic Judeo-Christian tradition merging with the Indo-European pagan Greek culture), which helped to give it its peculiar strength and influence on the world today. Western civilization contains multiculturalism within itself since so many different nations and ethnicities contributed to its development. I would aim for objectivity (even though this goal can never be fully achieved humanly) in presenting to the classes people and events that had the most influence on subsequent history or had a major influence at the time they occurred. Such a problem as the “Whig interpretation of history,” i.e., overemphasizing forerunners of later developments as being too important in their own day and age, would be watched for and avoided.
So overall I would put energy and effort into my teaching, since I see myself first and foremost as a teacher, not as a researcher into history itself. I believe I have a calling to be a teacher, and therefore wouldn’t end up doing the bare minimum to “get by” as an instructor of history for your college. I’m one who really does care about whether his students learn the material or not, and I believe in holding them to high standards even as I make it more possible for them to meet them (such as by clearly linking the class material to the tests I would give). So although I don’t have a Ph.D. in history, my background in history (B.A., M.A.), philosophy (B.A.), and teacher education (provisional secondary certificate) make me well qualified for any history position in which teaching is more important than research.