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Running head: Philosophy of Education

I was always a good student, one that teachers adored. I sought my teachers’

attention based on the positive reinforcement provided when assignments were completed

thoroughly, accurately and timely. There was nothing better than the star and smiley face

I often got on my work. Lucky for me, academic learning has always come easy and I

rarely felt challenged by the work I was given. I often sought to exceed my teachers’

expectations. I did not have to study very hard to get good grades, since the type of

assessment was always written, low-level thinking that demanded recall of facts and

information with an occasional speaking presentation thrown in for good measure. I was

never made to think on my own, but simply asked to repeat what the teachers had shown

us, using the gradual release model of “I do”, “we do”, “you do”. I was a very well-

trained “monkey”. That changed for me in eighth grade when an honors foreign

language program was piloted and offered to select students (literally eight people) who

had exemplary academic ratings. I had the opportunity to learn French as part of the

regular school day schedule, as opposed to after school, which was already filled by

sports and band practices and working in the evenings. Most importantly, the French

teacher influenced my life in ways beyond the words in this essay could ever convey.

Not only did he expect and appreciate high-level thinking and encourage inquiry-based

learning about French culture and heritage, but he also included instruction that required

memorization, recitation and rote repetition that mastering a foreign language demands.

He was the type of teacher I plan to be. He was also a caring, dedicated man that would
Running head: Philosophy of Education

listen to me when I needed guidance. Since my mom left school in eighth grade, he was

the one who answered my questions about how to apply for college, where to find

scholarships, and gave me insight into what post-secondary coursework would look like.

It was at the beginning of my senior year, after five years of learning French, when we

were having one of these conversations about college, that he presented an option to

study abroad in France as part of a student-exchange program. I was immediately

intrigued by the idea of traveling so far away from the home I had lived in my entire life,

surrounded by nature in the rural setting of my home town in Lake Ozark, Missouri. I

was fascinated to ponder living in a city in a foreign country and being surrounded by

different people and places. When I found out the cost of the trip was more than my

family could afford, I felt discouraged but my teacher said not to let cost get in the way of

passion. We devised a plan for me to fundraise by selling candy bars, holding bake sales

and having car washes to supplement what I could earn working as a waitress after

school. I will never forget the nights I spent outside our supermarket until 11pm when

they closed (after having worked at my job until 9) hocking candy bars to complete

strangers - I raised over “$1,000 selling chocolate! When I fell short by $500, my teacher

held a fundraiser at a bar where he played music as a one-man band and donated half his

salary and all the proceeds from his tip jar to me. In the end, I spent an academic year

abroad in Orleans, France and enjoyed one of the most amazing multi-faceted

undertakings of my entire life that included attending high school, playing on the
Running head: Philosophy of Education

volleyball and track teams, and playing my trumpet with the Brass Band of the

Conservatoire d’Orleans. The real-life experiences that living abroad provided opened

my eyes to the wonder of different ways of living in so many realms – grocery shopping,

food/meals, language, family traditions, academics, holidays, and even modes of

transportation (I had my first experience in a subway and I rode the Train a Grand Vitesse

[TGV] as one of the first passengers!)

I had always wanted to be a teacher, even before my French teacher had gone

“above and beyond” and helped me attain my dream and truly exercise my passion for

learning. When I moved to the Vail Valley in 1996 and subsequently tried to raise my

son as a single parent, I could not fathom considering how to pay for college in order to

attain a degree that would render me a teaching job that would not cover the cost of living

in this area. For that reason, I remained at my job as a bank teller, rising through the

ranks during my fifteen years in banking, earning better pay with each passing year.

Ironically, one of my main responsibilities was training new employees. My supervisors

noted my dedication and reliability, patience, and open-mindedness as highlights in my

yearly reviews related to my role as teacher/trainer. As I advanced to supervisor, then

manager, I missed the intrinsic rewards that training new employees provided. When I

unexpectedly lost my job as branch manager, due to company reorganization, I felt that a

door had opened for me to pursue my Elementary Education degree. My personal

situation as wife to a wonderful, hard-working husband and mother of a grown son and
Running head: Philosophy of Education

two younger children seemed amenable to becoming a college student once again. When

I found out that Colorado Mountain College (CMC) had a program tailored to the needs

of the culturally and linguistically diverse students in our valley, I enrolled immediately,

even though the college was, at that time, awaiting final approval and credentials from

the Colorado Department of Education. I was not aware of the rigor the program would

present, nor of the enormous amount of time I would spend away from my family. But as

my story conveys, I have always been a very hard worker and dedicated person that

perseveres through challenges when striving for a goal.

I share this story with you because it is one of passion, perseverance, tremendous

determination, out-of-the- box thinking, and love; all things I plan to bring to my career

as a teacher through my own actions and those that I expect from my students. These

qualities are embedded in my philosophy of what it means to be a teacher, what

instructional practices I use, how I will engage all learners, and how I will learn and teach

simultaneously – through ongoing professional development and interaction with my

students. My personal perspective alongside research-based instructional practices I

learned through CMC’s Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) students affects how I plan my instruction,

“in-the-moment” instructional decisions I make, and the informal and formal assessments

of and for learning I employ.


Running head: Philosophy of Education

CMC’s rigorous program has prepared me for my own classroom through textbook

learning of research-based instructional practices, strategies targeted for the success of

CLD students, and extremely valuable field experiences. Some aspects of my philosophy

of education have been honed after having studied many theories on education and

having personally experienced kindergarten, second, and fourth grade classrooms under

the tutelage of veteran mentor teachers. I have formed opinions and teaching practices

related to academic literature written by authors with various mindsets and related

strategies about how students learn best. Other aspects have remained the same,

regardless of what I studied, and make up part of my philosophy that can be considered

“non-negotiable”.

When focusing on how to teach, a few years ago, I believed that direct instruction

had more of a place in lower elementary classrooms, with a gradual release of

responsibility to students as they matured and were able to eloquently state thoughts and

questions. Adhering early-on to an essentialist point of view, I felt that students must

come to school and learn a certain basic set of skills in lower elementary. I believed that

with a basic core content of knowledge in language, math, arts, social studies, and

science, students will seek knowledge to solve problems encountered and gain higher-

level knowledge as life continues and they advance into upper-elementary grades and

beyond. Now I believe that direct instruction can have a place at every grade level, even

in post-secondary education, as made evident by the students that make up my CMC


Running head: Philosophy of Education

cohort and those in my current kindergarten classroom. Some students, regardless of age,

need to see an example of what is expected before beginning, growing, and exceling their

learning. Some students may need this type of modeling in one content area and not in

others. On the other hand, some students do not need physical examples or exemplars of

what is expected. Verbal instructions are all that is needed for these students to visualize

and produce examples of their learning with minimal guidance. Because I understand

that unique individuals make up a class, I integrate a wide scope of philosophies in my

philosophy, no matter what the elementary grade level. Every student comes to school as

a whole child with unique experiences and cultural backgrounds that influence learning.

People of all ages learn best when “doing” and while actively participating in problem

solving and experimentation, they retain and understand more. Furthermore, humans are

social animals and according to Vygotsky, pooling of knowledge and previous

background experiences through cooperative learning allows more information, thoughts,

and processes to be considered and evaluated by groups of learners. When students

individually question and are motivated by curiosity, they practice constructivism

through hands-on learning and bring these unique revelations to a cooperative group of

learners. If students are the ones asking the questions, as opposed to teachers, boredom is

likely minimal. In my own experience, boredom is the arch enemy of teachers. My adult

son has recounted numerous stories of how bored he was in high school, and is still bored

in his lower-level lecture-based college courses. I have also personally experienced


Running head: Philosophy of Education

greater satisfaction and long-term retention in post-secondary courses while actively

learning as opposed to reading textbooks and writing papers. Using data to inform my

instruction and to create thoughtful grouping, I can structure hands-on learning to meet

students within their proximal zones of development using their preferred mode of

learning. Furthermore, hands-on learning needs to be presented in a number of ways.

Some students need tactile learning and want to touch, mold and shape their learning into

a tangible, concrete item, which is why I always teach math using manipulatives first, so

that students can go from the concrete to the abstract. Those on another spectrum need

only to see an example and can learn visually. Still others want to take the learning apart

into its pieces and put it back together. This chunking helps them understand the

individual functions of the parts that make the whole unit function. Because student

learning preferences vary, multi-modal strategies remain a strong aspect of my

philosophy as a “non-negotiable” and why differentiation has blossomed in my lessons.

Regardless of modality of learning, the instruction must keep students engaged, as I

reiterate that I strongly believe, and have always believed, that the vast majority of

students are bored while at school. If student interaction with each other and with the

material is low, off-task behavior may occur. This may be because the teacher has

chosen lecture as the primary means to convey information to students. Oftentimes,

when students are bored, it is because they have been sitting for too long. According to

Medina, “Humans walked up to twelve miles per day” (p. 11). We are a species that is
Running head: Philosophy of Education

designed for movement. Physical activity stimulates the production of increased oxygen,

which amplifies the amount we can process and learn. That is why you will see a higher

than average amount of movement incorporated in my lessons. Certainly, it will be part

of every transition in my K-2 lessons.

Another way to keep students engaged is through differentiation. An effective

teacher can use assessment and interview data to inform instruction and students’

background knowledge to spur interest. Effective grouping and goal-specific instruction

with clear learning targets and criteria for success can lead to achievement, as can

comprehensible input and language learning targets that support the needs of CLD, and

all, students. Teachers who conduct home visits and/or student interviews will be armed

with knowledge that can engage students. For example, if you discover at a home visit

that a student idolizes Batman, give him/her Batman books and you have fostered a love

of reading. If motivation is an issue, differentiation of content may be important.

Considering student personalities, introverts may prefer a written paper as opposed to an

oral presentation. This type of differentiation of product may be important.

Differentiation should be part of both instruction and assessment. Not all human brains

are identical, which is why differentiation of content, process, product and are so

important (Medina, 2008). Each individual has unique strengths in how they learn and

show what they know. Successful teachers incorporate instruction and assessments that

offer students a variety of ways to learn and demonstrate their knowledge.


Running head: Philosophy of Education

Students who can solve problems are prone to a sense of achievement,

independence, and solid relationships. I want students to be eager to answer the various

questions they will come across in life with a “can-do” attitude, whether during their

education, in their job, or as part of relationships they will have. I want them to not only

seek answers based on the knowledge base I teach them, but also to seek answers to new

questions they have not yet encountered using the skills I will teach them about how to

learn. They should question when they do not understand and should question when they

do understand to determine if what is presented as “the right answer” is “correct” or “the

best way”. This constructivist style of learning will give them liberty to seek answers to

their wonders. This process, oftentimes, involves failure, which is a step on the way to

success and is never a reason to quit trying, but a reason to change one or more processes.

Through instruction that relates my own life struggles and the rewards of perseverance to

the students in my classroom, I will identify failure as simply a step toward success. I

hope to engrain a sense of perseverance in finding answers to a point that is self-fulfilling

and leads to a meaningful life. I do not want them to become the “trained monkey” that I

once was, memorizing facts and information to get a good score on tests or an “A”. I

hope they are enthused by the prospect that they truly understand a concept and can apply

it in their lives. I want them to be challenged by what I teach them and my high

expectations will bring material that is hard. This learning will be significant to how they
Running head: Philosophy of Education

perceive events around them, how they interpret those events and how (or if) they react to

said events.

My high expectations extend to those students who receive special education

services. Positive reinforcement for participation and (appropriately) high expectations

for students with special needs is something I strongly believe in. The vast majority of

students in the SPED spectrum can achieve the same as their non-SPED counterparts

when accommodations, scaffolding and differentiation are provided. For students with

severe needs, other accommodations, such as speech-to-print, have been successful for

those who cannot hold a pencil or struggle with editing and books on tape can help

students who cannot decode multi-syllabic words but have minimal trouble with

comprehension. These types of learning tools represent valid examples of the least-

restrictive environment as described by Salend (p. 8). It is rarely necessary to remove

students with special needs from the regular classroom to achieve learning. In fact, doing

so will diminish their learning since they will not experience peer connections. Inclusion

shows that all students are capable of benefitting from the general education classroom.

Everyone can learn something from another human being when they open their

hearts and minds, whether learning disabled or not. This concept includes teachers who

can learn from their students, if they listen. If a teacher takes the time to plan lessons
Running head: Philosophy of Education

where students are allowed to problem-solve, it is certain that amongst the group of

children, at least one of them will have an idea that has yet to be considered.

I am a teacher who listens to out-of-the-box thinking, encourages students to strive

to reach their dreams, and fuels passion with unwavering support the same way my

French teacher did for me. I will guide students down paths they choose, so they can end

up in the profession that matches their hearts’ desire: for me that is teaching culturally

and linguistically diverse students. I am armed with the knowledge of research-based

strategies that will make a difference and provide engaged learners who think for

themselves, fail, and try again and again until they can be proud to have persevered in

solving a problem. I will continue to learn through professional development that targets

the needs of the population of students I teach daily: Second Language Learners.