Personal Philosophy on Education

The philosophy of Montgomery County Community College promises a firm commitment to “educate students to their highest potential” through “a scholarly approach to the mastery of knowledge.” To fulfill this academic mandate and “meet the interests, needs, and aspirations” of my students at Montgomery County Community College, I strive to make my instruction collaborative, communicative, and customized. Effective collaborative learning involves a consistent, mutual effort by both the instructor and the student. With the growing advocacy for technology in education, my role as instructor increasingly moves to that of facilitator or guide. My students and I become partners in moving them toward self-discovery and content mastery in my discipline. To each class, I try to promote opportunities for personal insight through textual illustration. I attempt to offer the eloquence of experience wrapped in the words of the authors whose works I present. I endeavor to balance the dynamics of direction through a successful blend of critical writing and literary analysis. These tactics help to reinforce my students’ desire to learn, to accommodate their need for knowledge, and to facilitate their willingness to work.

To make my instruction communicative, I begin with a syllabus which is clear, concise, and complete. I encourage regular questions in class, supply careful directions for all assignments, tests, and projects, and offer honest, detailed commentary on all student work. Frequent acknowledgement of student success and regular instructor/course evaluation by my students constitute additional ways that I cultivate communication in my classes. Customized education promises to be tomorrow’s tradition. Customization in my classes begins with my recognition of diversity in learning styles and comprehension rates, as well as cultural, economic, intellectual, and emotional variety among my students. But acknowledgement of diversity is only the first step. I am committed to accommodating those diversities in a non-threatening, non-frustrating manner. Customizing my students’ learning also requires my willingness to consider my students’ work, home, and life needs, with a firm purpose of helping them to learn around those obligations which burden their lives.

After teaching English for twenty-five years, I have come to realize the value of language as inestimable. Our words, spoken or written, go before us, announcing who we are, what we want, and where we are going. To lose language is to limit growth. To
be limited by language is to be wounded in the most profound sense. For we judge one another by the quality of our thoughts through the clarity of our words. I want my students to perceive themselves, and to be perceived by others, as people who can speak, as people who can write. I want my students to be people who have thoughtful communication and to be valued because they communicate thoughtfully. It is through language that every human experience is expressed, shared, and fully realized. Through words we communicate our love, our needs, our goals, our deeper selves. I want to give my students this opportunity of self-expression. Language is power. I want to empower my students. I want them to land that job that will fulfill them personally while providing for them financially. By teaching my students how to communicate clearly and concisely, I will enable them to achieve all their goals. When my students are in control of their language, they are fundamentally in control of their lives. I want to instruct my students in the cultivation of that control. When I am teaching, I must be careful not to disable my students by xpecting them to grasp what I have not explained or to perform what they have not practiced. For example, I cannot expect my students to know how to connect their essays’ introductory anecdotes to their thesis statements if I have not given them a model essay in which I clearly identify the connecting sentences and explain how those sentences act as connectors. Or, if I am working on the computer with my students, I cannot tell them something as basic as to minimize a computer screen if they have never had practice minimizing one. I must first inform them where the minimize button is located, let them see what it looks like, demonstrate how to move the cursor with the mouse to minimize a screen, and have them practice the process several times, before I can expect them to be able to minimize on command.

In every instance, I must be on guard for signs of misunderstanding, anxiety, or frustration: knitted eyebrows, moving in seats, sighing, staring blankly, shaking heads, or mumbling angrily. Upon seeing such signs, I must step back, rephrase, explain again,
reassure, and invite questions—even if I have already presented the concept more than once. I can never ignore students’ uncertainty, plowing ahead as if I were moving snow instead of minds. If I do, doors will slam shut as anger and resentment become defiance and rejection, culminating in the students’ self-preservative disconnection from an instructor who cannot explain and a subject that cannot be grasped. Presentation is a challenge. It is a skill. Some might even call it an art. Effective presentation is the bridge to learning that only the committed instructor can build. But it is worth the effort of building, for it is the way that I will touch my students’ minds.Of all the aspects of teaching, the one that requires my deepest commitment is reaching my students. For the students are the focus of all my instruction, and rightfully so. It is their minds that I reach out, so carefully, to touch. Yet, if I ever hope to touch the minds of my students, I must embrace, with understanding and compassion, their lives.

My students do not come to me with only their need to learn and my expectation that they do so. My students’ lives are bound by more than my carefully constructed syllabi. My students come to me burdened by job stress and job loss. They experience
substance and spousal abuse. My students must cope with illness—their own and that of loved ones. My students are bound by legal obligations: custody hearings, trial dates, divorces. They feel the pressures of sexism and racism, financial distress and depression. And always upon them is the burden to succeed academically. For they live in a society that values its members according to their capacity to demonstrate, through academic degrees, their intellectual ability—ergo, personal worth.

There will rarely be days when my students will only have to focus on that knowledge which I have to offer them. I must respect this fact. There will be those times when my students have to bring their children to class, and those times, when because of their children, they will not attend class. There will be times when work demands, such as overtime, unscheduled hours, and out-of-town trips will strain my students’ ability to cope and lessen their chances to learn. Heedful of these needs, I will strive to accommodate my students without compromising the content or quality of their education. If I reject the problem-laden student, I devalue the vocation of teaching, which must always primarily exist to improve the human condition. To close my eyes to my students’ circumstances is to close the door on my students’ intellectual development and career potential, as well as my own growth in caring and tolerance. If I am an instructor without compassion, I am a light that gives no warmth. I may teach my students to see, but never to feel understand another’s difficulty. I must always try to marry knowledge and compassion, blending the intellect and emotions in a balanced approach. This will render a fuller learning experience for my students, who will grow in knowledge that is tempered with kindness. My students will not only look at the world, but they will also feel for it.

Three additional points are important in reaching my students: I must be fair; I may be generous; I should be honest. In other words, in fairness, I can allow a student who is caring for a cancer-stricken mother an extension on a paper. In generosity, I might extend the extension, without deducting points for a late paper (even if deduction points for late papers are explicit in my syllabus). However, no matter how sad the story, or tragic the outcome, I cannot pass the paper when it finally arrives, if it lacks sufficient content, proper format, or standard grammatical form. To do such a thing would be at odds with my commitment to my students’ intellectual development, The College’s accreditation standards, and my own professional responsibility. Understanding the content of my discipline, demonstrating that understanding in my lessons, and reaching my students with that understanding seems, at times, an impossible task. But if the desire is strong and the effort forthcoming, impossible tasks find ways of happening. I have seen cycles of poverty broken as students have completed degrees and gone on to gainful employment. I have watched intellectual poverty being eradicated as students have discovered the shallowness of stereotypes and finally understood the fears which created them. I have rejoiced as prejudice has dissolved through the understanding inspired by the lines of an essay, a poem, or a play. My students have conquered fear: the fear of trying and the fear of failing. They have defeated frustration by finally mastering this grammar rule or that rhetorical mode. Potential has bloomed, inspiring me as I relish the powerful lines of a student who has
mastered artful critical analysis and explication.

In this quest for knowledge, self-esteem has grown—my students’ and my own. I understand the implications of all these small wonders: there is hope from one generation to the next, hope that is built upon communication and fostered through education. It is a hope that illuminates like stars in a summer night, as long as there are students who want to learn and teachers who love to teach.