Well, I posted my policy paper, so I guess I'll reveal my philosophy before it's been graded, too.
Just for fun.
As simple as it may sound, my goal as a teacher is to facilitate learning through curiosity. I don’t want my students to walk away from my class thinking (or saying aloud) ‘this is stupid’ or ‘I didn’t learn anything’ or, worse yet, to walk away without thinking at all. But these phenomena do occur, not only because students today are not engaged enough with the material they are required to learn, but because they’re not engaged enough with each other and the world around them to know why they should care. This is a tragedy that good English Language Arts teachers can and should remedy by encouraging students to question, imagine, and discuss a variety of topics in and outside of class.
As English Language Arts (ELA) teachers, we have the ability and responsibility to teach students a wide range of content as well as skill sets, and we may have any easier job than, say, math teachers, in convincing our students of the value of our classes. In recent history, math teachers and classes have received a bad rap for being boring or irrelevant, whereas ELA teachers are often portrayed, in the media at least, as the most sympathetic or fun. Perhaps this is because ELA classes and content often leave more up to interpretation than do mathematical formulas and principles, and because the state’s high school mathematical standards are more rigid than the ELA standards. Maybe it has to do with the fact that students can more easily Google the answer to a math question than an interpretive question about literature; then again, with the internet as pervasive as it is, even ELA test questions are easily searchable and copied. So how do we convince students they should know how to do a Google-able thing without the internet or other electronic technology? Should we?
To the second question, I answer yes, and to the first, by leading by example, whether that is our example as the teacher or another student’s; we need to show our students how we use the skills we say students need, not just how they might use them. We need to ground the subjects we teach not only in the workplace but in our individual communities and the lives of our students. We need to facilitate the development of critical thinking in our students, not because it’s a “buzzword,” so to speak, but because we care about our students and we don’t want them to be swindled by capitalist and consumerist schemes, oppressed by authority or doubtful of their own knowledge and experiences. Students need to know in their guts that they have choices, and that even when they make the “wrong” one, they exercised their right to do so and, hopefully, learned from it.
I don’t want students to just quickly Google the “answer” to a question they have, or a conundrum they are presented with — I want them to sift through those search results, maybe use a different search engine, and keep questioning real people they know and respect on the issue, considering source credibility and bias as they continue to metacognate for the rest of their lives. I think all of us who support democracy want to live in a world full of those kinds of people — people who think for themselves, care about others, and believe in the possibility of positive change in their individual communities and beyond.