Teachers must have core professional principles to be successful, and these are mine: 1) every learner must be treated as a unique individual with boundless potential; 2) decisions should be driven by both data and common sense; 3) content mastery and skill development are equally worthy pursuits; 4) educators should hold themselves to high academic and personal standards; and, 5) setbacks are opportunities for leadership.
Having grown up in Flint, Michigan, I have seen how learning can be a lifeline. My friends and I would not be the productive members of society we are today without strong educational upbringings. Our teachers saw us as individuals and believed in us completely. Though Flint and its schools have been much maligned, I was blessed with a litany of superlative educators. I strive to live up to their legacies every day I teach.
Treating everyone as an individual does not require lowering community standards; instead, the opposite is true. Teachers are more effective when they tailor lessons to the individual students they serve. The job is like a mirror: using data, a teacher should address each student’s strengths and weaknesses by offering targeted feedback.
Standards are the roadmap to success. Teachers should push their students to learn and master new skills while also infusing a passion for learning. Put simply, teachers should be enthusiastic about their content. Developing skills is critically important, but so is helping students learn to love reading, music, the arts, and their communities.
It is sometimes professed a man should clean his room before he criticizes the world. The sentiment is true for the teaching profession: teachers everywhere must hold themselves to high standards just as they do their students. We are leaders, not followers; we are not weak, but strong.
The hardships of the teaching profession are well-documented. The job is stressful. Burnout is common. But great teachers realize setbacks are opportunities for leadership. Effective teaching fills voids in students’ hearts and minds and society as a whole. True teachers stand ready to lead that charge in the face of struggle.
The best compliment I ever received from a student was, “you’re not plastic.” This young man’s terse comment said so much. He loathed the monotony of high school, the hour-by-hour drudge from desk to desk, drenched in austere, sterile ennui. My class, however, was different. He could be himself. He breathed. I saw him as an individual, valued his contributions, and held him accountable. He knew I wasn’t plastic. No teacher should be.
Good teachers are blessed with a rare mixture of talent, effort, discipline and empathy. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to do our best for our students. That is my teaching philosophy.