“What’s your personal philosophy of teaching” has been a question I’ve been asked for years, since my first Education class at University, Philosophical Foundations of Education. (Seems fitting, yes?) It’s been asked dozens of times since, from other professors, teacher-mentors, school boards, colleagues, and employers. It’s been cautioned by all of those stakeholders as one of the most important questions for every teacher to consider. One that we all must have an answer to. From my experience, though, no one ever explains why you need to have that answer.
As a new teacher there will be days where you will hate yourself. You’ll spend full periods, hours, feeling as though your job is worthless. And since you’ve always considered yourself a teacher first and a person second, you will feel as though you are worthless. You will be walking on eggshells in your classes, with parents, with colleagues, and with administrators because of how unsure you are. It’s part of the job. It’s normal. You’ll be told this, too, but hearing it doesn’t make the experience any easier.
You’ll call everything into question, but one of the most recurring questions will be, why the hell am I doing this?
That is what a teaching philosophy is for. If you don’t have a clear, strong reason for wanting to be a teacher, you won’t have anything to fall back on during those existential crises. You will feel as though nobody trusts you to do your job, that you are insignificant, that you are wasting your life and your students’ lives, and that they surely would be better off taught by someone better capable, say, a mime. Without answers to the philosophical questions, why am I a teacher? Why do I believe in teaching? Why do I believe in education? What the hell is education, anyway? there is little to no reason to keep a new teacher going.
Look. If you want to build a solid house the first thing you need to do is dig a hole. Then you need to lay your foundation. If you want to be a teacher you need to dig a hole inside yourself. The deeper and darker, the better. Don’t be shy to stop and look for worms.
You need to create that space for questions and answers. Once that space has properly set, lay your foundation. Make it solid. Ask some questions and demand honest answers. Only you know the right ones to ask. Only you know the right answers.
A crack in your house’s foundation will cause your house to fall on top of you. A crack in the foundations of your learning philosophy may not cause your life to fall on top of you, but having one in place will surely help you weather the storms.
And if by asking you find the answers coming back are “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure,” that’s no reason to abandon your lot and move on. It means you didn’t dig you hole deep enough to begin with. Go back. Keep digging.