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My Teaching Philosophy

I believe that the purpose of public education is to nurture the whole child: intellectually, socially, and emotionally. I am passionate about being a public school educator because I love learning; I love helping children discover their potential; and I want to work with a diverse group of students and motivate all of them succeed, regardless of differences in ability levels and backgrounds.

Every child whom I have worked with (as a student teacher and before that as a paraeducator at two Title I elementary schools) has shown some level of intrinsic motivation to learn. Many reveal their interest in learning every day – they raise their hands eagerly to answer questions about a story, request extra “Math Magic Minute” worksheets to practice with at home, or come to me excitedly to share a fascinating topic that they accidentally discovered while searching for some other word in an encyclopedia. Other students require a great deal of patience and coaxing before they will reveal their potential. I think of "Chase," a very challenging first-grader who spent a lot of time with the school principal and counselor, and whose aggressive behavior caused his teacher to evacuate other students from her classroom on multiple occasions. Chase liked to make a show of not caring about school or learning, perhaps because he entered first grade at a level far behind his peers. But one day, while working with him on addition and subtraction fact families, we had a breakthrough. His demeanor changed and excitement entered his voice as he clutched his pencil and proclaimed, “Ms. Vause, I can do this! This is easy!” He finished the worksheet and immediately requested another. Coaxing an extremely challenging child into learning is one of the biggest challenges of education, and I hope that moments like the one I shared with Chase become increasingly frequent as I become a more experienced teacher.

While some aspects of my teaching philosophy have remained the same since I completed coursework at William & Mary, my perspective has also evolved in some areas. I continue to believe that inspiring students in learning is the most vital part of my work as a teacher, but taking methods courses at William & Mary in the core subject areas has given me new respect for the importance of content knowledge. Teachers must know their subject thoroughly to be able to teach it effectively. In addition, the William & Mary course in assessment and evaluation has given me a much richer understanding of how assessment can be used not just to measure achievement but also to further achievement, and how assessment is not just for providing feedback to students, but also for providing feedback on my efficacy as a teacher. Poor assessment results will alert me that I need to reteach aspects of a unit in a different way in order to better help students understand the material.

My coursework at William & Mary has also encouraged me to integrate more constructivism and cooperative learning in the classroom. Direct instruction still has a vital place in my philosophy of teaching -- it is a very efficient mode of instruction, it can be quite interactive with the appropriate inclusion of hands-on experiences and questioning strategies, and research shows that it is the most effective type of instruction for at-risk students and students with special needs. But balancing direct instruction with a discovery learning and/or cooperative learning activities a few times a week can help make instruction more engaging and concrete for students. Finally, the course that I took at William & Mary on exceptional students has made me very sensitive and responsive to students with special needs as well as to gifted students. I believe in differentiating and scaffolding instruction to meet the needs of all students, whether they are below, on, or above grade level.

Several experiences over the course of my student teaching stand out in my mind as formative moments. These experiences have helped teach me the value of the following:

1) Enthusiasm and providing concrete experiences

For a lesson on thunderstorms in our science unit on weather, I planned a thunderstorm simulation involving flickering lights (lightning), a rain maker (the sound of rain), and a drum (the rumble and crash of thunder). I wasn’t expecting the simulation to be as exciting and successful for the students as some of the other lessons we did for the weather unit. However, the kids ended up loving the simulation; they shrieked and giggled in anticipation of the approaching “thunderstorm” and begged to be light flicker or rain maker. Wanting to capitalize on their excitement, I got really into the activity too, and on the fly I incorporated counting how many “miles away” the thunderstorm was based on the number of seconds between the “lightning” and the “thunder,” and I had the storm get closer and closer until there was a whole slew of lightning flashes and thunder crashes at once. The next day they asked over and over again to make another thunderstorm. At the end of the day after their work was done, I dramatically lifted a hand to my ear and said, “Uh oh… I think I hear a thunderstorm coming,” and they immediately became excited again. This situation taught me that concrete learning experiences can be extremely exciting and motivating for students, and it also taught me the importance of recognizing and responding when students are engaged and excited about a topic.

2) Building relationships and positive reinforcement

“Nick” was a source of some frustration for me at the beginning of my student teaching. While I was able to easily build a relationship with every other child in the classroom, he seemed resistant to me for some reason. The other children were eager to please and would chat with me about special things in their lives (their pets, family vacations, sports games, etc.), yet Nick didn’t open up to me and in fact was frequently defiant. Frustrated by his rudeness and disrespect, I began to fall into a pattern of frequent corrections, getting on him and giving him “tickets” for not working, for not paying attention during lessons, and for being rude to his classmates. He was also constantly late or even absent, despite frequent calls and notes home, including contact from social services. During one of my evening classes at William & Mary during student teaching, the professor said that poverty is the greatest predictor of absenteeism for elementary-age children. After that, I tried to look at Nick’s absences and classroom misbehavior through a different lens. Perhaps his rudeness, disruptive behavior, and frequent complaints of “boredom” were responses to his embarrassment at falling further and further behind his peers, partly due to frequent absences from school. I noticed that his “zone outs” during instruction usually occurred when the material was above his head, and I saw his discomfort in reading group when he observed his peers reading more successfully than he could. After that I made an effort to give Nick at least one compliment for every correction that I had to make. I also provided more differentiation and scaffolding for him during guided practice activities. After he did particularly well on a math assignment that we worked through together, I gave a lot of verbal encouragement like I usually do, but then I thought that I would try something new. Telling him to keep it quiet so that the other students wouldn’t know, I motioned him discretely to the corner of the room and let him pick out a sticker from my sticker book. The way his face lit up at the sight of the stickers, I knew I should have been providing them all along! By the end of student teaching, my efforts to provide more positive reinforcements than corrections had paid off. Although Nick still demonstrated some rudeness and disruptiveness, in general those behaviors had decreased. And occasionally, he even came to me to excitedly share about a new pair of sneakers or something exciting he had done that weekend!

3) Supporting what children with special needs can do

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my student teaching was working with a student with autism. At first glance, it would have been easy to focus on what “Adam” couldn’t do. For most of the school year he struggled with assignments and seemed destined to repeat kindergarten. Every day when he came in I laboriously helped him step by step with his morning work and wrote “help from Ms. Vause” on the side of his paper to signal that he wasn’t able to complete it independently. Then one day there was a school-wide student assembly scheduled right after students arrived and there was no morning work. Adam came in and got a slip of paper for his morning work like he does every morning and frantically flagged me over to come help him.
“I’m ready, I’m ready,” he said insistently.
“Honey, there’s no morning work today because we have an assembly,” I told him.
A couple of minutes later he came up to me again, his slip of paper in hand. He had written his name and the date across the top just like every morning, and on the side of the paper he had neatly printed “help from Ms. Vause.” It was spelled perfectly, which is no small feat for a kindergartener. I had always been positive and supportive with Adam, but from that moment on I realized that I had been underestimating his potential. Sure enough, in the weeks that followed, something suddenly clicked for Adam and he became very successful at reading and writing, suddenly decoding books that were far past his reading group level and being able to write up to two sentences independently with most of the words spelled accurately and capital letters and punctuation (generally) in the correct places. He had been a candidate for retention all year, but this sudden improvement in performance means he will be moving onto first grade next year with his classmates (likely with special pull-out services provided by his IEP, which is currently being written).

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Both before I entered William & Mary and now after completing the program, I envision my classroom role as that of a facilitator in a community of learning. I will treat my students with respect and caring, and I will apologize whenever I make a mistake. I will try to find engaging, creative ways to peak their interest in the material. I will make learning interactive and conversational whenever possible, and I will provide multiple types of learning materials in order to meet the needs of different personality types. In return, I will ask that each member in our community of learners shows respect for themselves, their classmates, their teacher and their environment. I will expect that my students participate in class and do their best on assignments, projects, and tests.

I have already seen the way that children of all backgrounds and ability levels can blossom when a caring adult offers academic and emotional support and shows interest in their lives. As I become a more experienced educator, I hope to better reach out to all students and help them find their passions.