Why, What and How You Teach
Why do I teach? I teach to learn. I became a teacher because I am a life-long student. My goal, for the rest of my life, is to be a part of a community of learners. I have a picture of this learning community in my mind. This community is made up of individuals interested in academic pursuits. This is a community in which teachers are students and students are teachers. In this community everyone is called “learners.” It is a community where younger learners are supported by mentorship and advisement of older learners. It is a community where learners of all levels are expected to learn from each other. It is a community where academic inquiry and practical skills are synthesized.
That is my learning utopia. But we do not live in a utopia, which brings me to the other reason I teach, a reason so large that it looms over all my other reasons. I am teaching to politicize and empower learners. This reason assumes an imbalance of power in our world that we must fight together to even. We must bond together as a community of learners to put it right. I am teaching for peace. I am teaching for justice.
As a young child I was aware of myself as an advanced student. I knew my success in school was due to my knowledge of reading and words. I knew reading was my power.
Over time, my relationship and feelings towards reading and words evolved, and by the time I was a young adult I realized that books, writing, and talking about books and writing were my passion. Words became important to me as agents of change.
I teach Reading, Writing, and Speaking. My interest in teaching Reading, Writing, and Speaking (RWS) comes from the role this content and these skills had in my own experience of learning. RWS comprise the throughline of my life as a learner. Other people call what I teach English or Language Arts, but I like to call it RWS because it grounds learners and me in a practice that is definable and observable. I prefer RWS to English, because I don’t think what I teach is limited to English by any definition. I prefer RWS to Language Arts, because very few people can grasp the concept of Language Arts.
I teach RWS because it teaches us how to communicate with other learners. Communication is the key to constructing new knowledge. Knowledge is not created in a vacuum. If there was only one human living on Earth, I would argue that it would be impossible for her to be as knowledgeable as a community of humans living on Earth. Knowledge is socially constructed, which is why we need to be able to communicate. Communication occurs through RWS. Without RWS, we have no way of communicating. If we can communicate by learning RWS, then we can construct new knowledge across content areas.
I teach RWS because it teaches us how to manipulate language. The manipulation of language through writing and speaking is how we gain access to power. Again, if we learn to manipulate language by studying RWS, we may manipulate language to gain access to power across content areas and disciplines.
The way I envision the study of RWS includes challenging students to answer the following essential questions. These might be considered my answer to E.D. Hirsh’s “Critical Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.”
Who Am I?
What is this world?
What is justice?
How do we work for peace?
What am I to do, given my knowledge of my world and myself?
How does RWS help me answer these questions?
How does RWS help me understand different voices and different perspectives?
Beyond these questions, there is a specific skill base I hope to teach students. Through RWS I hope to teach my students the ability to read any text, to write any type of document, and to speak with authority about any subject. Within the discipline of Reading, there is specific content and skills that I hope my students will come away with. I hope to teach students to be able to make meaning from texts, both narrative and expository. I hope my students will be familiar with the Western canon of literature. I hope my students will be critical of this canon and its dominance, and respond by seeking out different voices to read.
I will teach Reading by exposing my students to a variety of narrative and expository texts. As a part of this process I will ask my student to reflect on their knowledge and where it comes from. I will teach my students that their knowledge is key to their understanding of texts they read. Then I will teach students the context and history of the texts they read.
Within the discipline of Writing, there are also specific skills I hope to teach. I hope to teach my students to convey their ideas in writing. I hope to teach them to write academically. I hope to teach them how to construct an argument in writing. I hope to teach my students how to be creative with writing.
I will teach Writing by requiring my students to practice the discipline of manually recording their thoughts, at first casually and autobiographically. I will teach them how to construct a proper sentence, paragraph, and essay. I will teach them how to understand words better, and skills with which to teach themselves new words. I will teach them how to manipulate words and the structure of their writing to elicit emotion from their readers and to convince readers of their arguments.
Within the discipline of Speaking, I hope that I will teach my students to communicate with others in conversation. I hope that they will learn how to listen. I hope that they will learn how to talk to people who are different than them.
I will teach Speaking by ensuring that every student’s voice is valued and heard in my classroom. I will teach students speaking by teaching them the value of learning from each other, and thus how to speak and converse constructively. I will teach students that it is every human’s right to have a voice.
How will I teach? I will teach with care that extends beyond subject matter. This starts by approaching each of my students as an individual. By looking at each student in terms of their individual strengths, needs, likes, and dislikes, I hope not only to ensure their success in my class, but in their lives. I hope that I will be able to help them find and excel at something they love regardless of whether or not it falls in my content area, or in an academic discipline at all. I hope give my students the opportunity to be analytical, critical, and solve problems. I hope to teach my students to take responsibility, because we are citizens of the world. I hope to lead them to be connected, active, and contributing members of their community.