Why do I believe what I believe about education?
Catholic Mass is long. At least for a kid, it felt as though that sixty minutes dragged on forever. And while it provided a lot of time to daydream, it also provided a lot of time to think. And with learning by osmosis, the ethic of serving others sank in over years of exposure to priests’ sermons. By the time I was a teenager, I knew I wanted a career dedicated to helping others.
After college I signed up for Americorps, which is kind of like the domestic Peace Corps. I spend my one year of service working for the I Have A Dream Foundation of Boulder County in Colorado. I spent a year helping to run an after-school tutoring center in a low-income housing development, and that experience affirmed my hunch that education really was the key to empowering people.
Once in the classroom, I quickly realized that traditional social studies lesson plans were not for me. I watched my master teacher lecture for thirty minutes or more, and I knew there had to be a more engaging way to teach. I embraced project-based learning (depth over breadth) and found my groove as a teacher.
In my post-college years, I also had an epiphany about reading. I realized that I enjoyed reading because I now got to choose what I wanted to read (unlike in college).
I started applying this principle of choice in my classes, and learned that it had an exponential effect on student motivation. I now provide my students with choices at every possible opportunity, and I’ve discovered that students take real ownership of their work with every choice they get to make about it.
The final piece of my teaching philosophy that slowly developed over the years is the emphasis on the real world. I witnessed in my early years that unless students saw personal relevance in the classroom work, they would never be fully engaged with the curriculum. I began to connect projects to things in the real world that my students actually valued, and once again I saw motivation and achievement increase. Once they cared about the subject matter, then they actually cared about doing a good job.