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March 28, 2022

What is your teaching philosophy? – Ruth Graham

What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated, and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact upon the teacher you aspire to be?

I hope to become a teacher who embodies the apparently oxymoronic qualities of planning and passion and, to create an alliterative trio, is also pupil-centred.

As a child I attended international school in Italy until I was nine, and then returned to primary school in England. On my arrival, I was unsure about the new syllabus, which included a language new to me, French. I worried the two terms of French I had missed had included vital information. This insecurity remained throughout my educational career and despite being a strong linguist, I abandoned French as soon as possible.

A planned and pupil-centred approach would have changed this. If my primary teacher had assessed my prior knowledge, as stipulated in TS 2, and explained what I had missed and how to rectify it, I could have built on a secure knowledge base.

As a teacher, I plan to value a child as an individual: understanding personal, family and educational circumstances; using diagnostic assessment to assess prior knowledge; and assuring them that together we will fill in gaps. This is particularly relevant in international schools with mobile populations. Just how strongly prior knowledge impacts a child’s learning was illustrated by researchers Recht and Leslie, who stated, ‘Prior knowledge creates a scaffolding for information in memory,’ (1988, p.19) and showed relevant prior knowledge was more strongly linked to mental retention of a text than reading ability.

The initial assessment stage of planning is just the beginning. Planning involves continual assessment, formative and summative; response to students’ needs; and delivery of structured, differentiated lessons meeting required learning outcomes.

The best planned lessons, however, will not make a lasting impact if they are not delivered with passion, with the belief the subject is valuable and exciting. Passion transforms knowledge into something which not only informs but inspires. In fact, according to Robert L Fried, ‘When I ask myself what makes the greatest difference in the quality of student learning - it is a teacher’s passion that leaps out,’ (2001, p.16).

Again, passion alone is unproductive. An English teacher at my comprehensive school, who declared shortly before my A Levels, ‘Life isn’t all about exams,’ abandoning set texts to explore personal favourites, plunged the class and fellow teachers into despair. However, combined, these two qualities can lead to an enjoyment and understanding of a subject which inspires lifelong learning, and fosters skills and knowledge supporting cross-curricular achievement.

My O Level English teacher exemplified this marriage of planning and passion, demonstrating outstanding understanding of TS 3 and 4. His knowledge of his subject was exceptional. I wanted to study journalism so he focused on my poor spelling. I remember the security I felt when, on the first lesson, he outlined the syllabus, what we would cover in each lesson and exactly how we would achieve this. I also remember out-of-hours film clubs with animated lectures on favourite directors; trips to the National Theatre; passionate discussions in class; and introductions to authors who have become lifelong sources of comfort, joy and inspiration.

The outpouring of emotion from past students on his death last year demonstrates the lifelong impact of a teacher who focuses on pupils’ individual needs with both passion and planning.

References list

Leslie, L. and Recht, D. (1988). Effect of Prior Knowledge on Good and Poor Readers' Memory of Text. Journal of Educational Psychology. 80 (1), pp. 16-20.

Fried, R. L. (2001). The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide. 2nd ed, Boston: Beacon Press.

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