Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Me Too, I’m a Painter! 
Statement of Teaching Philosophy

At a K12 school like mine, if I were to ask my sophomores “How many of you are painters?” there might be a few hands raised in a class. However, if I travelled down to the Early Childhood Center and asked the same question, I imagine a swarm of hands would fly into the air proudly and enthusiastically. What happens between Kindergarten and 10th grade? Where do all the painters go? When did they begin to divide up the world as one made up of amateurs and experts, of inferior performers versus superior ones? How do we cleanse the doors of their perception to inspire students to claim back their place as painters again? After all, “’s not a matter of making great painters; it’s a matter of making emancipated [students]: people capable of saying, ‘me too, I’m a painter,’ a statement that contains nothing in the way of pride, only the reasonable feeling of power that belongs to any reasonable being. ‘There is no pride in saying out loud: Me too, I’m a painter! Pride consists in saying softly to others: You neither, you aren’t a painter.’ ‘Me too, I’m a painter’ means: me too, I have a soul, I have feelings to communicate to my fellow-men” (Rancière 67). In other words, all students have a soul and an intellect; therefore, they all have something to say, and this is why I teach: I want to reawaken the painter in each and every student who enters my class.

I believe every student has the capacity to learn anything, but students need to be reminded of the power of their intellect to emancipate their curiosity and to inspire them to take ownership of their learning. By emancipation I mean the idea “that every common person might conceive his human dignity, take the measure of his intellectual capacity, and decide how to use it” (Rancière 17). There are not two kinds of minds, namely ones that are good at school and ones that are not; instead, there are those whose intelligence has been revealed to them and those whose circumstances have not made such demands. As a teacher, I try to design a safe, challenging environment that demands this of every student, namely to take responsibility for his or her intelligence. Education, after all, is “the name for transmitting the social competency that produces responsibility... [which] leads to maturity” (Stiegler 2). Students, therefore, cannot be passive passengers in their journey towards discovery; they have to take control of their capacity to learn, which is the key to meaningful student-centered learning. To empower students to do so, the educational process needs to be authentic and relevant. Students must have choice and autonomy to motivate their will towards self-directed inquiry; only then do we nurture their nascent power of intellect and direct them towards the path to maturity.

I believe the learning process needs to be interconnected across departments to be meaningful for each student. Too often the learner navigates her schooling like a nomad, traveling from one departmental territory to another, without making the deeper connections, and the teacher’s sense of responsibility in such a scenario functions in a distributed fashion, meaning an English teacher claims responsibility for the learner’s knowledge of Shakespeare but remains unconcerned about her competency in calculus. I suggest envisioning school culture in terms of a community garden, a more rhizomatic social space which promotes unpredictable connections and spontaneity as well as a deterritorialized sense of ownership. No one owns the specific tomato, but everyone is responsible for the garden itself, thereby making it a shared responsibility. We as teachers along with the student share the responsibility of cultivating universally valued skills that all learners need to master. It's not about Shakespeare versus polynomials; it is about putting skills at the forefront to ask together are students thinking critically? Are they exploring creative solutions? Are they collaborating productively? By ceding some control of my departmental territory to model the kind of collaboration and creativity I want to instill in them, students are more empowered to map their journey of discovery in partnership with teachers who work together.

I believe the quality of curricular content is essential as well. Skills may equip learners to be socially competent in the future, but the subject matter we provide as terrain for such preparation connects young people to their deeply-rooted, ancestral past. Both Shakespeare and the eternal truths of mathematics provide students with a more profound sense of who they are historically and culturally as well as where they’re going as the future unfolds before them. I do think it’s vital, however, to demand students to exercise agency in the matter, to invite them to construct their understanding of the content, even if it’s “messier” than what the teacher may envision as the “more correct” way to chart it. Our job is to join them, support them, and encourage them on the journey. “We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do.’ Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me,’ and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce” (Deleuze 23). I love learning with my students by trying new approaches in a transparent fashion in partnership with everyone in the classroom. I constantly modify my pedagogy to encourage more student choice and autonomy both in and outside the classroom by implementing gamified strategies for curricular engagement or by using tech platforms to give students a more direct voice in shaping and evaluating class discussions. Together we practice skills of collaboration and divergent thinking by partnering with other teachers, departments, campuses, and classrooms to read, write, and think for each other. There is an authentic audience for all students in my class, such that they are not writing or thinking for the teacher. They’re doing it for each other and for themselves, making the inquiry more real and purposeful. The fact that we adopt such practices to investigate canonical works of literature makes the collaborative pursuit all the more meaningful and worthwhile.

All students are intelligent, and all students can learn anything. The educator’s calling is to awaken what we know to be unmistakably in them. I think of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, when Mr. Gradgrind towered before the rows of desks filled with silent, anxious children and proudly proclaimed, "Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them" (9). My hope is to stir students to counter such instruction with the following declaration: "Make rhizomes... never plant! Don't sow, grow offshoots! Don't be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Don't have just ideas, just have an idea" (Deleuze and Guattari 24-25). I have no desire to plant or root out ideas in students to make them in my likeness: I just want students to have an idea that is uniquely theirs, to celebrate the wonderful multiplicities of the world, and to reclaim with confidence their place as painters again. My reward as teacher is bearing witness to this joyful awakening.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 2004. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. Print.

Stiegler, Bernard. Taking Care of Youth and the Generations. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. Print. 

1 comment:

  1. If teachers could articulate their teaching philosophies as eloquently as you do, most would be better teachers. Many lose sight of the goal during a typical day in which they are being asked to do too much. Awakening minds is a full time job.