I have minimal classroom teaching experience: three days of substitute teaching, a little bit of helping out during observations, seven weeks of leading a college math section nearly ten years ago. What I do have is a lot of second-hand knowledge from reading from blogs and books this past year or so, watching my boyfriend Paul doing the work that teachers bring home, and taking classes. All this second-hand knowledge has allowed me to form a fairly consistent framework of idea about teaching and how I want to do it. However, these ideas are untested. As much as I believe them, I need to remember that until I’m actually trying to put them into practice I really can’t know if the ideas I have are any good. What I have now are theories, potentially useful approximations of reality, and I need direct experience to see how closely they match with reality. Humility in acknowledging how little I know is called for, as is a willingness to adapt to new experience.
On the other hand, a few of the ideas in my network of beliefs about good teaching didn’t come from the bodies of knowledge about teaching I have been trying to absorb and integrate. These ideas came more broadly from all of my life’s experience and a larger moral framework. These ideas are better termed values, and while they may someday change, I am much more inclined to hold to them. When I think about significantly altering my values, it feels like a betrayal. These values are my foundation as a teacher.
If I have power over someone else, I have a deep responsibility to make sure that I use that power for the good of the other person, especially if that power was given to me by a third party. We, as a nation, compel children and teenagers to attend school through laws and threats of future financial ruin. Because of this, most of my students will not have a real choice in whether to attend my classes. Hence, I have a deep responsibility to assure that my classes, which are the part of school I have control over, are truly benefiting my students.
People, including students, are individuals. Treating them according to classifications, when you have the option to know them as individuals, is wrong. Additionally, acknowledging that students are whole people in addition to be students is important.
Mathematics is valuable, both practically and aesthetically, and accessible to everyone. I have an obligation to bring real mathematics, not just calculations and algorithms, into my classroom to give students a chance to see it first hand.
People can disagree with me and still be good people, worthy of being treated with respect. I really fell down on this one in my classroom observations last semester. I felt like my values were under attack, and without thinking I acted disrespectfully. I regret that, and will endeavor to do better in the future.
I want always to seek personal improvement, to move towards ideals I know I’ll never reach, but to know that the movement is the important part.
In some way, all except the last of these of values are specific examples of the golden rule, but I call them out separately because they are more clear that way. This is not a comprehensive list, but these values are core to me. If I can be faithful to these values, I will be satisfied.