Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Philosophy of Teaching

My Philosophy of Teaching

Nicole ‘Chinook’ McLean
University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

I believe the differentiated learning that is so imperative for success in, and for, the world today begins “with a sensitive, empathetic teacher who values the worth of every learner” (Sousa & Tomlinson, 2011, p. 12). Professor Cherkowski’s Reflective Best Self (RBS) Exercise coupled with my Identity Pie helped me appreciate that:
I want to be “that special teacher” who “cares” enough to “make a difference” for my students by being “passionate” about helping them “feel good about themselves”. As an “enthusiastic, engaging and energetic role model” with “healthy confidence and a rare positive outlook on life”, I want to make “an impact”. “Fearless in an accessible, welcoming way” with a “natural ability to lead and inspire”, I value my “unique ability to relate to people from all walks of life” and “see the best in” everyone. (Various, Personal Communication - RBS, August 2016).[1]

I was brought up to believe that I could do anything. I was tremendously fortunate to have been born to parents who instilled this unshakeable belief. When my Dad, an educator himself and the son of a widowed, strict schoolmistress, heard that I was considering a career in education, he tried to dissuade me. I would find, what I whimsically refer to as, assigned reading laid out on “my” bed when visiting my parents’ home. These assignments would be full of evidence touting other interesting vocational opportunities Dad figured I ought to consider. Full disclosure: Dad-endorsed vocational prompts began in my early teens and, I hope, shall continue ad infinitum. My Dad still believes I can be an astronaut, a surgeon or a large-scale disaster manager. And my Mom would not be as surprised as you might expect if one day I turned around and told her I was off to Mercury to conduct experiments on alien-fauna: “Pack some sunscreen,” she might suggest.
I have been a barista, an aid worker, a raft guide, a field researcher, a taxi driver, an all-American rugby player, a volunteer fire fighter (still), and a commercial helicopter pilot, among other things. Dad somewhat mysteriously continues to feel compelled to convince me that I can achieve anything even as I persistently evolve, professionally and personally. He finally let up, and both my parents firmly have my back – as they inevitably do – after I resolutely explained that I knew I could become a surgeon or an astronaut one day but that becoming an educator was what I felt called to do right now.
I did not feel ready be a teacher in my early 20s when I invested all aspects of my soul into adventuring in far-away places: in tiny sweltering villages rife with malaria; at a refugee settlement for genocide survivors; with my Leatherman, beside a broken-down scooter and a troop of raucous baboons; on the roaring Nile in equatorial Africa; on stilts dressed as a 6-armed blue goddess cruising the high seas. Nor did I want to teach in my late 20s when I threw all my hopes, time and money-I-had-not-yet-made into my passion for flying. I saw beautiful scenery, appreciated physics in an entirely imperative way, grew awareness and skills that kept me and my clients safe while performing a pas-de-deux with the machine to achieve the ends for which it was made. Family friend and medical laboratory technician Dee McEnery iterated my reflective and timely motivation in her own words: “You haven’t rushed into (teaching). You seem to have somehow waited to do this – when you (were) ready rather than (hurrying) in years ago. That, to me, is huge and very important” (PC - RBS, August 2016).
In my mid-thirties, as I struggled to step away from the flying career into which I had poured 8 years of my essence, an astute advisor pointed me towards Parker Palmer’s “Let your Life Speak” (2000). What opportune and life-affirming counsel! Will I miss flying? Absolutely, but my soul was withering; exposed, as it was, to a level of materialism and misogyny, both spoken and subversive, in the Canadian helicopter industry that I had never otherwise experienced. [2]Palmer reminded me: “When (you) follow only the oughts, (you) may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but that is not (yours) to do. A vocation that is not (yours), no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates (your) identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm” (2007, p. 31). I no longer feel able to be a cog in a system that contravenes my values and my philosophy.
The revised BC curriculum (2015) says: “It is our job to prepare all children for success in whatever life path they choose” and this jibes well with who I am as a person and how I envision my life as an educator. I bring energy, attention and empathy to our profession of education. I value diversity, inclusion and equity, positivity, self-worth, community, innovation and individuality. Drawing inspiration from many sources, I plan to model these motivational principles for my students and our extended community. Should all “my literary peeps” come to dinner, I would have to organise a feast and rent some chairs so I could include everyone. In addition to the sources mentioned already, over the past 5 weeks, I have been literarily and personally mentored through the teachings and readings of Professors Schnellert, Wetterstrand, Switzer and Cherkowski, by my fellow Education Candidates, particularly the GLs, as well as by Cajete, Draper and Siebert, Dumont, Istance and Benavides, Kessler, Jensen, Nakkula and Toshalis, Neufeld, Noddings, Woolfolk, Winne and Perry, Wormeli, Stengel and Shelly Moore.
Some kids do not really need great teachers. Those kids will succeed in spite of, or perhaps because of, the stacked odds in life. Those kids will end up at Princeton no matter whom they had for 9th grade science. Those kids are rousing to watch as they blitz vivaciously through life. I think the real rewards, and likely some sleepless nights, come from working with the tough ones; the ones who enter grade 9 (or 11 or 5) without any inkling of a post-secondary education, let alone one dressed in ivy. While that kid may never “make it” to university and may never even want to, that kid can indeed “make it” in life. All kids have dreams of how they want to live, from their everyday existence to “when they grow up”, and you can bet an adept teacher is going to give that kid a better chance of realising and honing those aspirations than almost anyone else. Some kids are not so lucky to have parents like mine, so they may be in desperate need for a teacher role model to help them realise that they themselves hold the key to their own magnificence. 
I want my students to inherit from me, as their teacher, the lesson I received during my upbringing  - the belief that we are all capable of achieving, and deserving of, the kind of life about which we dream. We may not all end up as the astronauts or movie-stars our 8- or 11- or 15-year old selves dreamed of being, but as long as we have timely and insightful guidance as we develop our self-awareness on why we may want to be that astronaut or movie star, then we can more easily identify and incorporate the values and traits to ensure we are the superstars of our own lives.
In our society all kids have teachers, formal and otherwise. So if all kids need teachers, I had better be the most effective teacher those kids could ever have. Three years or three decades down the road I doubt my students will remember the results of a particular titration experiment we did together but I hope they remember how learning made them feel so they will become “self-regulated learners” (Butler, Schnellert, & Perry, 2016) and seek out a life full of wonder through the practice of “living inquiry” (Meyer, 2010). I want to have developed enough of a connection with each of my students such that even if they can not remember my name thirty years from now, they will remember how I made them feel about themselves: that they were worthy; they were remarkable; they were loved and they had something unique to offer our world.

[1] Content Note: Reflective Best Self Exercise:
Asked by Professor Cherkowski to solicit feedback from people in my life to help determine my Reflective Best Self, I wrote to friends and family:What do you think there is about me that will make me an effective educator? Some of you already know that I have returned to university for my Bachelor's of Education. Some of you may be floored. Some of you will be unconcerned, unsurprised or uninterested. Many will wonder if this means I am done with flying. I may return to helicopters in the summers. Maybe I will never work as a high school science teacher. Who knows what the future holds. Certainly not I! Right now though, is incredible. For the past 3+ weeks I have been immersed in an engaging and life-altering experience that should last through next June at least. I have received such extraordinarily positive feedback from my mentors, professors and colleagues: it feels like, for the first time in a desperately long time, I am involved in something that truly appreciates and celebrates my talents and is guiding me to better myself in all aspects. Can you tell me why you think I am going to be a fantastic teacher? Tell me a story. Describe a strength or characteristic of mine that speaks to teaching. How do you see me at my best?”
Reflective Best Self Respondents / Contributors:
·       Sandra Allen (Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Events VP; Former cruise ship supervisor)
·       Lana al-Kaznachi (International educator)
·       Liz Bernier (UCLA Outdoor Adventure bike shop manager; Princeton roommate)
·       Joseph Boyes (Retired mill worker; In-law in waiting)
·       Dr Kai Chan (UBC Professor: Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability; Father of two)
·       Brian Critchley (Yogi / Masseur; Fellow Princeton Pride (LGBTQA) educator)
·       Mary Darling (Retired CRA administrator; Aunt)
·       Blanca Gonzalez (Educator, BC; MEd; Fellow Right-to-Player)
·       Susan and Peter Hassall (International educators)
·       Maria Teresa Hervosa Gonzeira McLean (Accountant / Retail; Mother of two; Sister-in-law)
·       David Himmelman (International educator)
·       Ingrid Himmelman (International educator)
·       Lorraine Martens (Grandmother of 6; Former mother-in-law to former chief pilot)
·       Jeanette Merrick (Arborist)
·       Christin McDowall (Auditory Technician; Traveller)
·       Dee McEnery (Medical laboratory technician, UAE)
·       Katie McGinty-Botha (Special Olympics Virginia VP; mother of two; Fellow Right-to-Player)
·       Dr Amy McLean (Western Carolina University Professor: Clinical Psychology; Mother of three; Sister-in-law)
·       Neil Mueller (Fixed-wing bush pilot)
·       Gerry Nel (International helicopter pilot; Greenpeace activist)
·       Ultan Peters (Fellow rugby coach)
·       Selwyn Price (International educator)
·       Jiordana Robinson (International Woman of Mystery; elementary school classmate)
·       Samar Shera (Women’s empowerment advocate; writer; high school classmate)
·       Markus Schramm (Farmer; father of three; 100-hour helicopter pilot)
·       Cathy Stang (International educator)
·       Suzanne Turell (Innovative designer / architect; Rugby teammate)
·       Emily Wood (Lawyer; Mother of two; Rugby teammate)
·       Ross & Irene Walker (Business owners; In-laws in waiting)
·       Dr Jenny West (Retired RN / midwife; PhD; Aunt)

[2] Content note: This misogyny may seem surprising, given all my time in blatantly patriarchal countries, like the United Arab Emirates and Uganda, but it unfortunately proved true for me, albeit verboten for a female in the “old boys” rotary (wing) club

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