As a student, I had a great deal of respect for those teachers who weren’t afraid to be themselves in front of their students. They taught with integrity, passion, clarity, and commitment. There was never a guessing game about who these teachers were or what they stood for. As a teacher, I aspire to be the very teacher I respected as a student, and I hold a deep respect for my colleagues who live by the aforementioned principles.
A few weeks before the school year begins, I give careful thought to the reasons I became a teacher in the first place. Completing the following exercises compels me to think about how my beliefs and values tie into my teaching practice.
Start with Your Core Beliefs
Writing my Core Beliefs down before my students enter my classroom, gives me the opportunity to think carefully about who I am and what I stand for. These are not to be confused with wishes. These beliefs are at the very essence of who I am as a person. Because I have an important role in my students’ lives, I want a clearly written Core Belief system that is interconnected to--beliefs that I will teach by.
Core Beliefs address two key questions every educator should ask him/herself:
- Is this me?
- Is this important?
Here’s my current list:
- Work hard. Play hard.
- Learn something.
- Be helpful.
- Trust the process.
- Treat everyone equally.
- We will learn more from each other than ourselves alone.
- Even failures have lessons.
Once I have my Core Beliefs in place, I need to test them out. This requires a closer look at how each Belief is connected to my practice. I ask myself:
- How does this look?
- How would I show/explain this belief to my students?
- Work hard. Play hard. In my classroom, this looks like bell-to-bell instruction from the first day of the school year to the last. I tell my students: We will work hard together. We can play hard outside of school. I have high expectations for you because I believe hard work equals success. This doesn’t mean we won’t have fun. We will.
Then I share this story:
My grandfather was a radio operator on a B-24 Liberator in World War II and was Missing In Action, twice. When he made it home safely to my grandmother, he vowed to work hard for as long as he could. This way they could do the things they loved together. He farmed cotton and alfalfa for 50 years. His leathery hands proved that he worked hard from sunrise to sunset. Because of his hard work, he was able to provide my grandmother with a new car every 3 years; trips to Mexico, Hawaii, and Europe; and when he was gone, my grandmother had enough money to support herself and continue spoiling my sister and I.
Because my grandfather showed me that hard work provides opportunities for you to play hard, too;I’ve lived by this motto my entire life. During my time with you, I vow to be the best teacher I can be. I will work hard with you. I will do everything that I ask you to do. On the weekends and during vacations, I play hard, too. I work hard so that I can live a life doing the things I love: road cycling, hiking, camping, off-roading, traveling and doing nice things with/for my friends and family.
When I can connect each Core Belief to who I am and what I believe, I’m able to answer those two key questions from earlier:
- Is this me?
- Is this important?
Know Your Values: What’s Most Important?
Once I have my Core Beliefs in place, I need to establish some content-specific values that I hold. Because my students and I will be working on developing and improving our skills as readers and writers throughout the school year, I also want to create lists of those things that I value as a reader and a writer. By keeping track of these values, I’ll be able to connect my practice back to them.
The Things I Value as a Reader:
- I have free choice over the texts I read.
- To relax, I love that I can escape into the worlds described in books.
- I revel reading a variety of genres and forms.
- I enjoy sharing what I read with others.
- I also enjoy hearing about the books others are reading.
The Things I Value as a Writer:
- I have free choice over the genres/forms I write.
- Writing for a variety of audiences and purposes has given me the opportunity to improve my skills as a writer (and as a writing instructor).
- I believe that following The Writing Process is key to becoming a successful writer.
- I love helping others improve their writing.
- I am resourceful: I seek writing ideas, styles, word choice, and formats in other writers.
Let’s take a closer look at two of these Values in more detail. As a Reader, I Value:
- Having free choice over the books I read.
In my practice this looks like giving my students guided choice over the books they read. Offering students guided choice in the texts they read, gives them a sense of ownership, and promotes: engagement, motivation, and success. For more on this, see: Selecting Books Using "Guided" Choice .
As a Writer, I Value:
- Having free choice over the genres/forms I write.
In my practice this looks like exposing my students to traditional and contemporary forms of writing (narratives, odes, six-word memoirs, This I Believe essays, etc.). In doing so, I’m giving my students opportunities to learn about genres/forms they may have little or no experience in. I’m also giving students who may not otherwise enjoy writing the opportunity to find something engaging.
Students deserve to know the “real” teacher who stands before them. By no means am I saying that certain “boundaries” should be broken. Instead, I’m saying:
- When was the last time you thought about the reasons why you became a teacher?
- What are your Core Beliefs?
- What do you Value as a teacher of ________?
- Do your students know what you believe, what you stand for, and what you value?
When our students know who we are, what we stand for, and what we value, we have a greater chance at building a strong rapport with them throughout the year. And, our teaching is deeply connected to these beliefs and values. We also send the message:
As your teacher, I have an important responsibility to be the best teacher I can be. I’m confident in who I am, in what I believe, and in what I do. I’m ready to share my integrity, passion, clarity and commitment with you. I am a professional who takes her students and her job seriously.I am someone who stands for social justice.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.