Alhamdulillah, my teaching experience began when I was still a student in secondary school. The recess and breaks were the occasions for me to involve myself in the teaching process. This continued at home whereby I used to get phone calls from my friends to explain about a particular topic from subjects like mathematics, physics and chemistry. After graduating from college, I worked for six months as teacher in a private secondary school in my locality before engaging myself into tertiary studies. Hence, I could say that working as a teacher after my graduation from university is something I would consider as normal.
Actually, I am in my fifth year as an educator and Alhamdulillah, I had the experience of working in three different schools with students, both boys and girls, from different socio-cultural backgrounds. In the following chapters, I would like to share my teaching philosophy. But first, the importance of developing one’s teaching philosophy will be discussed.
Chapter Two – Importance of a Teaching Philosophy
A teaching philosophy statement is “a systematic and critical rationale that focuses on the important components defining effective teaching and learning in a particular discipline and/or institutional context” (Schonwetter et all, 2002, p.84). According to Campos (2010, p.2), it states “our learning experiences, goals, beliefs, level of professionalism and self-development among many other elements”. As for Natasha Kenny (2008, p.8), an educational developer at the University of Guelph, a teaching philosophy statement “clearly and logically communicates what your fundamental values and beliefs are about teaching and learning, why you hold these values and beliefs, and how you translate these values and beliefs into your everyday teaching and learning experiences.”
Regarding the importance of developing a teaching philosophy, Coppola (2002, p.450) states that “the teaching statement gives you a starting point for examining your teaching practices, allows you to share your ideas with others, and allows you to monitor the progress of your own development as a teacher”.
Brookfield (1990) identified four different purposes in developing a teaching philosophy. These purposes are:
Personal purpose; it is good that your teaching philosophy reflects why you are doing what you are doing.
Political purpose; your teaching philosophy needs to show that your position is grounded in a well-developed and carefully philosophy of practice. This helps you to gain respect, which is important to grow yourself in the political area.
Professional purpose; your teaching philosophy needs to show your professional goals to develop an identity that will help you to improve the development of professional strengths among other teachers.
Pedagogical purpose; teaching is about growing and finding new ways to develop your lessons according to the learners’ needs, so your teaching philosophy should show what effect you are having on students and on their learning?
Chapter Three – My Teaching Philosophy
3.1 Teaching in General
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift rather than a hard duty” – Albert Einstein
Alhamdulillah, since I began teaching, I had the occasion to teach different subjects, besides Mathematics, like English Literature, Computer Studies and Integrated Science to students with a broad range of needs, knowledge, and cultural backgrounds. Apart from working as educator in colleges, I also try to help my friends and others outside school. Moreover, I used to give a special course on “Tajweed” to my brothers of the Islamic faith in the mosque. I once had the opportunity to teach a friend who was undertaking his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and he was older than me. Several important general principles that I try to use in my teaching practice can be formulated as follows:
No matter how experienced a teacher is, every new class and every new student pose a challenge. For excellence in teaching, there is always room for improvement.
A teacher has to appeal to different learning styles, to offer a variety of instructional experiences, and to keep an open mind to new teaching techniques to give every student the opportunity to participate fully and actively in the learning process.
Being a successful teacher depends on creating a learning environment with the open exploration of ideas, a relationship in which students feel respected as well as challenged. Students should be encouraged to stretch themselves a bit beyond their level of comfort and be given an opportunity to leave every class feeling that they have overcome a new challenge successfully.
Teaching should be an integral component of the creation of new knowledge, an initial step toward continuing education, and first of all, self-education.
Though student satisfaction is important for better learning, teaching – especially in mathematics – should not become a popularity contest, or a show. A teacher is responsible to the society in general, and should resist the pressure of lowering academic standards in education.
3.2 Teaching of Mathematics
“We could use up two Eternities in learning all that is to be learned about our own world and the thousands of nations that have arisen and flourished and vanished from it. Mathematics alone would occupy me eight million years” – Mark Twain
“Mathematics is like draughts [checkers] in being suitable for the young, not too difficult, amusing, and without peril to the state” – Plato
Being a mathematics teacher as well as a lover of the subject, there are some features of mathematics that makes it a very special discipline. To name a few:
Mathematics is an excellent intellectual game where all the players win.
Mathematics is also a model that can be used for developing independent and critical thinking.
Mathematics can be seen as a language that allows us to communicate ideas precisely between ourselves.
Lastly, mathematics is a tool used in natural sciences and, thus, a required discipline for many students.
The above statements alone motivate me to share my mathematical knowledge, among others, to my students. However, my goals for teaching mathematics are many. Firstly, communicate to my students that mathematics is a fun and improve their confidence about mathematics as well as reducing their anxiety about mathematics. Other goals are:
Detect and fill gaps in students’ prior math knowledge
Develop a mathematical sense about quantities, geometry, and symbols
Develop a variety of problem-solving strategies and basic computational skills
Enable and empower students
Enable students to make judgments based on quantitative information, to prove basic results, to read mathematics effectively and to understand their own thought processes
Encourage a broader interest in mathematics
Ensure that students really understand concepts
Establish constructive student attitudes about mathematics
Facilitate acquisition of life-long learning skills
Foster a desire to ask mathematics questions, critical thinking, student discovery of mathematics and foster understanding of the proofs of key theorems
Teach the beauty of mathematics
Help students learn the key theorems and their applications
Improve students’ understanding of technology
Improve students’ writing abilities
Increase the number of mathematics majors as well as the students’ mathematical knowledge
Model expert problem-solving
Motivate students to make an effort to learn mathematics
Open the doors to other opportunities for students
Prepare future mathematicians, students for technical careers and students to be knowledgeable adults
Teach applications to other fields; especially for abstract subjects like vectors whereby students often ask the question: “where will vectors used us in our life?”
Teach calculator and computer skills, fundamental concepts, generalizing, logical reasoning, mathematical writing, predicting, problem-solving and proof-reading of mathematics
Teach students how to translate back and forth between words and mathematics
Teach students to work collaboratively
It is, unfortunately, very difficult to try to show the real beauty of mathematics in the framework of most existing curricula as they are designed to feed students with often more facts than anyone could swallow. Just covering the required material usually takes a bit more time than is available. Another problem is that mathematics as a language can be quite technical, and to formulate something meaningful, one has to spend years learning rules of the mathematical grammar first.
I consider mathematics to be a challenging subject to teach, which makes it especially attractive for me. I try to use every possibility to expose students to the exciting world of mathematics, often implicitly, so they may not even notice it at first. I think that students’ participation is crucial for learning mathematics.
3.3 Teaching Styles and Methods
My mathematics classroom features multiple of methods of instruction that depends on:
the subject matter of the lesson, that is, the topic to be taught and
my experience with how individual students and classes best learn mathematics.
On some occasions, the student-centred approach or whole-class discussions are undertaken while on other occasions, small-group investigations are carried out and still others see individuals working one-on-one with another student or with me. This classroom interaction helps build relationships between my students and I and simultaneously, among the students themselves. These various classroom practices help address the varied learning styles found in the mathematics classroom.
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Furthermore, I prepare my classes meticulously, but I like to improvise whenever possible. I dislike being interrupted during my explanation but I love it when the students ask questions afterwards; and I congratulate them for any good questions and comments. I open each session with a brief reminder of the previous session’s material and an outline of the day’s topic, and I typically conclude with a summary of key points. There is a special session for review before every major test. I usually speak clearly, loudly, and slowly, but enthusiastically. Students are encouraged to learn from each other as their grades are not curved, thus, students are not competing with their classmates. In some classes, especially my Integrated Science classes, I give group projects and homework, depending on the topic being covered. When possible, I distribute solutions to homework problems, quizzes, and tests. To reduce students’ anxiety about tests, I normally give my students revision exercises before any major test and I encourage them to work extra problems on their own and come to see me for any problems. I do not consider memorization to be the most important in mathematics classes; this is why I make and encourage my students a lot to practice maximum number of problems. If the curriculum would have allowed it, I would make all my tests open-book/notes. Assignments and projects are naturally integrated into my courses. I spend time explaining the assignments and solving similar problems in class for further discussion.
3.4 Use of Technology
I remember that once I was in a meeting with my above seventy year old rector and he told me: “In my time, when we had to do a mathematical calculation, we used the logarithm table” and he asked me whether I knew how to use the logarithm table! Alhamdulillah, today we have the electronic calculator. This little piece of technology is the only electronic device that our students can use in their studies as the different curricula do not cater for the use of other electronic devices in the examination room. I would have loved to see a change in these curricula which would enable more the use of technology in the learning of mathematics. Personally, I am a great fan of the newest educational software that may be used in the teaching and learning process. At present, to use mathematical software at college would appear unrealistic but I hope to find a change soon in the curricula which will make it real. However, students first need to understand that technology is a tool, much like a compass or a protractor, and that technology must be used only as a tool. Central to my use of technology in the classroom is the idea that students must understand what they are doing mathematically even when they use technology as an aid.
As mentioned earlier, the most ubiquitous piece of technology in and out of the classroom is the electronic calculator. While the calculator can be a useful tool to lessen the drudgery of calculations, it is important for students to be able to function without it. This does not mean that calculators should not be used, but rather that students should have some intuition about whether an answer is reasonable. The use of calculators and other technology can improve a student’s intuition of mathematics and mathematical reasoning. While most exercises in a statistics class have relatively small data sets, using premade data sets and computer programs allows students to gain real experience with professional tools and helps them visualize trends. The use of computer software with prepared examples is very useful for in-class visualizations in different courses, such as differential equations, calculus, and even pre-calculus. While doing the assignment for the module Instructional Technology for my Bed Course, I came across software called Yenka which provides simulations. I really appreciated the part on probability where while explaining the different outcomes when tossing two coins, there a simulation actually tossing the two coins. I hope, insha Allah, to use it when I explaining this topic t my students in the near future.
With the advent of tablet PCs, I am hopeful, insha Allah, that it is only a matter of time before the use of mathematical software and online examination at secondary level will be implemented. But, at the same time, I strongly oppose the abuse of technology. There are courses in mathematics, where students need to learn how to use their brain rather than calculators/computers. In my short experience in teaching, I came across an HSc (Higher School Certificate) student doing the simple arithmetic problem using a calculator!!!
3.5 My Best Personal Achievement
“Facilitate things to people and do not make it hard for themâ€¦” – Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing of God Almighty be upon Him)
I sincerely believe that the best academic performance of a student is not to see the high-flyer student being ranked first at the end of the year but rather to see the low-achiever student able to answer almost all questions of the same exam paper correctly at the end of the year and have a very good result, regardless of his/her overall rank.
At my school, the concept of streaming is applied to separate the best students, often labeled as the “high-flyers”, and those less able students, often labeled as low-achiever students (some proponents of the Marxist view will disagree totally with this concept). Last year, I had the opportunity to work with the less able students of Form I and Form II, teaching Integrated Science. Alhamdulillah, I was motivated but I could that a lot of these students lack motivation. Furthermore, some of them came from poor socio-background and some came from broken families. There was even a child who repeated Form I! So, at first it seems very difficult to expect that half of them would understand the different topics even more so that they would pass their final year exam. After all, we are talking about Science which supposedly is a subject for the intelligent students.
I figured out that I should use a different approach with them. Finally, I opted for the “Learning by Fun” concept. It required much more energy from me but Alhamdulillah, I do not regret for one second all the energy used that year when working with these students as the reason is obvious; almost all pupils not only passed the final year examination but they actually obtained very good results Masha Allah. The icing on the cake was when the head of the science department informed me that the rector was very pleased with the result.
3.6 Concluding Notes
I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating atmosphere in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. It is my desire as an educator to help students meet their fullest potential in these areas by providing an environment that is safe, supports risk-taking, and invites a sharing of ideas. There are three essential elements that I believe are conducive to establishing such an environment,
the teacher acting as a guide,
allowing the child’s natural curiosity to direct his/her learning, and
promoting respect for all things and all people.
When the teacher’s role is to guide, providing access to information rather than acting as the primary source of information, the students’ search for knowledge is met as they learn to find answers to their questions. For students to construct knowledge, they need the opportunity to discover for themselves and practice skills in authentic situations. Providing students access to hands-on activities and allowing adequate time and space to use materials that reinforce the lesson being studied creates an opportunity for individual discovery and construction of knowledge to occur.
Equally important to self-discovery is having the opportunity to study things that are meaningful and relevant to one’s life and interests. Developing a curriculum around student interests fosters intrinsic motivation and stimulates the passion to learn.
Helping students to develop a deep love and respect for themselves, others, and their environment occurs through an open sharing of ideas and a judicious approach to discipline. When the voice of each student is heard, and environment evolves where students feel free to express themselves. Class meetings are one way to encourage such dialogue. I believe children have greater respect for their teachers, their peers, and the lessons presented when they feel safe and sure of what is expected of them. In setting fair and consistent rules initially and stating the importance of every activity, students are shown respect for their presence and time. In turn they learn to respect themselves, others, and their environment.
For me, teaching provides an opportunity for continual learning and growth. One of my hopes as an educator is to instill a love of learning in my students, as I share my own passion for learning with them. I feel there is a need for compassionate, strong, and dedicated individuals who are excited about working with children. In our competitive society it is important for students to not only receive a solid education, but to work with someone who is aware of and sensitive to their individual needs. Alhamdulillah, I am such a person and will always strive to be the best educator that I can be.
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