This is the second in a multi-part series (or maybe it will become a regular thread) about our teaching philosophy.
Why do you need a teaching philosophy?
Does the idea of a “teaching philosophy” feel a little pretentious or vague? (It does to me, actually.) Another way to think of our philosophy is that it is our beliefs about teaching and learning languages.
No matter whether you call it a philosophy or a collection of beliefs, what you think about teaching and learning languages informs your decisions about what to do in the classroom.
If you believe that students need to have fun and relax in order to improve their spoken English, then you will probably choose to play a lot of games and other fun activities.
If you believe that students can’t learn a language in one or two hours of class time each week, you might try to assign homework.
Two good reasons to be aware of your teaching philosophy:
- To provide guidance for making decisions in the classroom
Our teaching philosophy provides a touchstone for the many decisions that we as teachers have to make in each lesson. It is something to refer to during the entire cycle of lesson planning, teaching, looking back on the lesson, analyzing what went well and what didn’t go so well, and then deciding what to do next.
Although, for much of my career, I wasn’t always all that aware of what my teaching beliefs were, I did have reasons for planning my lessons the way that I did.
When I had students who were not all that motivated I usually switched activities more often so I could keep the students’ interest and attention.
In classes with more motivated students, we could spend more time on one activity and also use activities that relied on the students having done their homework (e.g. sharing vocabulary words that they had chosen to learn).
- To back up your decisions when someone questions what you’re doing in the classroom
Another reason why we need a teaching philosophy is so we can refer to it when our decisions are challenged.
If your principal or director of studies observed your teaching and criticized your lesson, what would you do? Would you be able to back up your choices with well-thought out reasons for making them? How about if a colleague asked you why you don’t use the textbook the way other teachers in your school use it? Would you be able to give a clear explanation for your methods?
Being able to explain your choices shows that you are a thoughtful and professional teacher.
I think we need to hold our beliefs more loosely when we reflect on a lesson then when we’re planning a lesson. Every lesson is another experience and gives us more evidence to analyze. Holding on too tightly to our teaching beliefs can blind us to evidence that might disprove one or more of them.
Because of this, perhaps using the word “beliefs” is a good idea as it feels more flexible and less set in stone. Revising or replacing a teaching belief doesn’t mean that you have to dismantle your entire teaching philosophy. You can simply revise your belief about how many games to play in class or how much homework to assign.
I would think that every teacher who has more than a few years of experience does things differently than they did when they first started teaching.
Here are some basic questions to think about to get started on clarifying your teaching philosophy / beliefs.
What is the role or responsibility of the teacher? What can or should I do for my students that they can’t do?
What is the students’ role or responsibility? What can or should they do that I can’t do for them?
What have we come together to study? What is the most effective way for the students to study / learn it? What aspect of the material should we focus on?