Knowledge is Power:
Inspiration Through Experience as a Student
As we go about our everyday lives, we are constantly learning from everything and everyone we encounter. Whether we realize it or not, our past experiences, mixed with our current understanding of the information and ideas distributed to us, has had major influence on what we know, how we think, and who we have become today. For example, teachers are believed to be one of the more primary influences on a child’s development, for they instruct and guide the child academically within a welcoming, safe, and overall respectful environment.
Furthermore, education has been shown to have a rather ambiguous meaning, for not everyone is able to see the importance and value of learning. However, my past experiences have led me to believe that knowledge is one of the most powerful tools one is capable of using in order to grow, succeed, and overall survive in this planet we call earth. From my mother to some of my teachers, education has been the main influence on the type of person I’ve become today.
I began attending school at an early age, about three or four years old. Because my younger sister was diagnosed with MR, my mother decided to place her in an early intervention school at age one. Though I was seen as normal, after being evaluated by a child psychologist, my mother wanted to make sure that I was well prepared with the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to complete pre-school and kindergarten. Furthermore, she thought it was rather unfair to place my sister in an unfamiliar environment, without having a familiar person to keep her company. My sister and I were hardly ever placed in the same classroom; however, I was always with her during lunch and her occupational therapy.
As time went by, my sister began to show little progress, while I was growing impatient towards reviewing the same topics. Because the teachers spoke more about my progress than my sister’s, my mother would get sad and frustrated. I remember her being so frustrated at times that she would yell comments, such as "why do you have to show off so much, can’t you see that you’re making your sister feel bad?" I never understood why my mother became angry at my progress, so I began to fear learning. Afterwards, I began kindergarten.
I was enrolled in the same Public Elementary School that my mother attended.
The name of the school was P.S.304, which is located on 280 Hart St in Brooklyn, exactly three blocks away from my grandmother’s house. Prior to my enrollment into kindergarten, my mother became ill with a fatal disease called Cystic Fibrosis. Because she lived with this diagnosis since birth, my mother died one week after being hospitalized in August of 1994. Consequently, my maternal grandmother gained sole custody of my sister and me. The first day of school is viewed as the most intensively exciting experience for all children, and despite the circumstances, I was lucky enough to say that it was a wonderful first day for me as well. My kindergarten teacher was a very kind and gentle woman named Ms. Greene. I remember feeling quite sad and overwhelmed on my first day, and Ms. Greene did everything possible to make me smile and feel
welcomed into her classroom. For example, she handed me my very first journal, so that I would be able to express how I was feeling by drawing pictures. Having kept silent long after my mother’s death, my family thought it was a miracle that Ms. Greene got me to talk within the first week of school.
As I continued elementary school, I was always lucky enough to find at least one teacher that truly cared for each and every one of his or her students. One of the best teachers that truly inspired me to even think about a career in Education was my fifth grade teacher Ms. Lopez. I must say that out of all the teachers in P.S.304, Ms. Lopez was viewed as one of the most involved, experienced, talented, and overall prestigious educator’s known to the community. Whether it was class discussions, tutoring, or field trips, Ms. Lopez always found a way to make sure that all her students understood the lessons being taught. Furthermore, she strongly believed in the effectiveness of field trips, for she believed that students gained more memorable information from field trips, as opposed to teaching a lesson solely in a classroom. Lastly, Ms.
Lopez always had high expectations towards each and every student, and she was the mainreason I felt so prepared and comfortable when I entered middle school.
When I entered Junior High School, I felt ambivalent in terms of fitting in and meeting the expectations of my teachers, yet well prepared in terms of learning more advanced subjects and becoming accustomed to any form of change within this new environment. Though I felt confident enough to begin the school year, I never overcame my extreme shyness towards large groups of people. Because my sixth grade science teacher, Ms. Williams, mistook my shyness as a form of a psychological pathology, she requested that I seek counseling from her collogue Ms. Sharron. Since it was mandatory for me to be counseled by Ms. Sharron, I began to share some of the reasons I why I felt so tactful and cautious in front large groups, particularly in Ms. Williams classroom. Primarily, Ms. Williams’s teaching methods were rather repressive towards the students. For example, when teaching us about photosynthesis, Ms. Williams would use strict
repetition, worksheets, and exams to distribute the information. Whenever a student became confused and questioned Ms. Williams, she would become impatient and sarcastic, for she thought it to be very disrespectful for students to question their teacher. At times I felt that my sixth grade teacher failed to remember that we were students, not parrots. I remember coming to school one day, dressed as a teacher for career day, and Ms. Williams smirked at me and said, "something is seriously wrong with a child who thinks they can even handle such a dreadful and exhausting job." By the time I entered high school, I began to meet teachers who portrayed a more liberal approach to teaching.
One of the best people that I was lucky enough to have as a teacher was a woman named Ms. Backer. Ms. Backer taught English to high school freshman and sophomores. Students within the entire school could not help but love the manner in which this woman taught. Though we were all high school freshman at the time, Ms. Backer always spoke to us as if we were adults. I remember her referring to all her students as "intellectual giants and explorers of the yet
expanding universe, seeking new forms of creativity through learning and experience." Moreover, Ms. Backer always told her students that she wanted them to develop their knowledge of content, plus the skills, through our experiences in life, as well as creativity in subjects of our
interest. She taught one lesson on creative writing that I will never forget, for it had great impact on each and every one of the students. All of the students were required to keep two separate journals, a personal journal and a class journal. We had to write in our journals every day, however, this assignment was quite different from our usual assignments. The class assignment was to describe ourselves as an inanimate object of any particular choice. We were
required to give our reasons as to why we are the object of our choice. Though the assignment was to be two pages, the students felt inspired enough to write five.
Ironically, when we handed in our papers, Ms. Backer told us that she knew we were going to write beyond what was required, because the topic had to do with self-actualization. Though most of the students entered the classroom bothered, angry, and bored, because they expected to be taught about plays that were far too old for them to enjoy, specific ways of writing that did not give opportunity for expression, and overall information about things that they could never relate to. However, Ms. Backer’s teaching methods did not meet our expectations, for her methods were extremely creative, enjoyable, and overall effective towards
each and every student. She did teach Shakespeare, essay writing, regents prep, vocabulary, etc..., but she taught it by engaging us in activities that related to the topic. At the end of each term, she would assign a research paper on the topic of our choice, and because she believed in us so much, we would always do our best to make her proud of her job.
Now that I have a better understanding of the concept, history, and philosophies of childhood education, which I have acquired through books like Becoming a Teacher,Pedagogy of the Oppressed and The School in American Culture, I am better able to understand my past experiences and encounters with teachers of different attitudes towards education. I would say that Ms. Lopez and Ms. Backer’s teaching philosophies were more child centered and their
teaching methods were based on problem posing education. Their lessons required the students to think critically, as oppose to "mechanically memorizing the narrated content" (Freire, 1970). It is clear that both teachers viewed their students more as critical thinkers, rather than as objects. I would place Ms. Lopez in-between Progressivism and Constructivism, for she always balanced
the interest of the students with their "cognitive process to construct understanding of the material to be learned" (Mead, 1951). Ms. Backer would be placed in-between Progressivism and Existentialism, for she balanced the interest of the students with their experiences as individuals. However, teachers like Ms. Williams would be placed under Perennialism, for she believed that students should solely "acquire knowledge of unchanging principles or great ideas" (Parkay & Stanford, 2004). Lastly, I would say that most of my teachers would agree with Margaret Mead’s social reconstruction theory on education, for she believed that if teachers were to encourage the use of critical thinking skills,
through the use of problem solving methods, with what we are required to teach, our students would be fully "equipped to make the new inventions which are necessary for a new world" (Mead, 2004).
All in all, my teachers have definitely influenced my attitude towards education. In addition, most of my teachers fit my definition of a true educator, which is someone who is capable of cultivating the mind, of a variety of different learners, by nourishing it with information and ideas; as well as allowing expression through creativity within the process of learning. I believe that a teacher should teach most of the required subjects through a series of worksheets and examinations, however, learning should also be exciting and creative. Setting a
strong foundation for the essential facts and skills in education, such as English, Math, Science, History, and a foreign language are important, however, a teacher should be able to emphasize a lesson creatively, rather than using strict repetition.
Lastly, my teaching philosophy is somewhat more contemporary and liberal than it is traditional and conservative, for I would place myself on a borderline between being an Essentialnalist and a Progressivist. I am part Essentialist due to the fact that I see education as a mastery of essential facts and skills, such as English, Math, and Science. However, I would never reject art, music, vocational ed., or physical education, as Perennialist do. I am part Progressivist
because I believe that learning must include content plus the skills of learning—problem solving, cooperative behaviors, scientific inquiry, and self-regulation. Overall, memorization would be de-emphasized. My teaching methods would not be based on authority, and my curriculum would be interdisciplinary. All in all, as a teacher I would portray myself more as a guide, rather than an all-knowing sage.
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophyof education.New York: The Free Press.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. [New York]: Herder and Herder.
Mead, M. (1951). The School in the American Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Parkay, F. W., & Stanford, B. H. (1998). Becoming a teacher. Boston: Allyn and Bacon