Philosophy of English / Philosophy of Writing / Philosophy of English Instruction / Works Cited


General Teaching Philosophy

When I think about what my classroom will look like, I envision a welcoming atmosphere that students can feel comfortable in. There will be a lot of discussing, interactive learning, and most importantly, thinking. Because engagement is a vital part of the learning process, our lessons will be interesting and motivating. And in the words of a past professor, I believe that motivation is the key to understanding and consequently learning. This can be accomplished through using engaging texts and activities, allowing students to bring in their own texts, doing hands-on activities, and making lessons practical for the students. When these ideals are met, the chances are improved that the students will learn the material.

The question then becomes “what do I want them to learn?” Subject matter is of course a huge aspect of it. Even more specifically, I think the main points of the subject matter should be emphasized. For instance, I care more about a student being able to read than I do about whether or not they know how to correctly use subordinate clauses. And while the subject matter is indeed important, I want to teach more than just course material. I want students to learn how to think. I want them to recognize connections, to apply their knowledge, to develop critical thinking skills, and to learn something about themselves. I want them to develop an awareness and appreciation for the world around them. True, this sounds ambitious, but I believe that you don’t get anywhere in life by setting your goals low.

Another aspect that I feel is vital to a classroom is career preparation. Though this motivation is usually felt mostly by upperclassmen in high school, it is very important at every level in the education process. Skills as simplistic as learning how to effectively work in a group can be great preparation for life after school, whether the student is going to college or directly into the work force. As students grow older and begin to think about their careers, lessons can be implemented to develop their skills in these areas. I like to include writing assignments that allow students choices, and if they choose to do so, they can use this as an opportunity to practice for life after school. For example, if a student knows that he or she will be going into business, they could choose a project or style that would allow them to develop their skills in this area.

Classroom management is another facet of teaching that I feel comfortable in dealing with. I believe that settings up rules and procedures at the start of a class will help curtail some potential problems. Being consistent in enforcing these rules will let students know that they must indeed abide by them. However, I do not think that setting specific rules for every single situation is practical. Defining a broader rule which can then be applied to many situations is the best method. Lastly, I’d like to say that I think the best classroom management skill is developing a good rapport with students. When this is accomplished, I believe that it makes the management side of teaching much easier.

In closing, I’d like to add in quote that I feel greatly impacts philosophy on life, including my life in the class. “Everything is done with a purpose.” Whether it be a specific lesson, a unit, an assignment, or even a question, I think that everything that is done in the class should be geared towards one of the goals of the class. When this is accomplished, the class will be successful.



Philosophy of English

As a pedagogical term, English covers far too many things to be discussed in one writing. For me, though, the main inclusions of English can be broken down into three subcategories. The first of these divisions is past English. This category is mostly made up of canonical literature, dating back to the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. I feel it is essential to have students read some of the great, classic texts so that they can see what has been traditionally considered good writing. The second subcategory is present English, or perhaps better phrased as contemporary English. This aspect of English is vital. As our nation becomes gradually more and more technological, there are new forms of media existing that students use. Using nontraditional texts in classrooms will help equip or students for understanding in life outside the classroom. As Bruce Pirie discusses in his book Reshaping High School English, “if learners are to understand themselves as meaning-makers, they have to examine the ways in which their understandings are constructed, and that necessarily includes their engagement with popular culture as well as school culture”(23). I hope to achieve a balance between popular culture (contemporary writing/media) and school culture (traditional, canonical texts) in my class.

The third subcategory of English is writing, but not necessarily writing in a traditional sense. After doing a multigenre paper in a college class, I’m convinced of its ability to help students better express their thoughts. At one point, I will likely include a traditional essay paper, as this form of writing has its advantages also (see my philosophy of writing). However, I hope to focus mainly on forms of writing that students can use outside the class, whether it be designing a web page, reflecting in a diary, or writing in one of numerous other genres.

Overall, I tend to think of English as a synonym for language. Language includes all forms of communication for a given society, and that is what I’ll try to capture with my teaching.

Philosophy of Writing

I have briefly expressed some of my thoughts on writing in the previous section, but here, I will expand on those basic ideas. In a college course I once took, the instructor presented a lesson on writing. He began the discussion by saying that for many students, the most difficult part of the writing process was staring at the black page ahead, knowing that they must fill it with thoughtful, well-constructed meaning. I agree that for most students, this task is daunting; however, I think taking an approach similar to the one that Donald Murray advocates in his writing can help ease the initial anxiety of writing. In his essay Writing as Process, includes a graphic that shows how the first aspects of the writing process (prewriting, revising, drafting) are more processes of exploration rather than construction (13). As the writing process goes on, the formal constructions (organization, grammar) of the genre are developed. I very much agree with this theory of writing. I feel that forcing the students to focus on the standard conventions of writing can limit the innate pleasure that writing can provide.

As I hinted at in the previous section, there is still much debate about the traditional essay versus other forms of writing. I for one have trouble completely associating myself with one side or the other. One thing I appreciate about the traditional essay is its ability to give students a structure to follow, which is a feature that many students need. Even in college, many of my colleagues could not write a paper without first having the structural details mapped out for them. To me, this is a shame, but it is a necessity that some students need. Another reason that the essay may be preferred is because some students don’t have the time or the desire to come up with quality, creative methods of writing (i.e. different genres or styles). This may sound like an excuse for not thinking creatively, but it can be a genuine concern depending on the economical or political makeup of the classroom and the community. Lastly, this genre can help students prepare for college or other professional-writing situations where the essay is a valuable form of expression.

Despite these advantages, I will still probably rely heavily on other genres of writing in my class. First, students will more likely be engaged in activities and writings that transcend the academic aspects of the essay and focus on forms of writing they use in their lives. Not only is engagement a positive factor here, but critical thinking is also at stake in these new forms of writing. As Ann Garnsey summarizes, “[students] write and think more critically and more effectively when their discursive projects are woven from the material of their own literacies”(123). I would purposefully try and include genres that made up their literacies, including songs, movies, newspapers, magazines, and internet-based writings. I also feel that some things are conveyed better through a genre other than writing. For instance, a student could make an comedic essay much more effective by drawing a comic. The content, meaning, and thought that goes into the product are the same, but the style of the composition is different. The problem that occurs in giving students freedom to explore different genres is that designing a rubric to grade these projects can be difficult. But to me, this difficult task worthwhile if it means my students will learn more.

In summation, I feel that writing should be a process through which students express their ideas, emotions, thoughts, and opinions as effectively as possible, while still using their own style and voice. As I mentioned previously, getting caught up in the governing rules of writing rather than the pleasure that it provides can turn kids off to writing entirely.

Philosophy of English Instruction/Curriculum

In designing a plan, whether it be for an individual lesson, a unit, or an entire course, I think it is vital to have a purpose. This purpose must be much more specific than “I want kids to learn.” At each level of teaching, the students must know why I am teaching them what I am and how it will help them. By defining purpose early and sharing it with students, I hope to make my eventual planning much easier. To accomplish this goal, I think designing a set of “throughlines”(Perkins 201) is helpful. These over-arching themes for the course will be the foundation for my class; all units, lessons, and activities I will incorporate will be focused on these throughlines.

In establishing throughlines, I have to make sure I chose topics that are important and applicable for kids. If a student disagrees with or doesn’t see the point of a certain concept, they’re going to be less likely to comprehend the learning surrounding it. This is part of the reason why I plan to share the main concepts with my class prior to teaching them; if I get feedback from students that my throughlines and goals are not viable, I’ll have to consider other options.

The most difficult part of the planning process is defining the over-arching themes for the course. Since these will be built upon with other ideas, I cannot initially make them too specific. However, they must be specific enough for students to understand. Also, I have to try and find topics that are engaging, applicable, and valuable to the students. Part of this will come from knowing my students, but part of it can be generalized. As I’ve discussed, using nontraditional genres throughout the course can help engage students. Also, dealing with topics that affect students outside the classroom will help students to see the real-life implications of the class (Applebee 193). Drawing on students’ past experience can be another good way to engage them. In my class, I will try to play to each of these ideas as I establish the basic themes of the course.

Once these major concepts are established, units that pertain to them should be set up. These are then broken down into lessons and scaffolding activities, but each of these levels must somehow connect to the throughlines of the course. By having everything based on mutually agreed upon throughlines, justification for the smaller levels becomes easier when a student asks me why we are doing something. I can easily refer them to the larger concepts which I am trying to impart on them, and I can describe how these two things relate. To me, this is much better way of handling the question than simply saying “we’ll come back to this later.” I don’t think that, except in rare cases where it is done for effect, I should have any surprises with my students. In fact, I think divulging my plans ahead of time will make students respect me more. By knowing what I’m talking about, I’ll prove that I’m indeed a professional who cares about their education, and hopefully, the classroom will be better because of it.

Works Cited

Applebee, Arthur N. Rethinking Curriculum in the English Language Arts. Brass/Tate Coursepack. Budget Printing. East Lansing, MI, 2003. 191-197.

Garnsey, Ann. Multicultural Semiotics: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in American Popular Culture. Brass/Tate Coursepack. Budget Printing. East Lansing, MI, 2003. 122-127.

Murray, Donald M. Writing as Process: How Writing Finds Its Own Meaning. Brass/Tate Coursepack. Budget Printing. East Lansing, MI, 2003. 11-20.

Perkins, David. The Teaching for Understanding Framework. Brass/Tate Coursepack. Budget Printing. East Lansing, MI, 2003. 198-205.

Pirie, Bruce. Reshaping High School English. NCTE. 1997

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