Posts Tagged ‘Whitman’

My Teaching Philosophy

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Please excuse my English Major tendencies, I can’t help myself. To explain my teaching philosophy, I must first explain feminine narrative structure (this will make sense, hang in there). Everything in life is a narrative, school is no exception.

What are most frequently exposed to in education is the masculine narrative structure, i.e. beginning, middle, end. Looks like this:Maculine Plot Structure

Aside from the sexual implications regarding the climax and immediate “falling” action, this structure just does not work for me. It’s too linear, too limiting, and does not encourage continuity.

The feminine narrative plot structure, however, looks like this:

Feminine Plot StructureThe feminine narrative branches out in loops, always returning to the center; the tip of each petal acts as an individual point of excitement or pleasure or satisfaction. The shape of the narrative is a circle, cyclical. Everything is connected. The center point (a significant figure, place, or theme) propels each new narrative forward and supports it lovingly on its return back. Generally, it is a more nurturing, calming, yet dynamic plot structure as compared to the masculine (in my opinion).

My class will function as such. As an English teacher, the center of my educational daisy is expression. No matter what branches we embark on as a class– be it punctuation, sentence structure, essay writing, vocabulary– I will connect that lesson back to expression. It is important to me that my students open their mouths and speak, so I will require it of them: you don’t speak, you don’t get an A. Quite literally, my classroom will be a circle. On days designated for discussion, we will sit in a circle (Socratic dialogue anyone?). In the grander sense of content organization, I will also organize my curriculum cyclically. The last thing we study will connect to the first, and everything else in between. My job as a teacher will be to make those connections apparent to my students.

I believe in emotion, especially in the study of literature and poetry. It is important to me that each student feels comfortable to express emotion in my classroom. Since I intend to teach high school, a time when students are changing, exploring their sexuality, and embarking on their first tastes of adulthood, I think this freedom of expression is crucial and healthy for their development. One of my most memorable experiences in my education was listening to my high school English teacher read aloud (I still remember that it was Whitman’s Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand), her voice cracking, watching the tears roll down her cheeks. We all cried along with her. For that instant, we were all united and equal in the power of words; it was a shared experience (Dewey 1938).

Now don’t get me wrong, my class will be more than reading poetry and crying about it. I am a stickler for grammar and writing structure (I have strong beliefs about the power of writing and I insist that it be done correctly), and I am driven to help my students learn how to write properly. When it comes down to it, the only way to constitute and measure student learning is through evaluation. Aside from the lovey-dovey stuff, I believe in the entire grading scale. I will test my students’ grammar skills often, along with practices in more involved writing (essays), and I will grade according to results (not perceived effort or how much I like/dislike the student personally). I am certain that many of my students will think my class is “hard.” Good. Those who do not show improvement, will be required to see me individually for a grammar one-on-one lesson. (Doesn’t that sound fun?!)

I am already semi-aware of my teaching philosophy because of my experiences in the fitness industry. I have worked in a few gyms and personal training studios, and in each place I have consistently been referred to as “The Hard One.” I enjoy challenging people. Let me toot my own horn here and also say that I am usually the trainer with the most positive feedback. Students (humans) crave a challenge. There’s nothing wrong with being “hard,” being direct, having high expectations, and that’s just the person I am. My theory is you can be hard so long as you’re funny. And I’ve got that covered.

Now that I am delving into my own philosophies, I find myself understanding Dewey more, and agreeing with him. What I have expressed above, i.e. being free thinking and free feeling while maintaining my status as “hard,” falls in line with Dewey’s thoughts regarding educational plans and projects within progressive education. Which is to say, it doesn’t matter how progressive you are, you still need to plan, still need to have structure, still need to challenge the students; otherwise, to use Dewey’s words, “they [the students] are at the mercy of every intellectual breeze that happens to blow” (Dewey, 1938, p. 51). I hope to act as a windmill to these intellectual breezes; taking my students’ wild whims and channeling them into something productive. I want my students to leave my classroom feeling inspired, challenged, and with a good joke or story to tell. I want to see their minds bloom like daises before my eyes.



Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Plot (narrative). (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2012 from

Bellis perennis. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2012 from

So I Want to be a Teacher…

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Walt Whitman, 1855I want to be a teacher because Walt Whitman changed my life. Let me explain.

John Dewey discusses what makes a quality experience, how we as educators must be able to identify these quality experiences and create them for our students. Repeatedly, he asserts that a paramount of a worthy educational experience is its ability to linger: “experience lives on in further experience” (Dewey, 1938, p. 27). Well, I have experienced the experience; an experience that (as Dewey says) continues on years later, worked deeply into the fibers of my existence, manifesting daily.


My senior year of college I was lucky enough to be a part of the Looking for Whitman Project. That phrasing is not quite accurate; more accurately, I was lucky enough to immerse myself in Whitman, at times drowning, but mostly happily swimming within his words, his wonderful self, the world he lived in. For the first time in my education, I got it. Something clicked in my mind, and I understood the significance of my educational experience. Which is to say, I took a step beyond Whitman; I began to think deeper, less concerned with “facts” and moving forward with my own original thoughts and analysis. It was through this semester long project that I realized that I can actually think for myself! And you know what? I loved it, became addicted to it. Dewey phrases it nicely: “collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson…” (Dewey, 1938, p. 48). Whitman inspired me, woke me up, and reinvented my brain: no longer a memorization and regurgitating machine, but now a dynamic, fluid living being.

(A long aside: for more on this strand of thought, i.e. the student’s mind as an empty receptacle vs. a dialogical, evolving entity, check out Paulo Freire’s essay “The Banking Concept of Education.” In it, Freire (1993) discusses the relationship between educators and students, power paradigms, and how to revolutionize– in his opinion, improve– education. This is one of my favorite essays, I revisit it often. Like Whitman, this essay inspires me to teach, and teach well, with passion, with care, and an open mind.)

The reason I want to be a teacher is because I find myself insatiably driven to provide this experience (Dewey-style) for others. Life is incomplete without it. Now granted, my Whitman experience was enhanced due to the fact that Whitman had previously been of interest to me, always one of my favorite poets, but it was the intersection of interest and experience that changed my life. There is no doubt in my mind that I have the passion to teach; however, realistically, it takes more than passion. So I muse on the great teachers I have had in my lifetime, those who remain in my mind, and I assemble their qualities. Here are the top three qualities of a great teacher (this is both subjective and subject to change):

  1. Passion and care. For both subject matter and students.
  2. Patience.
  3.  A sense of humor.

Do I have these things? Can I do this? When I am fully truthful with myself, I know that I am remarkably impatient and that this could cause problems. (Numbers one and three I have in spades, not worried about those). Throughout this program, I hope to work on my organization and classroom management skills, both of which take patience. I know that once I have honed those skills, I will be an amazing teacher. So let’s do this! Let us move forward and become the teachers we already are.

“To where the future, greater than all the past,/ is swiftly, surely preparing for you.”       Walt Whitman, Turn O Libertad


Works Cited

Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Freire, Paulo. (1993). Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum Books. Retrieved from