My Foundations of Education class required an essay on my personal philosophy of education. The syllabus listed no page number requirements. When we asked the professor how long it had to be, he simply said, "Explain yourself."
Mine was six pages long and is reproduced here, section by section, for your edification and reading pleasure. Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.
What is important to learn in school?
While academic and life skills are of unparalleled importance to survive and thrive in the world, school is not just pure academic achievement or meeting immediate survival needs. Since most people spend their formative years in school, that is where we all learn how to socialize constructively with one another, how to follow a schedule and respect a deadline, how to obey authorities beyond our parents, and how to make decisions about our identities, lifestyles, and morals. Some would argue that teachers should not teach morals or social skills or anything beyond textbook information within their own subject, but the fact is that kids learn a lot more from the behavior of adults than from their words.
Even if teachers decline to explicitly instruct their students in socialization or cultural sensitivity or deference to authority or ethics or anything not directly related to their own subject, they must be aware of their own attitudes, behavior, and demeanor. Kids will pick up a lot from their teachers’ nonverbal instructions, and will observe the way that all adults handle themselves in everyday life. It is important to be aware that we are role models, and to ensure that our words and actions coincide. Nothing will make a child lose respect for an adult faster than catching the adult in a lie.
Rogerian psychology places a high emphasis on “congruence”, or the agreement between a person’s perception of themselves and the reality. Very few people are exactly the person they’d like to be, but those who freely acknowledge that they are a work in progress are far more likely to be liked and respected by their students than those who deny any incongruence and claim to be in total control of who they are. You must be sure that the face you show your students is really yours, because you will not be able to fool all of your students all of the time. All it takes is one slip and a student, a class, or an entire career could be lost forever.
Be aware of and honest about your own faults and weaknesses, while working hard to better yourself. Admit fallibility and hope for greater congruence. And always encourage your students to be equally honest and self-aware in their own lives. During the school year, you will spend nearly as much time with some of your students as their parents do, and in some cases more. You are equally responsible for their academic, professional, and personal futures.