As a teacher, my role is to both support and instruct my students. Students cannot learn in an environment where they do not feel safe both physically and emotionally, and I recognize that teachers, as authority figures, are intimidating for some students. I believe in forging a bond with each of my students by showing a genuine interest in them both from a human and an academic perspective. I want my students to know that I believe they can meet my expectations, and that I will rejoice with them when they do.

Students need to work hard and constantly increase their knowledge and skills, but their goals need to be attainable. There is nothing more frustrating that trying something over and over again and continually failing. It is my job to provide my students with enough scaffolding that they can take additional steps in their learning without the fear of failure. To learn we must be allowed to make mistakes and recover from them. It is important to me that my students see that I can make mistakes too, and that they see how I handle them.

Most skills that students learn in school can be introduced through direct instruction, but hands-on experience and practice will be what sticks with a child. The child who is told that water can be solid, liquid, or gas may be able to answer a test question on the three states of matter, but the child who has made water freeze, melt, and boil will able to explain the process to change from one state to another. I cannot control what experiences my students enter my classroom with, but I can provide them with common experiences in my classroom to use as a basis for understanding. As such, I believe that as much as possible students should learn by doing, with informational support and instruction available as needed.

For example, my background in law gives me a great opportunity to help my students understand our democratic society by modeling it in the classroom. I can envision a classroom “court” where minor disputes are settled by a rotating panel of “judges” who try to make the fairest decisions possible. To create classroom rules and policies, students could sit on a rotating panel of advisors to the teacher. While this system would take a large initial investment of time, students would emerge from this experience with a greater understanding of the need for rules, dispute resolution, conflicting interests, and many other principles. This is just one way I can foresee incorporating my background and interests into my classroom in a way that gives my students real experience on a small scale with concepts from the real world I am preparing them to live in.

Having the content knowledge to design experiential learning for my students is essential to my success as a teacher. I need to be able to both cut to the heart of an idea I am teaching and be able to answer questions about it. Children come up with wonderful and occasionally off-the-wall questions about any topic, and part of being a teacher is modeling the process of thought or research to figure out or find the answers. I also firmly believe that adults have a responsibility to admit to children when they do not know an answer, and assist the child in learning the answer. Children are by nature curious, and a flat “I don’t know” from a teacher or other adult can convey the idea that curiosity is not desirable.

As a teacher, I strive to make my classroom a varied, stimulating, and comfortable environment for my students. I ask students many questions as I teach, both to gauge their understanding and to encourage them to think. I feel this tactic keeps my students engaged because they are constantly provided with something to think about rather than simply presented with information that they need to remember. I also love the sound of laughter in the classroom! An idea that strikes a student enough to make them laugh out loud has a better chance of being retained than one that is simply told to them, and laughter can also indicate engagement when it is in the right place.
I want my students to know that I care about that and expect the best from them in terms of effort and behavior, and that I will help them to succeed. I prefer to reward students for meeting my expectations rather than discipline those who are not behaving, because I feel incentive works better than punishment.

I also believe that when a student has reached frustration with a skill or concept, it is important to build their confidence back up by giving them the opportunity to do something at which they excel or can figure out easily. My effectiveness as a teacher is not only a function of how well my students test but also how well they grow. When I see a student wanting to learn and confident that they can master new skills if they put forth the effort, I know that I am doing my job and positively impacting the life of a child.