Teaching Opinion

Know and Embody Your Educational Philosophy

By Starr Sackstein — May 27, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Guest Post by Barbara Silkes

George Matthew Adams, a popular newspaper columnist at the turn of the 19th century, once said, “Every one of us, unconsciously, works out a personal philosophy of life, by which we are guided, inspired, and corrected, as time goes on. It is this philosophy by which we measure out our days, and by which we advertise to all about us - the man, or woman, that we are. . . . It takes but a brief time to scent the life philosophy of anyone. It is defined in the conversation, in the look of the eye, and in the general mien of the person. It has no hiding place. It’s like the perfume of a flower -- unseen but known almost instantly. It is the possession of the successful and the happy.”

Have you ever taken the time to discover your philosophy of life? What guides and inspires you? Have you ever pondered the impact you want to have on others whose path you cross?

As a teacher, I am not only keenly aware of what defines my philosophy of life, but I am in a profession where I share it and embody it each and every day with my students.

My philosophy is this: I am guided and inspired by truth, integrity, compassion, transparency, inclusiveness, and commitment. I am defined by optimism, warmth, a belief in the unbelievable, and an undying faith in the faithless. This is who I am. And this is who my students see. I laugh unabashedly at our most silly moments, I openly apologize when I've goofed and use it as a lesson in humility and human frailty, and I make sure that every single child is dismissed each day knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I truly care about them and am 100% committed to their success and well-being.

For the last 24 years, when I enter my third-grade classroom in September, my goal for the year is not measured by the quantitative results of an exam, but the qualitative changes that take place in the lives of my students. What drives me toward the future are recollections from the past as I think back on some of the most memorable and significant moments of my career and am struck by very specific images.

I see images of the child who entered as a timid selective mute in the fall, yet departed speaking and laughing publicly in June. There are memories of the enraged child who was unable to make eye contact for a split second, who seemed to mistrust and fear a world that had abused and abandoned him, yet suddenly grabbed my hand tightly when walking down the corridor and looked at me with a peace I hadn’t seen before.

I recall the day a student told me that if she had one wish, it would be for her mommy to come back from the accident that happened when "...big planes crashed into her job,” on a crisp, autumn morning in 2001. I will never forget the moment one of my children read me a personal narrative about when she lost her daddy to cancer at five years old, how sad she remained at eight, and how we silently wept together that day. I am reminded of an unplanned visit to the hospital on a steamy day in July, when my student’s mom, who was seriously ill, passed away during my visit, and how I instantly knew that our lives would always be profoundly connected.

And finally, I can’t help but remember the idyllic, daydreaming eight-year-old who fluttered into my room in September, marched out confidently and focused in June, the friendship we fostered as she became a young adult, and the day I was asked to speak at her funeral, when she was a mere nineteen years of age.

These are but a few of the unforgettable impressions that are permanently seared into my memory. However, these moments don’t just magically “happen” when you’re a teacher. They occur when one of your goals is to intentionally create a classroom of truth, warmth, compassion, confidence, and acceptance. They come to pass when you break down the walls and boundaries of disconnect and division; when you and your students become one transparent and honest community, and your personal philosophy of life is infused into every crevice of the room you call “home” for the next ten months of the year.

How do you build a culture that feels like home? Please share

Always having a passion for positively impacting the lives of children, Barbara Silkes entered teaching in 1993 and knew instantly she had discovered her niche. The most rewarding moments of any given school day include seeing her students take risks without fear and witnessing progress toward their goals. Silkes quickly learned that these moments are more likely to happen when a warm and non-threatening learning environment is created in the classroom and when personal connections with students and families are solidified beyond the four walls of your room. In her spare time, she enjoys entertaining, reading, gardening, traveling with her husband and snuggling with my two puppies. Silkes is also the president of her synagogue's Sisterhood and strongly believes in the importance of empowering women through connection and education. She can be contacted on Instagram @Bichons42 and on Twitter @Bichons42

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.