Teaching Philosophy? Why Not a Living Philosophy?

Time for some real talk.

And some thinking out loud as I work through some ideas.

From the inception of this website, I have struggled with including a section titled ‘Teaching Philosophy.’ After all, one of the purposes of this website is to include all of my professional development materials, and an instructor-to-be’s philosophy of teaching is a pretty important document. If you’ve followed this site for a while, you may have noticed a ‘Teaching Philosophy’ tab appear and disappear over time. Even when I took a pedagogy seminar in the beginning of my doctoral studies, I had a REALLY hard time writing one up. Not because I didn’t know what my teaching philosophy was, but because I didn’t feel like I could adequately describe my thoughts and views.

I think I may have finally figured out why, and I think it has to do with compartmentalization when it comes to certain patterns of behavior under varying conditions.

I’m not just talking about adapting one’s behavior based on different circumstances, like if you instinctively speak more softly in a library than you might in the comfort of your home. I’m talking about a more far-reaching version of this when one’s behaviors in different situations seem based on a completely different set of values. For example, being selectively courteous or polite with people based on where they stand on some perceived hierarchy of power within an institution – the higher they stand, the more courteous you are and vice-versa. Just think of the never-ending plight of the consistently disrespected secretary/front desk person vs. all of the yes-men surrounding the higher-ups.

I think this compartmentalization of behaviors and ideals is pretty commonplace – and certainly not all bad – but it’s partly what I feel people are asking for when they talk about a ‘Teaching Philosophy.’ In other words, when you’re in a classroom in the role of instructor, what are the morals, standards, behaviors, and values that guide you in that one specific environment? The question I tend to want to answer is more along the lines of “How do your existing values, morals, and standards extend into the classroom environment in your role as instructor?” Which inevitably makes me want to talk about the effects of my religious beliefs and where I get stuck.

I am a Bahá’í. More than anything else in my life, it is the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith that inspire the ways I behave and interact with the world. So whenever I try to write up my personal teaching philosophy, these are some of the quotes that immediately come to mind:

“To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world, to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.”

And more specifically about teaching and education:

“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”

(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pg 259)

“The teacher should not consider himself as learned and others ignorant. Such a thought breedeth pride, and pride is not conducive to influence. The teacher should not see in himself any superiority; he should speak with the utmost kindliness, lowliness, and humility, for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, pg 30)

And on the subject of how to treat EVERYONE:

“…associate in affectionate fellowship with stranger and friend alike, showing forth to all the utmost loving-kindness, disregarding the degree of their capacity, never asking whether they deserve to be loved. In every instance let the friends be considerate and infinitely kind. Let them never be defeated by the malice of the people, by their aggression and their hate, no matter how intense. If others hurl their darts against you, offer them milk and honey in return; if they poison your lives, sweeten their souls; if they injure you, teach them how to be comforted; if they inflict a wound upon you, be a balm to their sores; if they sting you, hold to their lips a refreshing cup.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 24)

“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive.

(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93

I think part of my problem is a self-consciousness towards the use of quotes. Inspirational quotes seem so overdone that I think a lot of people’s immediate reaction doesn’t go much farther than “Ah, yes…very wise.” But these are much more than that for me. I take the above words literally and attempt to live by them every day, in every situation, in every responsibility I take on, to the best of my abilities. I fail a lot, but hopefully most of the time I succeed.

Whenever I try to write a teaching philosophy I end up with what feels like a more expansive living philosophy. And I don’t think that’s what they want.

But maybe it should be?

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