The purpose of education has been said to be many things, all of which seem to only tell part of the story.  From developing a community, to teaching students to be responsible citizens, to helping them understand their history, each of these encompasses a part of what is important about education, but none of them alone will suffice.  I do not claim to know the purpose of education because I do not believe any one person does.  What I do know though is what is important to me in my own classroom.  There are three main ideas, which I keep with me as I teach and these compose the basis of my philosophy of teaching.  The first is that all students have a right to be successful in any classroom.  The second is that students should learn to think about ideas, rather than memorize facts.  Finally, the classroom should be a place where students learn cooperative skills through working with others.  Each of these is very important to my teaching and they shape what I do in the classroom and how I do it.

When I say that every student has a right to success in every classroom I do not mean that every student should receive an A regardless of ability.  Success may and likely will have a slightly different definition for every student.  I simply mean to say that no student should leave my classroom feeling like a complete failure.  Part of how I accomplish this is though consistent encouragement.  Students in my class are encouraged every time they take a risk because coming up with ideas can be just as important sometimes as getting the right idea.  Another way I accomplish this is through alternative assessments.  This gives students another way to demonstrate their learning perhaps through a written assignment or oral presentation.  Students who do not to well on written tests can still find success in this manner.  Along these same lines I use differentiated learning to reach all students.  Approaching the same idea from many perspectives gives students multiple opportunities to grasp the concept fully and increases the chances of every student finding success.  These are a few ways that I try to maximize success in my classroom.  The grade that a student receives is not a measure of their success, but rather success is how much they learned from the class, academic or otherwise.

The concept that students should learn to think about ideas rather than memorize facts is not entirely mine.  It is a belief that my teachers had and shared with me while I was in school.  Thinking about the practical application of many classes taught in high school, it is the thinking skills learned in those classes that students will use most and not the lists of theorems, names, or dates.  In teaching proof in geometry class I tell students that I am more concerned with the ideas and process of the proof then the specific theorem names.  Students think at first that this makes it easier, but what it actually does is move the focus to deeper thinking skills.  When a chapter has many methods for solving a problem I let students think of these as tools in their toolbox and will ask test questions about which tool they would use rather than actually asking them to do it all the time.  Again, this is a higher level thinking than simply solving the equation given a method.  Occasionally in class we will have discussions about how what we are learning at that moment connects to other past ideas or ideas in other classes.  This helps students to build connections between subjects and think about the way all knowledge relates.  I believe that these practices help students get more out of my classes that will be helpful to them later in life.

Building cooperative skills in essential and for me the classroom is an ideal place to work on these.  Most professions require people to work with others and having those skills will give my students and advantage in the workplace.  Also it gives students an opportunity to learn from each other and when student becomes teacher their understanding also gets solidified.  Once a week in my classroom I would not lecture at all and instead students worked through the new material in groups generally through an activity.  Students enjoyed this because they were in control of their own pace, yet could still ask me questions if the entire group was stuck.  Whenever class finished early I would have student start their homework in pairs.  They could compare answers and help each other through the more difficult problems this way.  Also if a student had understood an idea or question that the rest of the class was struggling with I would ask them to come to the front and explain it in their own words to the class.  This change of speaker was often what students needed to understand the idea, and when it was not enough I was able to better identify where the confusion was through this.  I take the idea of being a teacher-learner very seriously in my classroom and ask my students to take on a similar role of learner-teacher for the peers.   These cooperative leaning activities helps students learn, prepare them for the workplace, and make the classroom a more enjoyable environment.

With these three ideas as the foundation my classroom stands on steady ground.  When students are successful they are more willing to learn and be a part of the class.  Focusing on ideas prepares students for future classes and eliminates the problem of students memorizing everything and then forgetting it the next day.  A cooperative environment is an environment where everyone can teach and learn without fear of being put down or made to feel like less.  As long as my classroom upholds these three ideas, I believe that it fulfills the purpose of education, whatever that may be.