Jeff D. Stahl
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This statement expresses an important tenant of my basic teaching philosophy. Similarly, the reminder that “They only learn from those they love” sets an important challenge before me as I enter my career as a teacher.
My students need to know who I, Jeffrey Stahl, am as a person currently student teaching in the business department at Boyertown Area Senior High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. They need to know that I am on my own continuous journey toward my own education; that I, like them, learn everyday.
They need to know that my work with them is based on the premise that I care about them as people, that I care about their success and mastery of the skills and information inherent in the subject matter before us, and that I believe that our work will in some way address the three most important questions of any educational pursuit: “Who am I?” “Why do I do what I do?” and “How can I make life better for myself?” Failing to help them address these questions directly or indirectly in some form in our work together compromises the quality of our experience. Our work together should further their growth as people; all education has the same goal.
My own education started in the same school district in which I am now employed, Boyertown Area School District. Following high school I received my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Pittsburgh, and now I am currently enrolled in a Master’s program at Temple University. Although my educational journey appears to have come full circle, my education is still in its early stages, because it is my goal to become an educator. And I’m eager to learn.
Ever since I was young, I've wanted to become a teacher. I have been surrounded by teachers my whole life, in school and out of school. My mother is a high school English teacher at Boyertown Senior High. Also, many of my close friends are teachers; many of them have taught me. And I realize that I want to be a teacher because I want to give to my future students what my friends, my teachers, have given to me: a desire to learn; a thirst for knowledge; and a respect for those who seek to empower others through knowledge, for those who want to pass on their own excitement of learning to others.
The job responsibilities of my former position included managing several stores for American Eagle Outfitters. One of my responsibilities was to train associates and other managers in store standards and to motivate them to be model salespeople. One of the challenges was that many of the individuals that I was managing were close to my own age, if not older. Thus, very early in my career I learned to lead with empathy.
To motivate my staff successfully, I had to understand what they were all about--who they were, why they did what they did, and then I needed to fashion my training to show them how to make life better for themselves by working the AE way.
Having been in their position prior to being a manager, this challenge was easy for me to accomplish. And I found that one of my strengths as a manager was my ability to understand the unique situations of my associates. I had been in their positions and could relate easily to them.
I now realize that I must also do this with my future students. In order to be an effective teacher, I must understand who they are--as people and as learners--their unique strengths and weaknesses, what they are each going through and adapt the way my message is being communicated. By respecting the individual learning styles, personalities, and situations of my students, it may be easier for my students to respect me and my goals for their education. I believe this mutual respect will be strength in my career as an educator.
However, meeting individual needs, a.k.a. differentiating instruction, is easier said than done. There are many unique obstacles that one must avoid when attempting to teach--teenagers, especially--who are themselves in transition and confused about who they are and why they do what they do. These natural obstacles are what make teaching a constant challenge. Yet while perfect teaching methods are impossible to ascertain and actualize at every moment for every student, they are possible and necessary to attempt. In this constant challenge is teaching’s greatest reward.
The mission statement of the Boyertown Area School District, my goal is to “enable all students to succeed in a changing world.” This mission is mine as well. For education, then, to be successful, one must also adapt and change teaching styles and lessons to adapt to the children's ever-changing environment and personal growth. This necessity is a key belief in the direction for my future professional development: I, too, must continue to learn; a good teacher is also a good student and the relationship is reciprocal. Every successful teacher must learn from his successes and failures. Keeping an open mind is the best path to improvement. Just like students, everybody makes mistakes, but successful people learn from these mistakes and progress from them. But, happily, I don’t have to make all of the mistakes myself; I can also learn from my prospective peers. By staying abreast of research in learning styles and pedagogy and engaging in conversations with my fellow teachers, I can make improvements based on their findings as well and learn what they have learned over time. I can implement the ideas that have worked for them into my own classroom.
One of the ways that I can tell if my methods are working are by doing constant student performance assessments to find out if my educational goals are being met. I do believe it is extremely important, however, that the students themselves be fully aware of how they will be assessed, not necessarily when they are being evaluated, or even which elements are being considered. (Some data is best collected informally and spontaneously.) Yet, a clear path of communication must be established before any assessment is to be made to give the students a fair chance at their own survival.
I foresee a great return from having the students themselves involved in the structuring of the assessment based on the teacher’s goals and information provided. This involvement itself is a learning process for the students and will give them a better chance at obtaining the education the instructor desires through increased motivation and cooperation.
Through analysis of these assessments and comparing them to my educational goals, I will be in continuous professional development--learning about students (their needs, their styles, their values) from the students themselves. This process will help “bridge the gap between learning and performance.”
Another strong belief of mine is that the best learning environment
is a fun learning environment. William Glasser, noted educational psychologist
and author of Reality
Theory, lists fun as a basic human need. I’m looking forward to becoming
“that teacher” who wears funny ties, dresses up during holidays, and uses
humorous examples to teach my classes. Glasser also states that there are 5
other basic needs which he says motivate our behavior at any given moment. These
needs are love, belonging, survival, power, and freedom.
Glasser states that at any one moment in our lives one of those needs dominates our thinking. He says the needs change when our situation changes. In a classroom, then, at any given moment each student is motivated by one of those 6 needs which may change at any moment. As an educator, I must be ready for those needs to shift and be able to adapt and harness those needs to benefit the students.
One of the philosophies that I subscribe to is the “Fish!” philosophy, found in the current bestselling business management book by the same title. This philosophy embodies four major points:
1. “Choose Your Attitude” - Everyday that I walk into my classroom, I need to make sure that I have the same motivation, that I am concentrating my fullest efforts to the motivation of my students.
2. “Play” - To survive each day, everybody has to have fun while they work. I must find new ways to have fun with my students and for my students to have fun with their lessons. I want all of my students to know that learning can be fun even though learning is a lot of work, too. By communicating to students that I understand what they are going through, I may make it easier for them to feel relaxed in my classroom.
3. “Make Their Day” - While I am having fun teaching my students, it is essential that I take every opportunity to do something special just for them and to have them involved in connecting personally and individually with one another in demonstrating our connections with and caring for one another. I ask myself: What can I do every day that is unique and motivating to my students? If every day is unique to students in some way and if I take care to do something special for each of them whenever I can, then half of the battle of learning is won: “No one cares how much I know until they know how much I care.” I must them let know I care.
4. “Be Present” - I must continue to make a positive contribution to every one of my students and to all of my peers. It is a necessity to be proactive in my willingness to help others around me, whether it is my students or other teachers. I am well aware that this style of living will be a challenge: I must never turn down anyone who is looking for help. I must always be ready for students who want to learn and to give them my best attention and energy in the very moment they need me. A piece of Chinese wisdom supports this view, stating, “When the learner is ready, the teacher appears.” The good teacher needs to be “in the moment” to recognize that readiness.
I have attempted to embody the tenets of the Fish! philosophy in every responsibility that I have assumed. Many of my peers also subscribe to the same philosophy and have found the tenets make life better for them as well.
Each of these different ways of communicating lessons and principles of teaching are based around one goal--getting students excited about furthering their education. Successful education, to a student, means being better prepared for their next educational step: college.
Having the skills and knowledge is important, but being successful in college also means wanting to learn. Many high school graduates who decide to go to college are there for one major reason: they were expected to go to college, as the next step in their high school education.
Many of these students don’t take advantage of the resources in front of them. They don’t take advantage of the possibilities that lie before them. I would like to change that attitude in the students I teach. I would like to motivate my students to be more prepared for not only post-secondary education but also for a future career in the “real world.” I believe that my being a positive role model and relating my own situation--and the situations of my peers--to my students, will provide them with a better understanding of the achievement that they can reach.
Nancy Hoffman writes, “Students should graduate high school prepared for non-remedial college-level work.” Her statement resonates with me on two levels—skills and attitudes—and applies to each student wherever graduation from high school leads him. I believe students should not only possess the necessary skills to succeed at college or in the job market, but I feel that they should also be mentally ready for further education and/or be mature enough to enter a career.
My ultimate goal is to “enable students to succeed in a changing world,” and I am ready to educate myself continuously to find out the most effective method to accomplishing my goal. My future in education includes an expectation of constant change in response to the multiplicity of unique student situations, and I am looking forward to enabling myself to succeed in the world of education. I feel as though the most effective way to do so is to have a mutual respect with my students by not only relating to them, but boldly, yet with empathy, leading them into the future.
1. Brualdi, Amy. “Implementing Performance Assessment in the Classroom.” Classroom Leadership February 2000. Volume 3 #5 www.asd.org/ed_topis/d200002_brualdi.html.
2. Glasser, William. The Quality School. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
3. Hoffman, Nancy. “College Credit in High School.” Change July/August 2003: pg. 42 – 48.
4. Lundin, Ph.D., Stephen C., Harry Paul, and John Christensen. Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2000.