Teaching Philosophy



In the words of legendary pianist, Menahem Pressler:  “Inspiration is the one thing that cannot be ordered:  it must comprise us” (2005).  For me, both learning and teaching are the primary avenues to inspiration.  That is, learning and teaching enable us to become better than we think we have the potential to be.  I am personally driven by a strong belief that by improving opportunities for education, we have the possibility to transform human existence.  Moreover, I find myself increasingly fascinated by the multiple ways in which other people add meaning to our lives.  Teachers, especially, are in a privileged position to stimulate meaning in peoples’ lives by their intense involvement with the shaping of minds.

As an educator, I think I am most effective at transforming my students’ possibilities when I come to know their individual points of view, listen closely to their aspirations and expand their concepts of their own possibilities.  Then I focus all my effort on helping them to achieve—even exceed—their goals. I know that I help my students move to higher levels of achievement primarily through honesty and a commitment to excellence, combined with the necessary technical roadmaps (research, writing and critical thinking skills development through practice and constructive feedback).  I try to inspire them to take possession of their own lives by intensively preparing them for a lifelong journey of self development.  I teach my students that success is crafted from incremental accomplishments—from seemingly minor improvements—that ultimately transform our own lives, change institutions and impact the lives of others.  I want my students to know that success is an internal state of mind that is not externally conferred.  Not only is my practice of teaching informed by my theory and philosophy, but it is profoundly influenced by my background and who I have become.


Growing up the eldest daughter in a family of seven children, my parents raised us on a public school teacher’s salary.  I attended four beleaguered inner city schools that subsequently have been shut down.  As a result of this experience, I developed multifaceted and complex views of education, access, multiculturalism and social responsibility at an early age.  Now in his fifty-first year of teaching history in an inner city public school high school district, my father reflected on his career and confided that his greatest accomplishment has been to be able to honestly say that he loves all of his students. Given the disadvantaged upbringing of many of these adolescents and the resulting challenges he faces in the classroom, it occurred to me that he had accomplished something quite monumental.  In a very real sense, my father has spent his life working with students whose visualization of their own potential has been constrained by their circumstances.  Throughout my life I have encountered many of his former students who achieved more than they thought possible because of his inspiration.  From him, I learned that the essence of education lies in respect for the individual and the harnessing of his/her potential.

From my mother, I learned the power of the individual to be a catalyst for social change in the midst of overwhelming bureaucracy—to not surrender to indifference.  At the age of six, I collected more than 200 signatures on a petition in one day that halted the asphalt trucks from paving over the brick streets in our historic neighborhood.  My mother involved me directly in impacting our local environment.  This is just one example of how I learned to be actively engaged in my community and how I came to know the power individuals can wield to shape the systems that directly impact their lives.  My family has always been just as tenacious about civil and human rights:  by teaching, learning and living in the inner city, we acted everyday on our beliefs of equity and transformative action. 

I am a strong believer in the power of education.  We, as individuals as well as collectively, are responsible for sculpting the organizational structures that can liberate and hinder educational opportunities.  It is an intrinsic part of my character to reflect critically on how well our complex systemic structures are fulfilling the potential they hold to promote social justice.  I turn now to illustrate the various ways I integrate my philosophy with my practice.


My university classroom.  Too frequently, students find themselves confronted by projects they don’t know how to begin.  Of course, many students also need guidance learning how to be more effective thinkers.   The learning process is fraught with conflict from which anxiety and confusion can develop.  For some students, the situation can appear hopeless.  To prevent anxiety from escalating in my students, it is my practice to approach teaching from a technical perspective.  I have found that giving concrete avenues to achieve goals, enables students to wield opportunities for enriched and even inspired understanding.  My job as an educator is to give each of my students a sort of analytical toolbox—or frame of reference—that they take with them into their future roles as professionals.  I accomplish this by meeting individually with students concerning their projects, by providing detailed feedback on their assignments, by challenging them, and by giving them multiple opportunities to demonstrate and perfect their knowledge and understanding.

Essentially, the longer I teach, the more I strive to make an impact on our society by motivating my students to be actively involved in determining the shape of their lives and professions. Understanding the historical, social, moral, political and personal dimensions of cultural systems enables me to reach my students at various ability levels and to work with them on both technical and critical dimensions to transform and shape their new understandings. When I taught courses on “Education and American Culture” to undergraduate students at Indiana University, I focused the historical course content through the discerning lens of current education policy debates.  My students told me that this perspective made it possible for them to become more interested in the history of education than they had expected.  By involving students in current issues that interested them, together we illuminated the relevance and import of history when attempting to impact the future.   We worked diligently to become better thinkers, writers and reflective practitioners.

My education administration experience.  Outside of the classroom, I believe in the power and the concept of the university.  Combining teaching with research, service and disciplinary stewardship is the most privileged life I can imagine living.  In my work as coordinator of the “Armstrong Teacher Educator" program, I utilized my research on teacher education to address the criticism that teacher preparation programs do not adequately prepare future teachers for the everyday realities of the classroom.  By integrating exceptional public school teachers into the life of the school of education, I successfully spearheaded a program that served the community of public school teachers, the school of education, the future teachers we were preparing for the classroom, and the state of Indiana. 

One of the activities that resulted from my work with this program was an orchestrated effort that brought eleven underprivileged students to campus during their sophomore year of high school to interact with university faculty in their primary area of interest which was visual arts.  During their campus visit, these high school students were introduced to possible careers that inspired them to perform better in high school so that college would be an option for them.  Specifically, I designed activities that involved them in art conservation, anthropology, bookmaking, sculpting, set design, costume design, drawing, and paper-making. 

After returning to their high school, these students created a “mandala” representing the impact that this program had on their lives.  A mandala is a cross cultural pattern—frequently a circle with a center—that represents how we as individuals are related to the infinite through our interactions between and within our bodies, minds, others and infinity.  This mandala aptly represents my ideology in that we each are a center from which our actions radiate both outward and inward and our actions go on to become elements of a larger universal pattern that we each partly create.  I have attached a copy of the mandala created by these students to demonstrate that my philosophy is very much a part of me and becomes apparent to those with whom I have the privilege to interact.


      Bull, B.L., Fruehling, R.T., Chattergy, V. (1992).  The ethics of multicultural and bilingual education.  New York:  Teachers College Press.

      Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action.  Boston:  Beacon Press.

      Pressler, M. (2005, October 23). Interview with Menahem Pressler. Profiles. WFIU: Bloomington, IN.

      Rawls, J. (1971).  A theory of justice.  Cambridge Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press.