My Educational Philosophy
By Dr. Pelham K. Mead III
I have always believed in Dewey’s position on Education on “pragmatism” since I am a pragmatist. I believe in God, and that he/she has a purpose for our lives. Of the idea of God, Dewey said, “it denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions.”
I agree with Dewey that education and learning are social and interactive processes. Education or schooling is where a child spends 6 ½ hours a day. It becomes their social focus. Thus as Dewey has stated, the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. It is also my firm belief that students do well in an environment in which they are allowed to experience things and interact with the curriculum. This is another tenet of Dewey, and still today we are striving to allow students to actively engage in their learning in lecture halls in colleges, and in classrooms in elementary and secondary education.
Being a pragmatic teacher I believe programs that arise in education can be worked out. I also believe in Existentialism in which students learn in their own way. I believe students to be unique and no set curriculum will work unless it allows for their individualism to exist. Dewey believed, as do I that a teacher needs to model the right way of doing things and to prepare a student not only for the subject being taught, but also for the future where their values will continue.
Today, I received an e-mail letter from a student I had in my physical education classes and my Boys Gymnastics team over 40 years ago, thanking me for all I did for him. When I first saw the name, I had to think, “Who was this student.” Then it occurred to me it was one of my smallest gymnasts that I always gave encouragement to, that one day he would grow taller, and become stronger. He never forgot that modeling, and even though it took 40 years, he finally thanked me. Thanks were not needed because I was doing my job, and then some. I was being not just a teacher or a leader, but an adult role model, something which had stuck with this student even though after he graduated from high school I never saw him again.
Satisfactions and Challenges of the Teaching Profession
The satisfactions of teaching are when like the student just mentioned comes back or contacts me, and says thanks. I use to always get excited when my students who had graduated from high school would come back, and tell me how they were doing in college, and how gymnastics or physical education in knowing me made a difference for them. I recruited a great deal of students to the profession of teaching even at the young ages of 14, 15, and 16. When I saw that special talent in working unselfishly with others I knew this student would one day make a great teacher. I gave them opportunities to teach by becoming what I called Junior Instructors, and when they went off to high school from Junior High, I asked them to come back and help me after-school in the gymnastic practice sessions. After a few years I had over 30 Junior Instructors helping my gigantic team of 110 students. Out of the 30 students 19 went on to become teachers, which is quite a record. Many became Gymnastic Captains at their College teams. Three such students became Captains of the Springfield College Gymnastic Team, my Alma Mata. These successes were very satisfying rewards for me in my career in teaching.
There are always cons in all professions, however despite the politics of my school where I taught for 31 years, I managed to survive. We had three major strike threats in which our Union tried to force the Board of Education to give us at least a 3% pay increase every four years that was below the cost of living.
Student diversity seems to be a key word in today’s education, however when I started teaching I saw no diversity in having as many black students on my gymnastic team as white students. I did not see the difference between special students, and normal students. I remember going out of my way to encourage a tall black student who was considered a special education student to succeed in gymnastics, when his friends all wanted him to play Basketball. My support of this student paid off because he actually became a NY State Gymnastic finalist. After high school graduation he attended the local community college, and started a Gymnastic Club there. He went on to transfer after two years to SUNY Cortland University, where he became a star male gymnast. Even though he was a special education student with a reading level of second grade in eighth grade and being a black American in a generally “white” sport, he achieved. My major philosophy in my Gymnastic Exhibition Team was that everyone that kept up their attendance and show motivation and effort would participate in some way in all of our traveling gymnastic shows at other elementary and secondary schools in our district and later on in other school districts. If they weren’t good at tumbling, I put them in the parachute event. If they are too weak for the parallel bars or uneven parallel bars I made them a vaulter so they could be a part of the “Elephant Vaulting” event. (Vaulting over parallel bars with a mat laid over the rails using a springboard or trampolette, with me on the other side catching many of them as they cleared the mat.)
It never occurred to me that there was diversity of religious backgrounds, or ethnic backgrounds until my school had an International Day, and I noticed that all of my students came from 21 different countries, and spoke 21 different languages at home. In the 1960’s and the 1970’s my school district was 60% Jewish students from Spring Valley, Monsey, Pomona, and Montebello, NY. Monsey itself was a self-sufficient Ultra-orthodox Jewish community where Jewish people owned all of the stores, and all the schools were Jewish Yeshivas. By the 1980’s the population changed, and Haitian students became the next population to move into Spring Valley bringing the overall Haitian student population to almost 40% by the end of the decade.
Much of the liberal and conservative Jewish population moved out of Spring Valley to New City. Out diversity increased more and more each decade with an influx of different nationalities moving out of New York City to the suburbs where the schools were better than the city and housing was available for a cheaper amount. By the 1990’s the Indian population and the Russian population had become larger along with Chinese families. Our diversity became out strength as we struggled to learn from one another and to identify with the ethnic cultures that had moved into our community over 30+ years. Diversity was the keyword then as it is now and it meant treating students equally and fairly with sensitivity for their religious and ethnic cultural values.
Scope of my Teaching Profession
My first teaching experience other than my field-teaching placement was as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in Biology, Botany, and Anatomy at Springfield College. In my senior year I was fortunate to get a part-time position as a Teaching Fellow in Botany when another Teaching Fellow left suddenly. Because of this opportunity I stayed on as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in Botany and Zoology the next year. I was in charge of four Biology labs a week and had to teach once a month using 35 mm slides to a lecture hall of 350 Freshman Students.
After a summer in Los Angeles as Assistant Director of the LA Board of Education “School Camp” experience at Point Fermin Park, I concluded my graduate field experience, and headed back to New York. I started teaching Physical Education and Health that fall of 1967 and Coach of Cross Country, Track and Field, and Assistant to the Wrestling coach. After one year of teaching Physical Education I realized the school was in the “ice age” when it came to Gymnastics. The Men’s Physical Education staff had no clue what gymnastics really was as a sport. They called rope climbing and obstacle course-gymnastics. I had to demonstrate everything and strive to up grade the equipment, which was 20 years out of date. After I developed an intramural gymnastics program for the boys that were too small to play basketball in the winter, I inherited the girls gymnastic program the second year of my job when the girl’s coach left for a college job. I knew nothing about Girls gymnastics since in the 1960’s and early 1970’s before the Federal Title 9 rule came into effect demanding equal programs and equipment for girls. I went to gymnastic clinics every year. I bought records for Floor Exercise, and read books on Girls Gymnastics. I later became a Nationally Certified USGF Safety Gymnastic Instructor and Coach. I went on to pass the Men’s USGF National Judging test and was certified as a Men’s Gymnastic Judge for ten years.
My teaching experience was diverse in public school with 31 years at a Physical Education Teacher, Health Education teacher, Darkroom Photography Teacher, and Dean of Students for grades 7,8, and 9, called Junior High in New York State. I coached practically every sport that existed including Girls Softball but no Field Hockey. I coached French Foil fencing on a club basis and Lacrosse that was a new and upcoming sport at the time. I was supposed to be the Swimming Coach but the pool in my building was turned down by public vote and we never got a swimming pool and instead had to rent a college pool for the team to practice.
As I was retiring in 1998 the junior high system of education was being replaced by a Middle School concept of grades 6,7, and 8, leaving the 9th grade in High school where it belonged. In the 1970’s Physical Education which used to teach separate gender classes. Getting my Doctoral degree in 1992 opened a future door for me since I knew that I could not be a Physical Education Teacher forever and keep the same stamina and energy I had when I was younger. When I retired in 1998, it was just the beginning of another wonderful career in higher education where my Doctoral degree opened the doors to college and university jobs. My Dewey and James philosophy had stayed with me all my career and always made me reach out to the underdog, the underserved, the small the large, the slow and the fast students that came across my career path.
Responsibilities and Requirements of Teaching
My legal responsibilities as a teacher were “en loco parente,” in Latin, in place of the parent. It was my responsibility to prepare my lesson plans in advance, both for Health Education and Physical Education and have it approved by the Department Chairman. It was my job as a teacher and leader to present a moral presence to my students and to show them by my actions that act of kindness, good sportsmanship, good ethical values and fairness in judgment mattered both in school and in society.
My skills as a gymnast in high school and college gave me an edge in teaching Physical Education since most Physical Education teachers were poorly educated in Gymnastics and other minor sports like Fencing, Lacrosse, and Judo. These specialty areas made the difference between an average Physical Education teacher and a great Physical Education teacher. I found that in my first ten years on the job, I not only had to introduce real gymnastics to my colleagues, but I had to also educate other Physical Education teachers at the two high schools, the other two Junior High schools and the 13 elementary Schools. This opportunity came around once a year when we started off the year with the first Day of the year with the Superintendent’s Conference. I contacted several Olympic Gymnasts and one National Trampoline Expert that were employed by the Nissen Corp. and American Gymnastic Equipment Corp. as field reps and good will ambassadors. They came and put on demonstrations and clinics on three different occasions that sparked a lot of interest on the elementary school level in proper gymnastic progressions.
In 1975 I was asked to serve on the District-wide Curriculum Committee for Physical Education. I had the opportunity to write the complete Gymnastic Curriculum from K-12 grade with the skills progressions that were appropriate for each age and skill level. Later on in 1982, I was again invited to join the combined Health and Physical Education Curriculum rewrite committee to meet State requirements that had changed in Health Education and Physical Education. Trampoline has been outlawed and dropped due to insurance rates and local Doctors lobbying to drop it. Health Education was fighting with the AIDS/HIV curriculum which little was known at the time and was changed each year beginning in 1985 until 1992. These curriculum writing experience would go on to help me later in my second career in higher education where I wrote curriculums for instructional technology in the classroom, and in software programs like Powerpoint, MS Publisher, Podcasting, Electronic Whiteboards, and Student Response clickers. Still to this day my concern for the social life of the student, their learning environment, and getting them to participate in their education as Dewey and James advocated so many decades ago.
In conclusion I have tried to demonstrate how my philosophy of life with the tenets of Dewey and James in mind, have helped me to be a good lifelong teacher. I have shown by example how I deal with diversity in students and how I have always attempted to treat every student equally and with sensitivity to their cultural and religious backgrounds. I have tried in my teaching career to model what a highly motivated person would be like. I have tried to demonstrate that I achieve above the norm and that I have always tried to do more than expected and more than anticipated by my peers and colleagues, as well as my students. Proudly I have always remembered my College’s motto “spirit, mind, and body.” Treat the whole person was the theme at Springfield College, former YMCA Training School and the college where Basketball and Volleyball were invented. In retrospect I have been fortunate to have had two teaching careers, one in the New York State Public school Secondary level for 31 years, and after retirement for 12 years of higher education experience at some of the best Universities in the Northeast; New York University, St. Johns University, the NY College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
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