My identity as a student is fraught with tensions. In the primary grades, I was confident and excelled in all the subjects. However, as I continued to upper elementary, middle school, and high school, I developed negative stances toward academics and school work. I looked for learning opportunities outside of school and began brushing off what was being taught in school because it did not seem relevant to me. I was a veracious reader and by the time I reached high school I was reading the works of Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jack Kerouac. I read all these books in secret because by the time I was a teenager I did not want to be known in school as being a reader. My schools were tracking me toward vocational education despite my ineptitude and lack of concentration to be able to develop skills worthy of success in those areas. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I did not know how. I was a first generation college student and had no one in my immediate family who could apprentice me in developing the dispositions needed for success in academic discourse communities. Needless to say, I struggled and barely graduated, but I did graduate and because of this I developed my first grounding of a teaching philosophy—a mission to not have any student develop negative attitudes towards school and education when it they give us the best chance for life, liberty, and happiness.
As a teacher working with students with similar attitudes and dispositions, I began to reflect upon my early teaching mission. I realized most of us (my students and me) had wonderful educational experiences in the primary grades, but developed negative attitudes somewhere in fourth and fifth grade. What happened? In what ways did these grades shape our school identities? While I developed an out-of-school reading identity, many of my students had not yet. So my first mission was to develop positive stances toward literacy. I began bringing in mirror books with characters with similar backgrounds and problems my students were experiencing in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Over five years, I began to see that by using cultural responsive methods in my literacy instruction, my students were beginning to ask bigger questions about their lives, their freedoms, and looking for trajectories that can give them the best opportunities for happiness.
As a graduate student and doctoral candidate, I have began to refine my teaching philosophy from praxis grounded in a classroom with teenagers struggling to find their way to praxis grounded in existentialism and pragmatism. Interestingly, the two are not disparate; in fact, I am grounding my teaching philosophy in van Manen’s human science pedagogy and Dewey’s progressive pragmatism. What does this mean? Philosopher Don Ihde describes this amalgam as postphenomenology: which involves the investigation and attunement to “variational theory, embodiment, and the notion of the lifeworld” (Ihde, Postphenomenology and Technoscience, 2009, p. 11). This means, for me, that I acknowledge the myriad variational worlds of my students’ lived experiences, the ways they embody their various practices, and apply these dispositions to their praxis in the lifeworld of their classrooms. I also synthesize Friere’s principles of conscientization, the development of a critical awareness, with Levinas’ ontology of being as being-for-Others. This develops a metaphorical alchemy of my philosophy of teaching as a means for peace and justice for all.