I'm currently in the middle of applying to the teaching credential program at Sacramento State University and as part of the application I had to write a two-page statement of purpose. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, so I thought I'd share it here. I really feel like I've discovered my purpose in teaching, something that I am truly passionate about, which is really quite exciting. Anyway, here it is:
Having spent the last two years of my life in the field of social work, my life-long passion for social justice has become further refined and clarified. During this time, I have read thoughts by authors such as Paulo Freire and have come to the realization that one of the most powerful tools that exist in our society at present to fight for social justice is education. It is through education that a person’s imagination can be liberated to dream of possibilities beyond their present circumstances. It is through education that a person gains the necessary academic and life skills to make those dreams a reality. While I believe that some changes are necessary in our traditional understanding of the educational system, I firmly believe that education, when used properly, can give hope, power, and meaning and spur individuals to take ownership of their circumstances and be successful in life, regardless of their past and present challenges.
The traditional classroom generally seems to have an air of teacher as expert, students as blank slates who are receiving and learning from the knowledge that is being handed down from the teacher. In this format, students generally have no power. Students are rather expected to perform in a curriculum that is designed in circumstances often far different from their own. Students who do not perform in this model are labeled with painful words such as “troublesome”, “disrespectful”, and perhaps even “stupid” or “incompetent”. I believe that if students feel no control or power in the educational structure, the potential effectiveness of their education will be significantly reduced. In this regard, I very much appreciate Paulo Freire’s idea of “recreating knowledge” in the classroom (Pedagogy for Liberation, 1986), where the teacher is no longer the expert communicating knowledge to the student, but rather teacher and student are learning together. In this framework, students feel more power and ownership of the knowledge that is learned because it is knowledge that they help to create and communicate. For example, I recently taught a life skills class to a group of 14 youth, a significant portion of whom had grown up in the foster care system and been tossed around for the majority of their lives. I was teaching a lesson on respect, which not surprisingly was a big issue for most of these youth. The idea I was hoping to communicate was that we often want to be respected, but we refuse to show respect to others unless they first show it to us. By facilitating a discussion rather than simply lecturing on this idea, students in the class were able to come to their own conclusions based on experiences in their lives and the lessons they learned from this class were therefore far more meaningful than what would have resulted from a lecture.
Certainly not all students struggle in the traditional model of education. I, for example, performed well in school throughout my educational development. However, I also came from a very unique background in which education had been an important part of my family for several generations. I do not believe it is uncommon for many students in the public school system at present to be coming from households in which no one has pursued a college education, and perhaps not finished high school. For students in these circumstances, the traditional teacher as expert model will be ineffective, it will merely perpetuate the societal structure of the powerful and the oppressed, with an ever-widening gap.
I want to teach because I believe that education has the ability to liberate the minds and imaginations of young people to rise above their present circumstances. I want to teach because of the impact that several of my teachers had upon me. I want to help expose students to a world of knowledge in which anything is possible.