My teaching practice is centered on 5 core principles:
Teach the students you have, in your classroom, right now. Whatever you are teaching, the focus of your classroom should always be your students. Content taught should be relevant to their lives and center their curiosity and excitement. Students need to be able to provide feedback to you as a teacher in a regular and transparent way. If students aren’t able to learn because something at home or at school is taking priority, it is necessary to stop instruction and deal with that first.
Bring the margin to the center of instruction. Teaching most of your students most of the time is not enough. Great teaching requires looking to who is most marginalized in your classroom and school community and centering their experiences to provide equitable access to learning, community creation, and the work of science. If even a single student cannot see themselves in the curriculum being implemented, it is not doing the necessary work to reflect the needs of the whole community. This requires connecting classroom instruction to identity in meaningful ways and exposing the ways power, privilege, and oppression shape the history and present work of science – not as a one-shot unit, but as a consistent part of instruction.
Great science requires doubt, defiance, and dreaming. Science teaching cannot be about “correcting misconceptions” – instead, we bring together a variety of perspectives and make sense of the truth together using the wisdom in the room. There are countless examples of times when individuals with ideas that would have quickly been shot down in a conventional Western science dialogue turned out to be not only true, but revolutionary to an entire discipline. When students scoff, go against our teaching, or come at a subject with a completely novel way of thinking, it is our responsibility to celebrate and nurture the deeper truth in their defiance.
If something is scary, lean in. Things happen all the time in our classrooms that are not in the lesson plan – students will make an offhand comment that is bigoted or hurtful, we will experience someone’s feedback as a personal attack and get defensive, a news story with complex themes will come up in conversation during a group project. It is essential to model for students that these moments are teachable and require attention, respect, and consistent expectations for everyone to be respectful and safe. Silence speaks louder than words when these issues arise.
It is simpler to teach the truth than to teach a simplification with exceptions. Oftentimes when I talk about the way I teach race, sex, or gender in science class, people will scoff, saying that it is “too hard” or “overly complicated” for my middle school students. To them, I say that teaching an oversimplification of the truth, especially one where some students’ lived experiences are excluded, leads to the marginalization of large groups of people and leads to far more confusion and struggle later on when students are exposed to the more complete picture. Teaching with universal design does not mean adding unnecessary detail. Providing students with a more complex sense of the whole truth draws them in, helps all feel more comfortable, and gives them the tools they need for integrating whatever new information comes their way.