Victor A. Montemurro   
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The School of Education and Human Services

St. John's University


Philosophy and Goals

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

~Thomas Jefferson

     As a teacher of English for the past thirty years, my philosophy of education is grounded in the capacity of the individual to grow personally and psychologically through the development of literacy. My entire career has been devoted to the teaching of reading and writing to expand and ensure effective thinking. Thinking involves the whole self in a reflective and imaginative mode that can envision the full context of an idea, a willingness to explore and idea, and the self-directed authority to engage in ideas. Literacy expert Frank Smith (1990) believes that learning to think is less a matter of instruction than it is a matter of opportunity and experience. For Smith, whose psycholinguistic research underlies the conceptual rationale that exists throughout his work, three critical conditions must exist for effective thought to be engaged: "the thinker's broad understanding of whatever matters are being thought about, disposition to think about those matters, and the authority to do so" (p.124). The Popkewitz (1982) frame for viewing the institutional change within the culture of a school aligns with Smith's ideas about learning and can be used to understand the individual learner as well as organizational response to change.

     In the organization, individuals may share values and beliefs about matters that are thought about; learners strive to answer the question: what does it mean to know? Participating in work that will result in learning is the job of the teacher and the student. A reasonable disposition to think about matters of learning comes from a sense that the work in school is meaningful for teachers and, more importantly, for students. Finally, the authority to learn cannot be imposed. The will of the individual student is more powerful that the will of the teacher. When the student is driven forcefully into compliance with the authority of the teacher, the authority to learn does not come from the individual and thinking or learning will not occur. Individuals are the authority of their own freedom to learn. Jefferson tells us that people cannot be safe from those who will command their will and property unless they have the information from a free press that they can read. Unless individuals understand personally what it means to know and strive to work towards that knowing with the full authority of the self, there will be no thinking and no learning that is authentic and meaningful and thus, no freedom.

     As a young teacher, without full understanding of my role, my intuition drove me toward the personalization of learning for my students. Before differentiation and inclusion were terms used in educational discourse and little understood, I worked to understand each of my students as individual learners and thinkers. To know my students meant that I could teach each one. My authority as a teacher comes from my students, from their needs as readers and writers, from their selves as emotional beings, from their desire to belong to a club that will include them with more than tolerance but with acceptance and with love (Smith,1988).

     As I reflect on a career, my values and beliefs are no different than they were when I began, only clarified and strengthened. My goals extend beyond the classroom to the school and community. My hope is to be able to continue to be helpful to schools and communities after my classroom teaching career ends in the year 2008 when I turn age 55. I am hesitant to define the position from which I will do my work having never served within the existing structure of hierarchal authority that dominates the school system. I know that I am perceived as helpful and caring towards colleagues in terms of support and my capacity to teach teachers. I know that I am respected for my knowledge and competence as a classroom teacher and as a staff developer. I believe in my own integrity as do others with whom I work.

From these understandings about myself, I am confident I will develop a second career as an educational leader who is competent, caring and helpful whether as a staff developer, school system consultant or university level teacher who works with beginning teachers.

Read "What Matters Most," an article written for SpeakOut, the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers' association publication.

Philosophy and Goals
Personal Statement, April 14, 2001
"What Matters Most"

What's New! 

"Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty."
   --Albert Einstein

Popkewitz, T. S., Tabachnick, B. R., & Wehlage, G. (1982). The myth of educational reform: A study of school responses to a program of change. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club: Further essays into education. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann
Smith, F. (1990). To think. New York: Teachers College Press
dotSJU School of Education Comprehensive Digital Portfolio Copyright 2004 by Victor A. Montemurro