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What Are the Different Types of Teaching Philosophies?

What Are the Different Types of Teaching Philosophies?

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had no idea that there were different teaching philosophies. Yet now that I have learned about the different methods teachers use, I can see the influence they have had on my life and the way I homeschool my kids. So what are the different types of teaching philosophies?

A teaching philosophy is a series of statements that identify and define a teacher’s or a school’s beliefs, values, and knowledge. In terms of principles and practice, it is a somewhat structured collection of information and opinion about educational standards.

A teaching philosophy can influence what topics the teacher will cover and how they will teach them. The way they teach these topics will also reveal their beliefs and values around the core curriculum. The four major teaching philosophies are Realism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, and Idealism.

A Breakdown of the Different Types of Teaching Philosophies

A Breakdown of the Different Types of Teaching Philosophies

With all of the opposing views about educational practices, there seems to be no agreement in sight as to which direction teachers should take. Should they lean more toward the intellect of the learner or the character?

Because education is vocational, students need a complete balance in their development that will not only equip them intellectually but also enable them to prosper. They are being prepared for the real world, and they need to know how to function in it, making wise choices.

With the definition of philosophy being the love of wisdom, here is how each teaching philosophy strives to get students to love what they learn.


Realism philosophy originates from the work of Aristotle. He stresses that reality, value, and knowledge exist independently, whether or not anyone is thinking about them or perceiving them. Realists emphasize using the senses and scientific investigation as a way to discover the truth.

Realism in Teaching

When you apply the philosophy of realism to your way of teaching, the focus is on scientific research and development. Things such as standardized testing, serialized textbooks, and specialized curriculum are examples of this type of learning.

When teaching according to realism, a teacher may include:

  • Demonstration
  • Recitation
  • Critical thinking
  • Observation
  • Experimentation

With Realism, the teacher’s job is to teach practical information about the reality of the physical world and the Natural Law. There is a strong focus on math and science, which is the same as those who focus is STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. With STEM, the focus is on what can be seen and on problem-solving. Little time is spent on developing an opinion.


The existential school of philosophy focuses on the value of the individual over external norms. Existentialists think that our reality consists solely of our lived experiences and that our final realities are embedded within each of us as individuals. As a result, outside of our personal experiences, our physical world has no value.

Soren Kierkegaard is considered the father of existentialism. At the time, Kierkegaard was focusing on the importance of the responsibility of the individual believer and the choices they make within their religion.

Another early proponent of existentialism is Friedrich Nietzche. He went in the opposite direction of Kierkegaard and was convinced that God didn’t exist and that man was solely responsible for his own actions. Between the two extremes is the existential philosophy, which is trying to regain the loss of the individual.

Existentialism in Teaching

Existentialists despise the idea of treating pupils as objects to be monitored, tracked, or standardized. Teachers want the student’s educational experience to emphasize self-direction and self-actualization.

The teacher who uses the existential philosophy is viewed more as a facilitator than an instructor. Their goal is to help their pupils to better understand who they are as individuals and can include giving students a choice in what they learn and how they want to go about learning it. The goal of an existential classroom is to develop each student as an individual and not develop society.


The idealist philosophy emphasizes that ideas or concepts are the nuclei of all that is worth knowing. This school of philosophy encourages conscious reasoning and stresses looking for and placing value on a universal or absolute truth or idea.

Idealism is based on the writings of Plato, who believed that truth was the central reality. He didn’t think that people created knowledge, but instead, they discovered it. Plato felt that people focused too much on the physical and sensory world. Instead, he thought education should develop in the body and the soul of the student, revealing all the beauty and perfection the student is capable of.

Idealism in Teaching

Idealism in Teaching

A teacher who is an idealist will focus on the development of the students’ minds. The curriculum will consist primarily of humanities and math, and there is a continual drive toward perfection in the study of various subjects – subjects such as history and literature, which are essential in helping students discover what is ideal for humans. Typically, anything that helps bring students into contact with ideas rather than things is considered a good curriculum.

The teacher is considered somewhat of a role model for the student. They are more experienced, and their responsibility is to pass their knowledge of the ultimate reality on to the pupils. Knowledge is transferred from teacher to student either verbally or through writing, so lecturing and direct instruction are key components in the idealist classroom.

When defining a curricular focus, it should center on ideas rather than specific content. The desire is that students will be intrinsically motivated to learn.

Teaching techniques will include lectures, discussion, and Socratic dialogue. The idea is to pose questions that will generate thoughts and build connections. For example, there are six types of Socratic questions teachers can use to stimulate thoughts and ideas.

1. Questions for clarification.

How does this compare to what we are talking about?

2. Questions that explore assumptions.

What could we assume from that statement?

3. Questions that explore reasons and evidence.

What would be an example of that type of teaching philosophy?

4. Questions about various viewpoints and perspectives.

How else can we look at it?

5. Questions that explore implications and consequences.

What would be the consequence of making that decision?

6. Questions about the question.

What do you think was the point of that question?


The pragmatist believes that a person’s reality is constantly changing and thus, learns best through experience. Pragmatism philosophy says that what a person knows is acquired by an exchange between the learner and their environment.

The prominent influencers of the pragmatic philosophy are Charles Perce, William James, and John Dewey. Pragmatism was developed during the industrial revolution, which was an era of significant change.

Prior to this time, most people developed their world views based on religion. Then, science started to move the train of thought toward evolution, which caused a lot of chaos. The way the environment was changing began to profoundly influence how people thought. Pragmatists said that there were no values or principles to search for. Rather than complying with an external norm, the focus was on what works and benefits the most.

Pragmatism in Teaching

The pragmatic way of teaching emphasizes active learning. Students need to actively participate in the world around them through educational activities. They don’t see school as preparing you for life, but rather, it is a part of life itself. With this in mind, one’s entire life is considered an educational experience.

The pragmatic teacher believes that truth and values are intimately linked to changes in individuals and their surroundings.

The essential thing pragmatists teach students is how to challenge what they know and how to grow their knowledge to keep up with changing times. Teachers encourage student collaboration by offering them brainstorming assignments to help them solve problems thoughtfully while contemplating change.

The typical teaching methods used in a pragmatic classroom would include:

  • Hands-on problem solving
  • Experimenting
  • Projects
  • Cooperative Learning



Though there are four main types of teaching philosophies, there is also an extended list of Philosophies of Education. If you give each of the above teaching philosophies some thought, you will probably realize that the knowledge you have acquired throughout your educational life is a combination of all the above styles. There is no doubt that your educator’s teaching philosophy had a direct impact on the person you’ve become today.

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Written by Alexandra Christensen

Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.

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