... Self Reflection ...
I saw this course as a chance to get more of an inner look at inner city education. I had not known it was required in the MAT program if I were not thinking about teaching in the city, so I actually would not have taken it. I came in thinking that it was highly unlikely that I would look to teach in an urban district. I had toyed with the idea for a spell some weeks earlier in conversation with Dr. S and thought about the strong need for math and science teachers – not only in general, not only in urban areas, but for the children. But I think I came to the conclusion in my mind, for the time being anyway, that I would seek a job in a middle-of-the-line suburban location. It was fear and maybe a bit of the desire to stay in one’s comfort zone that took me that way.
Once I knew I was taking the class, I hoped to learn about what the inner workings of inner city education were like; I wanted to see if preconceptions and assumptions were true, to what degree, and I wanted to see why the state of education is what it is in the inner city. I feel like I had a reasonable dabble into these areas, but I do feel like seeing some of the less successful schools during the visitations would have made it more complete.
I also learned about policy and regulation (which I never had a strong interest in, but I do feel is information that we as future educators should be attuned to), and I now know more about what gives an Abbott District its designation and the court case behind it all. Hearing a little bit about the University’s history as a normal school and the NJDOE standards for teaching was interesting and eye opening.
I learned about the problems of the high teacher turnover rate in urban districts and how this makes providing a consistent and quality education there even more challenging. I learned that just because a child is in an urban area and struggles with a slew of problems and issues that may be hard to stomach does not mean we can let them get away without learning. We need to challenge inner city students with the same rigor as anyone else, because they ARE capable and they can learn.
I learned that our classroom will be the place where we have the most control as teachers, and that even when dealing with a difficult administration in an urban district or otherwise, we need to capitalize on what we do have and make use of it. We can make what we teach authentically ours and connect it to life to engage our students. I learned that perspectives and cultural traditions amongst different individuals in urban areas can be quite different than what we might be used to, but to just be aware, show that we care and want to know, and be respectful. I learned to choose battles appropriately because some you will never win and are just pointless and counterproductive to argue. This also ties into keeping the bigger picture in mind and NOT focusing on the little nitty gritty but to see the children’s optimal learning experience as the prize.
I think one of the most important things I am taking away with me is a fresher, more informed view of urban education. Goodbye assumptions.
Challenges & Triumphs
It was very challenging for me to hear the realities about the state of the educational system and the socio-economic crises in some of these urban locations. It sent pangs through my body to hear that in some urban areas 90% of the kids are on a free lunch program because the state of poverty is so rampant, that some children are homeless and need to make their way to shelters for the night after school, and the degree of the dilapidated conditions in some of these schools and how they are almost helpless to change it in the immediate future.
Learning of the bureaucracy and special interest controls and implications was upsetting. To live in America and not know it’s about the money would put one in a place of primal ignorance, but even with the knowledge of the money mongering, it was still so striking to see to what degree money controls the system. And the problems that plague schools as a result of lack of funds was a very frustrating point for me, especially when seeing how much money other wealthy districts do have. A lot of this I was somewhat aware of prior to taking the course, but I did not really know and I did not think about it on a deeper level.
I felt a surge of accomplishment and inspiration, as well as several varied emotions after the school visitations. How I opened myself up and soaked it all in, even with the interplay of some previous assumptions and fears, was a triumph for me. I went to every single school on that itinerary and I am SO thankful that I did! It was an enriching experience and I would not have wanted to miss any of it.
Despite working in a center for technology, I still struggle personally with dealings with it. I become easily frustrated and my sometimes maniacal perfectionism comes into play when it comes to artwork or writing: creating something, particularly if it has personal value to me. So it may seem paltry, but I felt accomplished in getting through the use of new technology based programs (seen in the blogs and websites) without having any serious meltdowns. I also spent far less time on the cultural collage than I would have in the past. This was an accomplishment. And I saw that the course necessitated it.
A valuable take home point for me involves time management and being able to see the priorital hierarchy of your tasks. Even though you know you might love to dive into something full force, it is that step back and “timeless reflection while in limbo” that you need to practice. What is the main objective for me here as a teacher? What kind of time do I have to get this accomplished and what is truly important? How will I feel tomorrow and what will NOT drive me into an early grave?
Teachers and direction
I will take the whole “I Learned…” excerpt from the Expectations section above, with me into the schools, and with it so much more.
A teacher prepared for an urban classroom needs to see the children as people, see them for the individuals that they are. Every student needs to start with a clean slate, no matter what background, race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, faith or traditions that they practice. There needs to be some type of bonding with the students to set the tone for the classroom. I will definitely make eye contact with my students, I will want to get to know them as human beings and notice how they feel. This is a compassion that helps the children grow and with it, understanding. We cannot truly understand right away where a child is coming from based on the disparity in our life experiences, but it is that time taken to listen and to accept them that matters. Being a culturally responsive individual is vital in an urban environment where the potential to encounter a multicultural population is so much greater.
Some of the skills vital to urban educators include the ability to pull out different teaching styles to teach to the various learning styles. Whether a child is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, if all are included in some way, the learning potential in the class has increased. The pedagogical techniques that are utilized should be mixed up and varied to increase student engagement and understanding of concepts introduced. It is not just what you teach (the subject area) but how you teach it. I think you also need to have patience in the role of a teacher, no matter where you go. The fact also is that the students will look up to you as a role model whether you desire it or not, so an urban teacher needs to be prepared to be seen and to behave as a positive role model for the students.
Whether I will end up in an urban, suburban or rural environment, I honestly do not know. Regardless of where I am teaching, one practice I would really like to implement is reflective teaching. To be able to self-correct and introspectively explore new ideas and improvements is something that both teachers and students can benefit from.
This course has provided me with a window in to see successful urban teaching and progressing urban schools. My previous thoughts on where I want to teach did not change only because of that, but also because I see the need and the possibilities. Now I do feel a drawing, a pull toward the urban districts, where there are amazing kids, maybe misunderstood and often with untapped potential. Without trying to sound too idealistic, I do think with attention, support, rigorous challenges, and belief in them as human beings, that amazing things can happen.