I have officially finished the teaching portion of my summer. For the last five weeks, I have spent my days planning, revising, executing, and reflecting on my lessons; nothing has been more exhausting. Like I said earlier, I am left with a newfound appreciation for the teaching profession. I really hadn’t realized how much thought, how many hours of prep, how much love, how much patience, and how many revisions went into a lesson.
Other than my astounding appreciation for teaching, I am still processing my overall feelings towards my past five weeks. I am left with so many questions, realizations, thoughts and concerns. To start, my teaching this summer has allowed me so much insight into my own educational upbringing. This summer, we spent hours of our teacher training–probably the majority of it–learning how to discipline, practicing our teacher voices, and understanding the behavior management system (a three step discipline system we use at the Freedom Project). And that training seemed fitting because much of the time I felt like a disciplinarian–no you cannot brush your hair in class, you cannot have to go to the bathroom more than once in an hour class period, the concept of raising your hand doesn’t work if you simultaneously scream my name–rather than an educator. I would have loved to learn more about how to actually be an effective reading teacher, how to write more creative and engaging lesson plans, and what strategies improve reading comprehension, but training was jam packed and running a well oiled classroom machine was imperative. However, when I think back to my schooling, discipline was not emphasized. In fact, I remember around three instances of students getting in trouble, and I know there was no heavily discussed school wide discipline system like we have a the Freedom Project. I thought of my teachers as people I admired and often had a great relationship with them; now, everyday I worry about coming across too harsh.
I couldn’t help but wonder why my experiences at the front of an eighth grade classroom were so different than my experiences sitting in one. Of course, I came up with the factors that most obviously influence life chances and opportunities: class, race, place, gender, and more. These kids live transient and ever changing lives. Even their language reflects this; fittingly, they never use the word “to live” to describe where they reside, opting to instead for the more representative verb “to stay”. Everything from the town they “stay” in, to the person they “stay” with, changes. School, for better or for worse, is consistent, in people, in location, and consistent in rules. Unlike my small, sheltered, private elementary school, kids don’t arrive with a sense of discipline. So I have to be that force in addition to a teacher. I am, above all, consistent.
These two contrasting experiences leave me wondering what the ultimate purpose of an education is. Is it to learn material, to learn to think critically, to learn socially acceptable behavior and social skills? I wonder what role I played as someone who was not trained at all to teach, filling that role for the summer. I am curious about organization like Teach for America, who take motivated youth and push them into situations like I got pushed into. Like I said, I am left with more questions than answers.
But after reflecting, I am mostly just grateful for the experiences I’ve had that prompt me to think critically and ask these questions. I love kids, and teaching this summer was incredible, incredibly hard, incredibly fulfilling, and incredibly fun, but would be much less valuable if I didn’t have the education I did. If I couldn’t place my experiences within the larger educational system and ask these questions how could I believe in the value of education?
This picture shows some of the other teachers and students on our last day of school.