Metamorphosis of the Mind

The past 7 days in the classroom have certainly been interesting to say the least. I went from being extremely nervous and excited when I arrived, to enthusiastic when I first met my mentor teacher and students, to discouraged when I was exposed to the downfalls in urban education, and finally encouraged to become the best teacher I can possibly become and the best mentor for my students. This transformation has solidified my desire to become a teacher and I am now sure that I will do whatever it takes to constantly improve my teaching practices and my pedagogical framework in order to best fit the needs of my students.

Much of this transformation is a result of the practical knowledge my teacher has passed on to me throughout the past week and a half. I honestly could not have asked for a better mentor teacher. Mr. King would probably be one of my favorite teachers if I were still a high school student. He practices an authoritative style of teaching where he demands much from his students, but at the same time listens to their input and works with their needs. His most effective attribute is definitely his humor. Mr. King incorporates humor into every aspect of his classroom from the time students walk in the door and shake his hand to when the students are diligently working in small groups or individually. I think that it is this unwavering sense of humor that allows him to truly connect to his students and gain their trust and respect. Humor is his own personal means of creating close relationships with each student, which allows him to gain insight into their lives outside of the classroom. As a result, Mr. King knows his students very well and is able to cater to their needs while still effectively teaching his class.
I truly admire Mr. King’s relationship with his students as well as his colleagues and I hope to incorporate his methods of using humor to gain trust and further relationships in my own pedagogical framework. I love to laugh and use humor as well so I think that by combining this quality with an authoritative teaching style that encourages academic progress, I will create a positive learning environment where kids are excited to learn and have fun while doing so.

Another aspect of my individual transformation throughout my involvement in the Philadelphia Urban Seminar is my realization of how truly unique urban students can be. As I got to know each of my students better, I noticed just how unique and individual and strong each of them are. My students were always joking and always having a good time in Mr. King’s classroom. I found this amazing because I was informed with the problems that many of these children face at home such as a single parent household, little to no food, a parent or sibling that is in jail or even teenage pregnancy. The fact that these kids can go from such unstable and sometimes depressing home lives to such a positive and lighthearted environment really says something about their characters. I also noticed that despite the heavy social influence or peer pressure on all of these students, none of the students I had seemed to conform to a norm or an urban school stereotype. These students are not hesitant to reveal their talents and abilities especially in the open environment that Mr. King created in the classroom. These kids persevere through so much and I admire their strength. I truly believe that with the right teaching practices, any teacher can reach out to these students and unearth their strengths and gifts.

I am so fortunate to have involved myself in the Philadelphia Urban Seminar because I really think it has encouraged me to become the best teacher I can possibly be. This program has opened my eyes to the reality of urban education and the struggles of each and every urban student. I now feel energized and inspired to enter into a career of teaching and I can definitely see myself in an urban setting. Going back to the first article we read for this class, Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete, it is our job as educators to “collectively struggle to replace the concrete completely with a rose garden.” I know I am up for this challenge and I hope all of you will join me as well in a journey towards educational attainment and equality in all schools.


Hard Work Is A Necessity

After spending a few days in my urban school, I have to admit that my outlook on urban education is different than what I expected. I entered my class on Wednesday after being swapped to a different teacher than I was originally assigned only to find out that I would be observing all senior classes. I realized that not only am I only one year ahead of them in my education, but I am probably the same age, if not younger than most of them. Needless to say I was quite nervous when I introduced myself to my first class. I have never observed a class before so this has been an interesting experience for me so far. I can honestly say that I am finding this observation to be a little challenging mainly because of the age of the students, their tendency to avoid completing work, and the urban school system in general.

I come from a high school where everyone has a drive to succeed and realizes that success is mainly a product of hard work and dedication. Although I was prepared for my urban school to have a different mindset than this, I was still a little thrown off to witness this in the classroom. Many of my students do not show up to school, cut class or decide that they do not want to complete the work assigned to them. I have found it difficult to encourage these students to finish the work because they often ignore teacher suggestions, from me and even from my mentor teacher. Although there are students who do complete all the work in a timely manner, most of the students have a negative attitude towards learning and I found that the activities my teacher assigned to them in class made it very difficult to assist them in the learning process. Despite this difficulty, I have found that my mentor teacher has very good relationships with every student and really demonstrates to them that he cares and that he is here to help them. These kids face many challenges in their lives from teenage pregnancy to crime to family issues and it is very beneficial for them to know that they have an authority figure to assist them.

I asked my mentor teacher about his close relationships with students and he stated that the turbulent social lives of these students not only impact what occurs in class, but also whether or not these kids show up for class. He showed me his attendance records and pointed out that only two of his students out of the five periods he teaches every day have absentee figures in the single digits. Many students are absent anywhere from 20 to even 100 days of school in one year. I was shocked by these figures and I was curious as to how this impacted their grades. I inquired about this effect and my teacher responded by saying that the School District of Philadelphia has different standards than the rest of the state in terms of educational requirements because, if they were held to the same standards, very few students would pass. I also asked about his lateness policy regarding work that was missed on the days that students were absent and he replied that he is inclined to give students the full amount of points for late work because if he doesn’t then none of the students would pass his class. These facts shocked me and I came to the conclusion that the urban system seems to be in the middle of a catch 22. If the students are held to state standards then majority of them would not pass and continue onto the next grade and they would probably end up feeling depressed or saddened by their position in school and therefore stop trying. On the other hand, if these students are given different standards, as they currently are, they learn that they can cheat the system and still pass onto the next grade. They know that even if they miss countless days of school they can still make up the work for the full amount of points and pass the class. Obviously, both scenarios are detrimental to the education of these students and I am honestly at a loss of possible solutions. My experiences over the past few days in an urban school have put a slight damper on my outlook on the education system in general. I, as well as many of the teachers I have encountered in the past few days, have noticed many flaws in urban schooling but the situations are so complex and socially and culturally embedded that a solution is difficult to come across.

I do not mean to be Miss Debbie Downer here, especially when every student has the possibility of a bright future, but I have noticed some disheartening trends in the education system. Many of the teachers at the high school in which I’m placed frequently discuss these topics but they always come to the conclusion that they can only do what is in their power. They have the power to reach out to these students and educate them, mentor them, assist them in any way possible and truly make a difference in their lives. Although it may be difficult in some situations to reach a student, merely showing that you care about them and that you are willing to help them or even just listen to them is the first step to truly connecting with them. This concept was stressed in our Penn State group discussions as a necessity in any classroom setting and also a vehicle to promote healthy and constructive relationships with students. Making these connections may be the only power that a teacher has to combat the economic and social problems that face these children and I think many of the experiences of my fellow Penn State students have encountered in the past few days attest to the importance of good teacher-student relationships. I hope that as throughout my next couple of days in the urban school, I will be able to make these kinds of connections with students and help to fuel a passion for learning in each of them. Success does not come without hard work, and hard work is definitely necessary when it comes to teaching in an urban school.

Growing Roses In Concrete

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.
~Malcolm Forbes

America is a melting pot of diversity and has been since the beginning of its very existence. This diversity has brought with it a multitude of advantages and stressors and its evolution in society has resulted in much disparity, especially in the educational aspect, in America. Jeffrey M. R. Duncan-Andrade reveals through his article Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete that teachers must bring the right kind of hope into their culturally diverse classrooms in order to inspire their students to defy stereotypes and transcend obstacles. President Obama’s message of Hope for future generations is a catalyst for reaching educational equality in diverse, urban school settings and is only the starting point. Teachers must consider the needs of their students and connect with them on a personal level. Developing this kind of trust is vital to forming a teacher-student relationship that can face the daunting challenges created by social inequality in the urban environment. It is my goal as a prospective teacher to learn how to form this connection with my students and ultimately be able to give them my fullest effort, attention and love everyday that I interact with them. I hope that the Philadelphia Urban Seminar will help me reach this goal and to fully understand how to, as Malcolm Forbes says, teach students to “think independently together.”

Message of Hope and Responsibility  (Video)

I am very excited to begin the Philadelphia Urban Seminar because although I think it poses many challenges, especially for myself, I think the benefits of this program are numerous and beneficial for my dream of becoming an influential educator. Throughout my years spent in suburban elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, I have never encountered much diversity in my learning environments. I have never encountered the struggles of an urban school setting and I have never dealt with an entire social system stacked against me. I guess you could say that I have lived my life in a bubble. Because of my lack of experience in an urban community, I have to admit I am a little nervous about my placement in a Philadelphia urban school, mainly because I am very unsure as to what I should expect. Despite my fear of being immersed in an unfamiliar setting, I am also very eager to experience this different environment and start forming some of my own teaching practices. I am very excited to learn from my mentor, who can probably give me his or her own personal insight into the urban school system, and also learn how to manage an actual classroom. Up until now all of my experience in teaching has been through textbook readings or class lectures so I am very excited to experience a more hands-on aspect to teaching, which will be much more realistic.

According to Jeffrey M. R. Duncan-Andrade’s article Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete, the best way to connect with your students is show that you truly care. The fact that you as a teacher are willing to sacrifice your time, effort and resources for the progression of your students will allow you to gain trust and true caring from students. In the culturally diverse, yet very unequal world that we live in today, students want to be given hope from their teachers, and not hokey hope, mythical hope or hope deferred, but critical hope. Duncan-Andrade considers critical hope to be “the enemy of hopelessness” and it is this kind of hope that I wish to learn how to replicate through my experience in the Philadelphia Urban Seminar. I hope that if I do decide to teach in an urban setting post-graduation, I will be able to create a learning environment where roses can grow out of concrete.