Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections of an Intellectually Stimulating Evening at USD

     Tonight was one of those brilliant thought-provoking nights where I think to myself, "Yes, this is it, I am getting my Masters and I am doing what I am passionate about".
     Although I am not a teacher yet (I'm shaking my fist at you, darn economy!) I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am studying what I'm meant to.  I am so passionate about education, that I when I get into thought-provoking discussions about it, I just can't contain myself.  I feel conviction.  I felt so convicted tonight in one of my class discussions that I got choked up.  I just couldn't contain the emotion that comes with passion.  What did I feel so much conviction for, you ask?  Well, for my multiple literacies class we watched a video entitled Digital Media-New Learners of the 21st Century and were asked to make notes about what resonated with us, what concepts we wondered about and what concepts we disagreed with or challenged.  This video is long (about 53 minutes) but really shows authentic ways in which schools around the country are teaching with technology.  There was one clip that portrayed a program in Chicago in which students could go after school and use technology to learn.  They had a recording studio, photographers studio, video editing studios, and showed high school students utilizing these programs and learning with this technology.  The video shows a clip of an African American high school girl who has become really good at video editing and who has dreams of owning her own production company one day.  She even taught a class to younger students on video editing at this program.  One of the members of our class, while discussing the video based on the previously mentioned criteria, brought up this scene and explained that he thought this was an aspect of the video he would challenge because he didn't think that it was "right" for a high school girl to take on the responsibility of teaching a class, and that it was "ridiculous" that she thought that she would one day open up a production company, because that wasn't a realistic goal.  Another girl agreed with him, and added that these kids need to be taught about the real-world and what awaits them and that these dreams are "too big".  Now, when I responded, I felt conviction.  I felt conviction that I believed the complete opposite.  I saw that clip and saw something completely different.  I saw a girl with a dream, but was learning the means to achieve that dream.  Now, I'm not against being realistic and teaching about what happens in the real-world, but I'm also about empowering students to believe that they have the means to achieve anything.  I am also all about students teaching other students and that it is not only possible, but beneficial, to learn from each other.  Not only were the younger students learning from another (older) student, but she was able to take on that leadership role and impart what she had learned to others, which is one of the most powerful ways to learn in my opinion.
     To maybe make you understand a little more why I felt such conviction at this point, is to explain what had happened in the class prior to this one.  The class is The Historical Struggles for Educational Equity, and we research and discuss how educational inequity started in our country and how it still persists today.  A theme we have come across is segregation, and how it still exists in schools today, although according to the "educational system" it is de-segregated.  (But that's a whole other topic!).  Tonight we had a discussion about our students, and how minority students are getting lost in our system.  We talk about the social injustice that happens and gets ignored because of the fact that our education system is politically based.  We talked about how our society has held Asian Americans up as the "model minority", but how that's really masking the discrimination that is still happening, because it doesn't take into account all Asian Americans.  We talked about standardized testing and how it is doing a disservice to our students and leaving many of our children behind, mostly minority students.  We talked about the inequity in schools based on socioeconomic status, and the difference in education the students at different schools receive because of it.  Basically, what I connected with most in this evenings discussions was the absolute passion I feel when I think about my future students (and the students I student-taught) and how I don't want to be the teacher that leaves any of them behind.  I want to be the teacher that focuses on the students and their needs and have a student-centered classroom in which they are engaged and motivated and that ALL students feel empowered to take control of their learning.  I want to differentiate my instruction so that all students feel successful and grow in their education.  I don't want any students to feel discriminated against in my classroom, because they won't be.  I want my students to know that I have high expectations from ALL of them, and that they are all worthy and can be successful.  Which brings me to the conviction I felt in my second class.  For a student in general, not to mention an African American student, who we often marginalize, generalize, and discriminate against in the education system to be so passionate about something and believe in herself and teach others was an amazing thing to see.  I felt conviction that this is indeed a goal for us educators to reach, to inspire passion in our students and to have them take control over their own learning.  I believe it is a goal we should have to allow our students to believe in themselves so much that they can have dreams of overcoming the stereotypes and discrimination against them in our society.  I understand that it is also our job to teach students about the real-world and "realistic dreams" but man, it was so wonderful to me to see passion in these students.  I think that it is our job as educators to foster engagement, motivation, and a passion for learning in our students.
     I can't really concisely articulate what these classes and these discussions did for me, because I could go on and on and more in depth, but I just wanted to get out what I couldn't hold in any longer.  This is what I'm passionate about, and I can't wait to keep furthering my knowledge, figure out a way to make changes, and one day implement them (if any teaching jobs would just open up, already!)

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it if you made it all the way to the end.
Any feedback and/or comments are welcomed and appreciated :)



  1. Sherilyn,
    I really enjoyed the emotion that you put into this post. I know one of the most frustrating parts of education is that there are so many teachers out there that are passionate and willing to go the extra mile, but there are no jobs available to them. I think your passion and drive will never be lost even if it take you a year. You will be a wonderful teacher that will definitely motivate students to think about how to apply their academic AND life skills to better their future.

    I also want to challenge you when you do get your next job. Many schools use texts and textbooks that foster education from one grade level to the other in order to make students accessible to college curriculum later in life but they don't teach "life skills". Find a way to stand your ground when you have your own classroom and use texts only as a guide, but let the students lead the way. With administration there will be MANY limiting additions to your pedagogy and philosophy, but remember this posting and never lose your willingness to teach and to learn.

  2. It's always hard to find that balance between reality and dreaming big. I think as educators it is our responsibility to equip our students with the tools so that they can be prepared for the real world, but also to pursue their dreams. It's unfortunate that the real world is not always ideal for individuals to dream big, but I feel that that's a challenge that we can take head on. Yes there will be disappointments and moments where we will all be discouraged, but that doesn't mean that we should limit what can be done. As educators we need to find ways to guide our students through these times and also teach them these skills so that they are capable of dealing with it in the future. Ultimately what I think I am trying to say is we need to be able to inspire our students, motivate them to follow their dreams, and also prepare them to handle whatever may come their way. So I think I am trying to say the same thing that you are, and also struggling with articulating myself.

  3. Sherilyn,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. For me, the real question is whether or not the students in your multiple literacies class would have had the same reaction if the student in the video were a white male in a suburban high school? I would venture to say that the reaction would have been quite different. Does this speak to the true institutional nature of our racism, sexism and classism? I think it does. The myth of the Great American Meritocracy is in fact a myth. There are many factors that go into which "Americans" are indeed truly rewarded based on their efforts. In schools, we cannot escape this reality, but to adequately prepare our students for the "real word" should include honest and open dialogue around issues of institutional inequity in our society–and their causes. All too often we mistakenly attribute the effects of this inequity as the cause social problems. Racism, classism, homophobia, etc., should be discussed so everyone can have a valid understanding of the complexity of who gets rewarded and who gets punished in our society for factors that are largely out of the individual's control.
    This touches on something else that bothers me greatly: the concept of "charity work" – where there is an implied inequity between the receiver of the charity and the benefactor. If I only see myself as providing charity for the unfortunate, I never have to deal with the actual cause of the systemic nature of who traditionally needs charity and who traditionally provides the "help." Without actually attacking the cause of the problem: the fact that we live in an unjust society that doesn't distribute its benefits equally or fairly, the faces of who needs charity and who gives charity will never change. I would advocate for the distribution of equity and opportunity over charity. People should attach the true causes of the injustice instead of simply placing a band aid on the "effects" and patting themselves on the back for "giving back." Another unfortunate result of those who examine the effects of injustice and label them as the causes is that it is easy to blame the victim for getting in the situation in the first place. . .once again allowing those who support, often unconsciously, this unjust social structure to get a free pass on both the guilt and understanding that might actually lead to the type of action that will generate true social change. . .