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Everyone embarks on some type of journey throughout his or her life- time and it is always evolving depending on the choices you make in life. My journey began when I was a little girl “playing” school in front of my over-sized stuffed animal collection and on occasion with my younger cousin, who had no choice but to be my student. Standing in front of my cousin’s chalkboard wall with her as my student, I knew this was going to be my career. My extended family was even aware of my obsession with “school” because I brought min- chalkboards and talked to imaginary students at family parties. Looking back some might consider this embarrassing but as I reflect on those days I think about how my childhood dreams turned into a bright reality. I consider myself to be fortunate to have developed a passion for learning at such a young age. Growing up I was surrounded with a supportive family, teachers, and coaches, all of whom exhibited great leadership skills and a constant yearning for knowledge.
The concept of learning applies to mostly all experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Coming from a family who loves to travel and sight- see, I developed a passion for history. Viewing a particular monument or visiting a museum allows the visitor to view the event from a different lens and transport back in time. One year my family and I took a trip to Antietam, Maryland, the battleground where so many Americans lost their lives. Being on this open field and breathing the crisp air was an eye- opening experience. For the first time in my life all of my sense connected. I was able to relate the stories about the Civil War that I heard from teachers and family members to what I actually saw that day. Even though I was a child, I have vivid memories of being in that particular time and place. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to view an event, in this case the bloodiest war fought on American soil, from a different perspective. Traveling back in time for that brief period made me question what it would have been like if I was to grow up during the Civil War? What if my father or brother had to enlist in the military? These feelings of empathy inspired me to pursue my love of history. Throughout the years as a child and eventually into my teenage years my family and I traveled to many states throughout the United States. I became infatuated and developed a wanderlust feeling that I am actively trying to satisfy today. I am in love with traveling to new places and immersing myself into new cultures. One day my college professor told my education class, “don’t judge someone until you know their story because I can guarantee you won’t not like them.” After he said this I sat back in my chair in awe, all of the people I have every encountered quickly popped into my head. Suddenly I realized just how accurate this statement was. Unfortunately we live in a very judgmental society, where it can be difficult to view people, events, and places in a completely objective way. Everyone is guilty have having their own personal biases, but is that something I want to live with? Throughout my undergraduate career I tried to live by my professor’s empowering words. I opened myself up to new experiences, which eventually led me to form relationships with new groups of people. I decided to break out of my little bubble and truly live in the world. For example, my friend and I decided to volunteer as basketball coaches for the second grade boys team. Not only did I enjoy teaching these young all stars how to play the game, but it felt good to get involved in my community. I reflected on my past experiences with coaches in elementary and high school. Sports
As a middle school social studies teacher, I have a passion for history and culture. Therefore I strive to encourage a love for history in my students through various lessons such as gallery walks, document analysis, and webquests. Although I think the most effective way is through animation. I’m other words bringing history alive is the best way to engage all student! I started to ask myself, how could I bring history into the classroom? First, I amped up my energy and started experimenting with more creative lessons and activities, which the students loved! One day my students were leaning about the different Native American culture groups of North America. After reading about each individual group, the students were assigned a different group to “act” out. By playing charades the students were able to understand.
This activity was one I also did with my class during student teaching. At Eastchester Middle School, I learned so many fun and creative ways to bring history alive from my supportive cooperating teacher. My seventh grade students were excited and eager to learn about new events. My next placement could not have been more different than Eastchester Middle School, which is an upper middle class school district.
The next stop on my student teaching journey was DeWitt Clinton High School, which is a New York City public school located just a few blocks away from Lehman College. Walking through the metal detectors the first day and seeing the limited resources this school had compared to my first school was truly disheartening. I wondered how am I going to teach my students with only a chalkboard and no books? It was during this experience I learned just creative I could be in the classroom, but it was not easy. Fortunately, I was blessed to have another wonderful cooperating teacher who challenged me to teach in a different way to connect with my students. For the first few days I listened and watched Mr. Ballerini teach because I was amazed at how great of a story- teller he was. Day after day, topic after topic he still managed to connect the material to the students’ lives. I realized the importance of knowing who your students are and adapting your lessons and personality to reach them. Over the next few weeks I formed great relationships with the students, but one student really caught my attention. Just after the first few days I noticed Kevin was not participating in class, nor was he really writing anything down. I inquired about this particular student and learned that he did not know how to write a sentence, thus he felt uncomfortable in the class. I was shocked! How could a high school sophomore make it to this grade without knowing how to write? Instead of letting this question puzzle me any longer, I made it my mission to help Kevin succeed in the classroom. During individual or group work I sat with him and very slowly I saw him make progress. Unfortunately the short three months passed and my student teaching journey ended. However I knew I needed to finish what I began, and if it wasn’t going to be helping Kevin it would be with a new group of students. Therefore after my student teaching experience, I immediately began my next step on my journey.
A semester after college graduation I applied to the Lehman College Literacy program. Many people urged me to pursue a masters degree in social studies education but I felt as though I needed to grow in other areas, such as literacy. I knew I was a good enough writer but I knew I needed to expand my skills to better equip myself with the tools for teaching students. I quickly learned that many of my students were facing challenges with their writing, both in formal and informal assessments. Therefore I decided to enroll in the literacy program so that I can teach my students not only content but basic writing skills as well. Coming from a literate background in which grammar and was essential I focused on this aspect along with content. I think it is important to teach students literacy skills cross content so they are Abel to read any type of text. For example, a close reading approach can be used within a social studies class because the text is usually a higher text than their reading level. I have had great success with many of the literacy activities I learned throughout he program.
Even though I was not expecting it, on this part of my journey I was also enlightened by the idea of critical literacy in all aspects of my life. Instead of going through the day-to-day motions, I realized the importance of reflection and questioning the people and events that take place. For example, this summer I had the opportunity to travel to Prague, Krakow, and Budapest and explore their history. When I toured the museums and heard the tour guide’s perspective, I began to question everything I had learned in school. I thought to myself, “why do I remember a different narrative on the same topic?” It truly was an eye- opening experience, which allowed me to immerse into three different cultures with whom I was not familiar with. This type of learning experience is something I strive for with my students. Even though it is unrealistic to expect my students to travel, I try to expose them to new and different experiences in the classroom to open their minds and encourage them to challenge the world around them. Hopefully this type of learning experiences carries with them after they leave my classroom and inspires them to learn about anything of interest.