1.the reason for which something exists or is done.
I suppose I should begin this project like we begin each lesson for our students; Explain “Why.”
Why have I decided to keep a written account of my experiences as a first year special education teacher? Why, when I will be stressed and exhausted from the daily routine of classroom sprints, have I chosen to add another assignment to my never-ending list?
Let me explain.
It is not because I am particularly fond of adding extras to my agenda (though I am fond of vigorously crossing things off of my To-Do lists).
It is also not because I envision my first year as so extraordinary that I need to write it down for future teachers to learn from.
No… I do not possess that much confidence in my budding teaching abilities… Honestly, I feel that I have not yet earned that “Master
of Education” title that is proudly displayed on my wall. Though the work I put in at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education most definitely deserves some sort of “Hoorah!” I have by no means “master”ed the field of education, other than My God-given Purpose
.Thus, I present the real
reasons I chose to tackle this project:
1. Self Reflection: I firmly believe that the best educators are self-reflective, each and every day.
After reading mountains of research and peer-reviewed educational journal articles, there is no argument that the most talked about “best practice” of incredible teachers (the ones who push their students beyond the perceived limits of education) are the teachers who actively reflect on their personal mind sets, daily lessons, and actions, continuously.
I want to embody that characteristic. Thinking about my day on my drive home may be a good start, but I could not think of a better way to hold myself accountable and actually make the changes to my teaching I think about, than if they are written. There’s something so powerful about writing down your thoughts and goals that makes them more concrete, tying you more closely to them; a practice I will teach my students, so we can all make great personal gains together.
2. Sharing of the Stories:
Let’s face it, kids are funny! Who doesn’t love a good anecdote about something completely hilarious a child says or does?! I want to share those things! It spreads joy! And hopefully, it can change some of this country’s perceptions about the children of West Philly, and everyone will fall in love with them just as I have. (Here’s my first share: They are not spending most of their days on the playground, “chillin’ out, maxing, relaxing all cool.” However, they do love to shoot “some b-ball outside the school!” Yes, that is straight from the Fresh Prince; West Philadelphia born and raised.)
3. Instant Access to (Non-Judgemental) Listening Ears:
Yes, my reasons are somewhat selfish.. But let’s be realistic: Teaching is not all smiles and laughter; It is challenging, frustrating, and complex, yet rewarding work. I know there will be days when I just need to let it all out and release some of the frustrations that are inevitable. What better way to get a handle on that frustration than therapeutically stabbing at the keys, clicking away the tension?
Now that I’ve established the purpose of my writing, I would also like to attempt to put into words the purpose of my work. This will be no small feat, as I have attempted it many times verbally, and in Teaching Philosophy essays, and have yet to hit just the right note…
Why Teach? Why Special Education? Why Urban Education?
If you are not aware, let me state the facts: Not all children in this country are receiving what they deserve; the opportunity to reach their full success potential.
The achievement gap is real, it is not politics.
Students in low-income regions across the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” are trapped in a cycle of poverty because their schools are flat out failing them. The American Dream for these kids is just that, a dream. Innocent children; adorable, loving, inspiring kids, are being let down, everyday, because we are not providing them with the skills, tools, and knowledge they will need to compete in the fast-moving global economy our world has become.
Here are some more facts: Students in low-income areas, coincidentally areas with high populations of minorities, are overrepresented as “Special Ed.” The numbers and data tell an alarming story… There is a a suspiciously high rate of children being classified as needing Special Education in Philadelphia… Why? Why are Black and Latino children more commonly diagnosed with Learning Disabilities than their suburban White peers?
As with any issue, there are many schools of thought and complexities, but I can boil it down to one theme: Poverty. Poverty is the highest correlating factor for children diagnosed as Special Ed. All the things that children living in poverty have to face each day, things I witnessed living in New Brunswick and now Philly, are contributing factors to the slow loss of their potential: Things like; parents working overtime at 3 jobs to put food on the table and therefore not being around to converse with their children or read with them, parents who came here to escape far worse conditions but have yet to learn English or earn a higher-wage job, parents who (due to their own schools failing them) are struggling with drug addiction, are in jail, or even dead, downright disgusting and unhealthy housing conditions, potential malnutrition, possible homelessness…
I could go on and on about the heartbreaking things our children face, but to be honest, they are stronger than I will ever be. I have nothing but respect for these children. They are resilient. They just need the right people, structures, and opportunities to allow that resilience to carry them out of their current situations.
That is where education comes in. That is where I fit. That is why God put me here. That is my Purpose.
The Purpose of Education… To ignite a love of learning… The creation of life-long learners… The molding of our future great thinkers, problem solvers, and leaders… The transformation of children into advocates of love, respect, responsibility, perseverance, and teamwork.
These are the things I will strive to achieve with my students. And I know we will get there, with struggle and grit, everyday. We will put in the work, together, to become great readers, writers, and mathematicians; lovers and seekers of knowledge and new challenges. We will share in the joys and successes of our friends, and we will push one another to keep fighting. I will provide my students with every chance to experience daily success, boost their confidence, and reach for those big dreams. We will set big goals, and everyday will bring us one step, one inch, or one centimeter, closer to them. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
I am here to be the biggest cheerleader, giver of tough love, and poser of challenges. I will teach them to fight for their rights as students; to be advocates of their own educational needs. My students will be as self-reflective as I strive to be. I will push them beyond surface level learning, showing them that they are more than a student, and they deserve everything they dream of.
I am here on purpose. I have followed the path God placed before me. Am I terrified? Yes. Am I unsure of my abilities? Most definitely.
These are no doubt lofty goals for myself, and my students. But I have the most powerful force behind me: Love.
1 Corinthians 16:14 says, “Do everything with Love.” I will.
I will love my students, and their families, as Christ loved me: That is the most powerful teaching strategy I will ever possess.
“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:7. I will.
I want to look back on that celebratory last day of school and say with complete content: “I gave those boys everything I had.”
In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” I will make a life, filled with Purpose.