Teaching for the Students, a Service Learning Reflection

Teaching in York this past week has been an incredibly value experience, both for myself and hopefully for the students as well. I haven’t been in a classroom formally for a while, and though I’ve never doubted my decision to become an educator, the past few days have reminded me that I’ve absolutely made the right career choice. I enjoyed working with the 9th graders so much!

Visiting York helped to reinforce both ELA content and School of Education pedagogy for me, so I feel that it was the perfect exercise for an English course with education components. For example, I made a handout about how to write a thesis statement and how to organize an essay that I feel was helpful for students, and the creation of this material required me to reflect on both my knowledge of language skills and my experience with effective teaching strategies. This project allowed me to use my understanding of teaching English in a practical way, and certainly helped to give me relevant classroom experience related to the pertinent topic of essay writing. For these reasons, I feel this exercise perfectly bridged the gap between English and hands-on educational experience.

Additionally, I relied on some of the lessons I learned from the School of Education during this process, such as how to accommodate for different learning styles and how to interact with people of diverse cultures. The materials I made provided scaffolding for students who have a very wide range of abilities, and the lesson plan I created allowed some students to move ahead when they were ready, while others were able to receive additional support at the same time. Also, the students I worked with were certainly of diverse lifestyles. For instance, access to relevant technologies such as computers and printers might signify a different lifestyle than one where these luxuries are nonexistent; half of my students (two out of four) said they had a computer at home, while the other two did not. I was able to accommodate all of my students by allowing those who had computers to type their final drafts and print them, while I allowed my students without computers to hand write their essays, asking them to double space. Interestingly, but I suppose not surprisingly, the two students who struggled the most with this assignment and who needed additional support were the two without personal computers, which might lead to any number of conclusions, but is perhaps one of the reasons these particular students were further behind their peers.

Being in the classroom again definitely improved my sense of self-efficacy and professional development in both smaller and more significant ways. Even the simple act of waking up early, dressing in teaching attire, and walking through the hallways abundant with lockers and student artwork helped focus me in terms of adopting the role of “teacher.” Having a sense of my purpose in York’s environment allowed me to easily flip the switch from “Geneseo student” to “instructor,” allowing me to have a more authentic experience than if, say, the York students were to travel to SUNY Geneseo for tutoring.

Finally, I feel a greater sense of responsibility for the achievement of the students at York because I view them as my neighbors now (literally, they are so close!), more so than I did before this experience. My belief is that when teacher candidates learn out of context of an actual classroom, and instead encounter content and pedagogy within the confines of a college campus, something is lost. In a college classroom, we don’t create, implement, and modify our lessons for real people, but for hypothetical students who we are told we’ll meet sometime in the future; the motivation to achieve mastery is much less when it is clear that the only person who will ever see the materials we create is our professor. In the case with York, I feel as though I spent much more time and energy thinking about how to get my lesson just right, so that the real students I would be sharing it with could get as much as possible out of my teaching. The difference between these two scenarios is the people, and the community which is created through entering into their classroom has proved to be a powerful motivator.

After being made aware of the specific needs York has, I feel drawn to the district, and hope that I might be able to contribute to the students’ growth in a greater way after partaking in the service learning component of my class. I hope to reach out to Amy Ivers again in the future and perhaps offer a tutoring service for her students who wish to improve their writing, because I am no longer operating with the idea of hypothetical students in a room I can’t imagine. Instead, I am picturing the actual faces of the students who need my help, inside a room that I’ve already been. This is what stands out to me the most about our service learning experience, and what I am most grateful for having a chance to experience.

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