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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.

Service Learning Reflection

After going into York High School today, I really got a sense of what it’s like to be in a classroom.  My experience working with students is fairly limited, and I really enjoyed working in these small groups.  I think that having only three students in my group made my own transition from student to teacher easier, as I wasn’t expected to get up in front of an entire class and lecture them about writing.  Working with these students, I felt that I used a lot of what we discussed in class, not only in terms of teaching them strategies, but our emphasis on learning each other’s names and listening intently about the subjects we discuss.  I think that these interactions were really useful, because the students seemed to want to talk about what they were planning on writing and sharing their work so far because I tried to be more conversational with them.  I tried to pay attention to each of them, and while I couldn’t exactly get a sense of their learning styles, being able to see what they were struggling with in in that first class period gave me a good idea of what to say about writing.

Now, working on giving feedback on the assignment we did in class, I feel that I am developing a much greater understanding of how to respond to students.  Knowing how sensitive teenagers in high school can be, I think it’s important to really take the time to write out the good and the bad in their work, so that they can see what they have done write and feel good about it instead of feeling dejected with the bad marks on their papers.  I want to be as attentive as possible to their development, and make sure that the feedback I am giving them is going to be useful to them not just for this particular paper, but the rest of the year (and further into the future).  I think that working with these students has given me a better perspective on what it means to truly work with a student, and adapt not only to get them to understand your method of thinking, but to look at how they think and use that to help them improve.

What Students Benefit Through

When Amy Ivers visited my English 488 class to discuss the logistics of our classroom teaching, she mentioned that her students were very much involved in farming and football. Because of this, I ruminated on a way to make learning a thesis statement more relevant to a student who had this type of background. I decided to draw a parallel between a thesis statement and to a quarterback as well as to a John Deere tractor. In the outline I handed out to the students, I  wrote, “A good thesis is like a quarterback. The team needs him in order to make touchdowns, but he can’t do it without the support of his team. In the same way, in order to answer the question (or make touchdowns), you need to support your answer (the team supports the quarterback).  The other example I used was that “A good thesis is like a John Deere tractor. This powerful tractor can plow a field, but it can’t do it without diesel. In the same way, in order to answer the question (or plow fields, you need to support your answer (the way diesel supports the tractor). These parallels worked very well. When I handed out the outlines, I asked my group of 4 students how many lived on a farm. Two students replied that they did. I then asked how many of the students were involved in football. One student played football, while another two students played soccer (one student was involved in both farming and soccer).  When the students saw the link between thesis writing and an extracurricular that they enjoyed, they seemed to perk an interest in the subject. They readily volunteered to read out loud and were quick to fill out the organizer in a cogent and clear manner. I am very happy in this because the students’ disinterest  in writing was something I worried about.

Thoughts and Expectations for Tomorrow

Having never been in a classroom as a teacher, I am pretty nervous about going into York tomorrow.  I feel prepared, and I’m happy that we will be working in small groups as opposed to one 488 student in front of the entire class.  I have been tutoring since the summer, and while the groups are three or four students instead of one, I see it more like working with my student as opposed to working with an entire class, which is much more comforting.  I’m expecting that the students will be able to do the assignment, and I really hope that what I plan to say will make sense to them.  I think that’s probably my biggest concern, but I think that the materials we have prepared both individually and as a class are pretty clear.

I’m expecting the period to go by very quickly, just because I have gotten so used to the amount of time we spend in our college classes, and this is almost half the time.  I hope that we will be able to finish the lesson we have planned, so we will be able to give the students constructive criticism when we return on Thursday. I am thinking that when they write their outline, it might make it easier for them to write a paragraph or introduction, and hopefully the will have at least one finished by the time we have to leave.

Whether or not we get everything done tomorrow, I think the experience is a good introduction to working in a classroom.  I think that just having the experience is worthwhile, because we are actually preparing a lesson and applying it, instead of just observing.