New Year, New Challenges

Student teaching has officially ended, which still hasn’t really set in with me. When you dedicate your entire semester of school to teaching full time, everything sort of blends together. I was surprisingly fine with parting with my students, which doesn’t necessarily surprise me because they were not my favorite. As you may know from my past posts, no teacher ever wants to say they have bad students, but sometimes, motivation is the hardest part, and that was my challenge with this long-term placement. 

I came out of student teaching with a very good grade, but I still know I have a ton of things I could improve, which is going to be put together in future professional development, which is a given in the education world. In other professions, development happens through experience and how much you invest in the job. For teachers, classes and further education is always around the corner. I’ve met plenty of teachers who say they would be fine with being professional students, because they simply enjoy being in classes and learning more. Not to mention there are always new trends and curriculum improvements that teachers need to learn about, and the most effective teachers are those who are always returning to take classes. 

As I consider this, this is the year that I’m supposed to graduate. Due to various complications, graduating in May won’t be possible, but by December I’ll be in the clear. If all goes well, next fall is when I hope to begin my time in the Teach For America corps, wherever I end up. I’m willing to go anywhere, in fact I would like to go somewhere I’ve never been. I plan to work with American students for a while to see the changes that need to happen here before I try to live abroad. My goal is to return to South Africa. Perhaps I could get an advanced degree at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, or even teach at Kingswood College, the exclusive preparatory school that attracts students from all over Africa.

But in South Africa, my heart belonged to the township children who introduced me to their lives and their country. I know regardless of everything, I will want to return to Ikamvalesizwe Combined School in Kenton on Sea, right on the coast if the Indian Ocean outside of the Kariega Game Reserve. Those children in that tiny city captured me and made me never want to stop helping them. I’ve had my fill of the first world, and I know I want to bury my bones in the developing country that stole my heart. 

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Musings of a Full-Time Student Teacher

I’m back! And exhausted! For anyone who’s been following me since the beginning, you knew there would be a drum roll for this moment. Whether it’s undergraduate or graduate, full-time student teaching is the ultimate test: Is this what you want, and can you do it? That being said, I am now a senior in college, and I am now a full-time student teacher. Interestingly enough, a student teacher gets the same privileges as a certified teacher, except the own classroom and getting paid part. Actually, a student is paying to teach instead getting paid to teach. Funny the way that is. 

Student teaching is no pleasure cruise. It’s actually the most challenging thing I think an undergraduate college student can do.  Some may say that taking classes in a foreign country is nerve-wracking, which it may be, but nothing compares to learning to teach teenagers by doing the job. The worst part about it is that I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices for this semester of student teaching, as have many other student teachers before me. 

I’ve constantly been thinking back to my original education plans. I had intended to go into special education originally, but the amount of time I would have to spend with elementary students deterred me from it, because i’ve always considered myself more comfortable with older students. Though teaching in South Africa changed that, I still do find a soft spot for special needs students. I got to observe a special education class at the high school where I’m interning and really liked what I saw. 

That in mind, my next goal for my professional life is Teach For America. In January I can submit my application to the 2015 corps. There, I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to go into special education, one because it’s a huge plus if you’re willing to do it for them, and two because I do feel like those students are who I want to work with most. Getting through this semester is step one, and from there it only gets better. 

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Elementary Schools Destroyed in Oklahoma Tornado

The recent tornado in Oklahoma wreaked havoc and a 17-mile path of destruction, including two elementary schools. Similar to the Newtown shooting, there was a heroic teacher who put herself in harms way to protect the students in school during the horrendous storm. This teacher was Shannon Crosswhite. News sources say Ms. Crosswhite took her students to the bathroom and they took cover in some stalls. She laid on top of them as the tornado ripped through the school, pinning them down with her weight and shielding them from the flying debris. She was wearing sandals, and sources say her feet were scratched up as a result, but no serious injury came to her or the students she was protecting. Though many deaths resulted from the storm, it is comforting to know that students who were in school were wel cared for by people like Ms. Crosswhite. As the country holds their condolences for the citizens of Oklahoma, we thank the brave people who stepped up and helped in the time of crisis.

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The Real Deal: Internships and the Stephen King Challenge!

Well, folks, I thought I’d talk to you all since I realize it’s been quite awhile! I am now in my second semester of junior year, and things ae heating up because I’m beginning Part I of my year-long teaching internship! I will soon receive word on where I will start out my teaching internship this semester. I know it will be middle school students. Oh joy.

I’m kidding, I actually enjoy working with middle school students. They’re going through a tough time emotionally, so I try to see it as students need someone to model for them a supportive environment where they can be open with each other and communicate problems they may be facing as the teenage years get under way. Hey, we’ve all been in middle school, and we’ve all hated it. It’s a learning experience.

Also, my second blog, “In My Unprofessional Opinion” is under way to have more posts, hopefully soon. If you want a good laugh, you should check it out!

In other news, I’ve decided to create and embark on what I call the Stephen King Challenge. Basically, I’m challenging myself to read every Stephen King book ever written, keeping up with new ones, before I turn 30. Why Stephen King? There’s a reason why he’s called the King. From his early works to his works of today, I’ve always been very interested in his work. Horror writing is not my thing, but the way he tells a story is different from any other author I’ve read.

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My Reaction to Sandy Hook

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a truly horrible tragedy. As someone going into education, many have asked me what I would do in such a situation. In my opinion, the true hero among all the madness was Victoria Soto, the young teacher who died when she took a bullet for her students.

There’s an unwritten rule for teachers that when something as serious as a shooting happens in school, a teacher is supposed to protect their students at all costs. Ms. Soto held this rule to her heart as she hid her class and stood up to the shooter. Speaking of the shooter, Adam Lanza, I think it’s unfair that people aren’t acknowledging him as dead. He may have committed a monstrous crime, but he’s still dead as a result of the crime. If you look up a list of all the people who died in the shooting, his name is not there. It has been mentioned by multiple news sources that Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome, and his mother was about to commit him to a care home. A possible motive for the killings was that Adam felt his mother loved her students and the school more than she loved him, which was why she was committing him.

I hope people haven’t started associating Asperger’s syndrome with violent behavior as a result of this incident. Asperger’s is merely a form of autism, in which at times can exhibit somewhat strange and irrational behavior, but not violence. Schools all over the country held meetings to inform students of what would probably happen if such a tragedy was to occur in their building, which is what should happen as we all recover from this tragedy.

The students at Sandy Hook returned to school this morning.The school was moved to a different building for the time being, and they probably have grief counselors on hand while the students and staff recuperate.

Update: Jan 15th- While keeping up with the news on HuffPost, I heard that the school district where Victoria Soto went to high school is planning to name a new elementary school they’re building in the district after her. This is an amazing and well-deserved honor for Ms. Soto’s heroism. Fabulous news. Construction on what will be The Victoria Soto School is said to begin this summer.

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The Truth About Prison

In my last post, I talked about how I tutored in a prison this past semester. I only talked about it briefly, but now that it’s all over, I can really elaborate on what I saw in prison. As volunteers, we only saw so much, and learned more about what we didn’t see from talking to the inmates. This post is not going to be happy, so read at your own risk.

The first thing people need to know about prison is that it’s a really screwed up system, especially in America.  Prison has evolved from what it was originally supposed to be into something awful. Prisons were created to rehabilitate criminals so they can safely reenter society. What they have become are people warehouses, holding criminals for years and years and if they are released, they’re even more messed up because they’ve been locked away and abused for so long. In fact, the United States has the highest amount of inmates in the world. Why? Because we give the longest, harshest sentences. In the old days, murderers would get two years in prison, tops. Now, we have multiple life sentences. Even thieves can get up to twenty-five years in prison. That is ridiculous, and it means there is a serious problem with America’s view of social justice.

Next, people need to know what happens to inmates. Imagine the worst thing you ever did in your entire life, and you are judged for it for the rest of your life in a place where you aren’t trusted and have no rights. Imagine living in a cell infested with mice or roaches, with asbestos and unsanitary conditions. You’re stripped of privacy, decency, and humanity. Imagine not being able to see your family, your parents, your children, your friends, except maybe once a week for about an hour. This is how they live. They are searched constantly, belittled, humiliated, and neglected. Have they committed horrible crimes? Maybe. But does that really justify treating them like trash? Inmates are still people, just like everyone else, and they deserve to be treated like people. What’s that golden rule we are all taught in grade school? Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Even if someone is incarcerated, they deserve the same respect, because it’s decent.

I want you to think about the Princeton Prison Experiment. It was a psychological experiment that brought volunteers to be inmates and guards in a makeshift prison to study human power and authority. The study had to be terminated early because the “guards” got too out of control with abusing the “inmates.” Even though it was not real, the people who were “guards” became so obsessed with abusing “inmates” and treating them horribly. This really happens. One inmate told me about getting strip searched for no reason and her cell torn to pieces. She said some powerful words to me, about how she had to let them do what they wanted because she has to play the part of the “dumb white girl.” She also told me about the harsh treatment of another inmate we worked with from the other inmates. She explained that the more successful you are before incarceration, the more other inmates will hate you. For some inmates, they are living in Hell because of the guards and their peers.

I’m going to stop there because I know this isn’t a happy post. If you have questions, please comment and ask about any of what I mentioned, because I really do want to spread the awareness of what really happens.

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I’m sure the title of this post grabbed your attention. First of all, I’m not incarcerated. I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been quite busy with starting my junior year of school. But, what I have been doing is volunteering as a student tutor in a prison. This started as a result of a program my college does where a few of our professors teach classes in two different prisons, the Maryland Correctional Institute of Jessup and the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women.

Once a week, I go into the women’s prison for two and a half hours during their study hall, where the inmates are in a library and I look over school work for them  and make corrections. As you might think, it is scary to go into a moderate security prison. We aren’t allowed to ask the inmates why they’re incarcerated, but you can’t help but think you could be helping people who could have been convicted of something heinous.

But the funny thing is, once you get past the twenty-foot electrified razor wire fences, you meet the friendliest people ever. I’m not joking, I felt so comfortable with the women and forgot where I was for most of the time. As I read their writing (because, of course, I’m a writing tutor) I learned about their families, their children (of the 40 women taking classes, 35 have children), their hopes, dreams. It was heartbreaking to read about what they could have been, if it wasn’t for the one worst thing they ever did that landed them in prison. One woman showed me a pocket sized photo of her children she keeps with her ID tag. Another showed me the tattoo of her favorite Bible reading that wraps around her entire arm in a tight coil.

Perhaps I will make another post about the common misconceptions of prison, because I don’t want this post to be much longer. But hear me out, imagine if a loved one you have was locked up and you could only see them once a week, and can’t bring them anything. That’s what these women face.


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