At an early age I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder for which I was heavily medicated. My parents prior to pre-K enrolled me in a catholic school outside of Philadelphia as they considered my neighborhood school to be under-resourced to accommodate my needs. My parents chose to have me attend a private school in a suburban setting until high school so I would not be enrolled in an urban neighborhood school within the Philadelphia school district. The school I was enrolled in was predominantly white with only a handful of students of color in each class. My teachers took a traditionally “Anglo-Protestant” view (Oakes et al, p 48) on preparation for the workforce and were influenced little by non mainstream cultures present in the school community. Students were required to take Spanish each day, but english was the language spoken at the school. My schooling reflected my home life in that most students were from white, middle-class, english speaking families. My parents who I lived with until college seemed to have little trust in the Philadelphia school district, it was perceived as a gamble as magnet schools were hard to enroll into, and generally they viewed the district as under-resourced and lower quality. I think my parents decisions were influenced by complex issues within and traditional views of urban districts where schools seem to be on the hook for control of their youth, their achievement, and fixing many of the poverty and inequality issues neighborhoods face(Oakes et al, p 51).
My grade school did it’s best to equip me with the proper literacy tools although I was in remedial programs for reading and writing. Looking back my parents did not have trust in my public school district to address my literacy needs, but my private schooling utilized the same state resources I would have had in a public school setting. My parents viewed my schooling as Oakes et al note people in power view education, as mostly in preparation for standardized testing(Oakes et al, p 51). Having pull-out resource time during my religion class was successful in preparing me to write in high school and college, but had a lasting mark on my identity and self esteem. Through high school I felt as though I was an incompetent writer until an english teacher I built a strong rapport with changed my mindset. I believe until high school my schooling heavily reflected meritocracy, and it wasn’t until high school that I believed I too had value and skills that are not measured by the classes I take or tracking group I was perceived to be a part of. It wasn’t until later at my Jesuit run high school that I viewed myself as a student who could take on problems and work with them rather than just being along for the ride. I believe my teachers truly creating relationships and trust with me helped change my approach and views as a student. Prior to high school I believe my teachers did not have the time or space to truly create caring relationships with each student. Because I was not always individually recognized by my middle school teachers I thought of myself as not capable of great literary work. In the Oppressor v. Oppressed model by Freire I was not capable of viewing the skills I may have actually possessed because of the impersonal relationship I had with my middle school teachers(Freire, p 46).
I believe that my experiences in high school directly inform the work that I do today as a teacher. In particular, I believe that I quickly work to establish relationships around trust with my students. This is something I experienced in high school and it was critical to my growth as a learner from then on. I can see now that without an established relationship and trust learning environments suffer and learners can be left ostracized and disadvantaged while fearing . With a relationship established teachers can get to know your background and interests to better contextualize the work you do. My teachers in high school loved to explicitly state how the work would relate to our individual post-secondary interests. This is something I like to do both with post-secondary interests as well as with other courses students are interested in taking after their freshman year. Also, in high school I was now in a much more urban setting downtown in Philadelphia. By my senior year my high school utilized Banks’ transformation approach to multicultural education and pushed varied ethnic perspectives in our work across all curriculum(Banks, p 261). We were able to contextualize how various groups have influenced the spaces we navigate and issues we discussed (Banks, p 251). This led to richer dialog than the initial additive approach at my high school in which a literature class read books by people of color(Banks, p 249) to influence a one-shot conversation.
As a teacher I want to be recognized as an open and caring individual. I also want students to feel comfortable with coming to me with questions about any given topic. Though my caring I want to set up my students for success and achievement (Noddings, p 1) as well as make caring the foundation for all that I do to allow for success to occur(Noddings, p 4). I also want to continue to be sensitive to how students perceive themselves and allow them to have agency in what they do. Working on how I approach multicultural education will allow for a basic education that values and represents my students as well as allows for their voices to be heard(Nieto, p 42) I believe in order to do this I must remain vulnerable or open to my students in order to create a better running dialogue with them in my classes so as not to oppress my students (Freire, p 64). I must also reflect on what skills, scenarios, or ideas arise with the students to make sure that my guidance is not prescribed(Freire, p 47), but co authored by my students. I want my students be allowed to “make their own knowledge” (Oakes et al, 70) and be helped to see their own pathways to become makers of change in the world. Finally, By pushing myself to engage in a social action approach to teaching going forward I hope to equip my students with critical lenses needed to reflect on the many issues(Banks, p 253) they will experience both in my content area and across many curricula.
- Oakes, J., Lipton, M., Anderson, L., & Stillman, J. (2018). Teaching to Change the World (5th ed.). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis.
- Noddings, N. (2005) ‘Caring in education’, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm.
- Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing.
- Nieto, S. (2006). Multicultural education and school reform. Critical issues in education. CH 2.
- James A. Banks, Cherry A. McGee Banks. Multicultural Education : Issues and Perspectives. Boston :Allyn and Bacon, 1993. CH 10