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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Final Thoughts from Cape Town

After four months at St. Joseph’s Marist College, my understanding of social justice and equity has expanded through observations in and out of the classroom, interactions with students, and conversations with my CT and other faculty. Recognizing differences in each student’s background, learning style, interests, and strengths and weaknesses played a direct role in how I interacted with each student in order to meet their diverse needs. For example, at the beginning of my semester there was one student who seemed to ask for help significantly more often than most students. I would end up spending a lot of time with the student one-on-one, helping him understand what my CT was teaching and guiding him in solving the problems correctly. Due to his consistent requests for help and the confusion that he communicated to me, I was too quick to assume that this student was in need of one-on-one assistance more than many other students. However, after working to get to know each student in the class, I realized that I was devoting more time and attention to this particular student because of his vocal and expressive need for help but that there were many other students who were just as much in need to one-on-one attention but were quieter and less likely to vocalize their confusion. Specifically, one student in my class rarely participated in class and when working individually, tended to guess on answers rather than ask for help. I realized that just because one student vocalizes her struggle less than another student does not mean that she needs less attention. In fact, I soon found in this particular case that the quieter student needed more one-on-one attention while the more vocalized student simply needed just enough attention to encourage him to try the work on his own. Although this will not necessarily be the case for every student of similar behavior, it did remind me how important it is not to make assumptions about each student’s strengths and weaknesses simply because of how they choose to communicate these to me.

My experiences at St. Joseph’s also emphasized the need to learn about each student’s background and develop positive relationships with their parents/guardians. One student was told at the end of the school year that she would be staying back a year and repeating second grade. This news, which is likely confusing and distressing for a seven-year-old, is something that needs to be addressed and explained in a very supportive manner. However, after talking with my CT about the situation, I learned that her parents had skipped multiple meetings with the teacher and administration to discuss the student’s plan for the following year and to make plan for improvement. When my CT asked the student in class if either of her parents had talked with her about repeating second grade, the student said that they had not said anything except that she has to stay back a year. My CT was able to give her positive emotional support, explaining why doing second grade again will be helpful and how it is nothing to be ashamed of. Although receiving this support from both her teacher and her family would have been beneficial, the situation helped me understand the various roles that a teacher plays in each child’s development. Had my CT not made an effort to involve the parents in this process or had she not discussed the situation with the student, this child would likely enter the second grade the following year with less confidence and motivation. Getting to know each student’s background, consistently making an effort to involve the parents/guardians, and constantly striving to meet the needs of each student, both academically and emotionally, are all important roles that I as a teacher will strive to achieve.

Overall, I have had such a positive experience at St. Joseph’s. I came to understand from a new perspective the importance of meeting the needs of each individual student as well as the role of the teacher in promoting equity and social justice in and out of the classroom. I look forward to taking the skills and lessons that I developed abroad and applying them to my future experiences as well as challenging myself to look at these skills and lessons from new perspectives and continue exploring new strategies. I am very lucky to have had this experience and am so grateful for being a part of the St. Joseph’s community!

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