When I initially applied and enrolled in the ASTL graduate program at Rhode Island College I felt annoyed that this was something I was being forced into. The state of Massachusetts requires that teachers obtain a masters degree within the first five years of teaching. So I begrudgingly signed on to the program, thinking of it as something to "get through." However, over the last year or so I have come to really enjoy the program. One of my absolute favorite parts of being in a graduate cohort are the positive people I have the opportunity to be surrounded by, my fellow classmates. I believe that being in a positive, supportive environment has had a tremendous impact on my experience.
Although I am naturally cynical, my classmates push and challenge me to think and behave more optimistically. Conversely, my coworkers often have the opposite impact (either intentionally or unintentionally). I'm still working on having the self discipline and self control to not feed into negative attitudes.When I'm with classmates I feel that a more positive and hopeful side of my identity is drawn out. When I'm with coworkers I feel like I want to shut down and shut people out.
I share this experience because in many ways I feel connected to the story of Janine, one of the case studies shared in Author Michael Nikkula's text, Understanding Youth. Janine, a high school student, seeks to take risks in order to develop and shape her own identity. Much of her freshmen year in high school is spent with fellow risk takers partying and looking for ways to figure out who they "really are."It's not until Janine works with a teacher she calls "Ms. P" that she starts to see a different path for her life, a different identity. In Ms.P's class, Janine is highly successful. Ms. P sees a lot of potential in Janine and she chooses to draw out that potential. Ms. P brings out the best in Janine. She has a way of really looking into and looking after her student, and knows how to help guide her. If Ms. P had not encouraged and invested in Janine, Janine's path may have looked tremendously different. By the end of the school year Janine's "thinking and writing were displayed for an audience she valued, which allowed her to value herself more fully as well" (pg.60).
As human beings we are greatly impacted and influenced by our surroundings. Each experience, every day, adds or takes away from our own life story. When we are around people whom we feel valued by, this will have a substantial impact on our lives. When surrounded by those who challenge us, we will grow. My experience with this has come through my graduate program. Janine's experience with this came when she felt like someone could really see into her world, like someone could see the real her. Out of this experience, she may make some major life changes. Reading about Janine's story was incredibly validating for me as a teacher and as a living, breathing human being. I want to be a teacher who makes kids feel valued. I don't always know how to do this, how to really see them or get into their heads, hearts and souls. This requires a lot of creativity and authenticity. It's not about creating a wildly entertaining classroom experience. My goal is to host more of an open forum where kids feel comfortable participating, to build in the "scaffolds" that Nakkula talks about. One of my favorite quotes from chapter three of Understanding Youth can be found on page 53, "The call to make education enticing to students should not be confused with an approach to making it fun through superficial entertainment." How do we move beyond the superficial classroom? How do we connect with our students? These are questions that I suppose I will never stop asking. My hope is that I get better at finding the answers.