Simply said, I have learned a great deal about myself as a teacher, mother, and individual while taking this course. The readings and questions presented through the coursework, challenged me to dig deep into my own development from childhood to adulthood and apply these findings to my teaching. For instance, I learned that at certain times in my past, I turned away from understanding certain characteristics about myself. Yet this course provided the tools for me to gain insight in my overall development. As I recognize parts of myself now, I am better able to channel and use this knowledge in understanding my students.
I now realize that life is not a series of unrelated, confusing events. There is a direct correlation between what I believe to be true about myself and what happens in material reality. My life has unfolded based on patterns that have emerged as a result of my deepest, unconscious beliefs. If I want to move forward in a more positive direction, I must uncover the patterns that are keeping me stuck in place. The only requirement for this exercise is an open mind and heart and a willingness to see my role in creating the circumstances I currently face.
First off, looking back in my first web-based course, I remember that my main motivation then was to just do my best and prove myself to the group. What I found though, was being part of an engaging exchange of ideas and interesting readings. Through the responses, I gained a sense of the motivation of others in the cohort and found that although coming from different backgrounds and perspectives, we all share the passion to see our students learn and succeed. In the forums, there was clearly a high level of maturity in the group which fostered great conversation. I wish we could have done this offline, on occasion.
Now I know that I can take the steps necessary to do what I want to do. I know that I have to recognize that the first step is actually the most difficult. When I listen to those around me who discourage me from doing what I want to do, I sell myself short and I become resentful on a deep level and even begin to deny that I have dreams. I need to give myself permission to pursue what I want to do so that I can get satisfaction from my job. And this dream is to be an effective educator for young minds.
I remember clearly that during the first stage of the course, we were challenged to develop two questions in approaching this course. One of my questions was “How do New York City Public Schools integrate popular child and adolescent development and research theories into program preparation?” In reviewing this question, it appears very passive in nature as if the burden rests on the shoulders of districts and administrators to be familiar development research as it relates to the classroom. However, as a teacher it is my responsibility to be able not only to have an understanding of development, but to incorporate this knowledge into my everyday teaching. For example, in covering language development, we explored the leading theories on how children learn language. As a teacher who works with middle school special education students, it was interesting to note the different views on language development. I was able to apply my experiences as a mother and teacher to the readings and responses. This of course, has helped take the assumptions off the way. I thought youngsters learned language to concrete researched-based observations. The real life development process I witnessed with my daughter coupled with what I learned from readings and text is what made what I learned valuable and potent.
Related to this, I also realized that I need to plan a rich and varied curriculum appropriate to the ages and experience of the children. Curriculum-planning and preparation of materials is another form of indirect guidance that must be done. When there is a wide variety of interesting and appropriate activities provided, and enough adults are available to respond to children as they participate in the activities, there is very little misbehavior in a group. On the other hand, if learning experiences are poorly planned, or are too easy or too difficult, children may misbehave. Boredom is one of the major causes of misbehavior and can be a reason for a previously cooperative child turned mischievous. Now I know that if children are unruly, one of the first places to look is at the richness of the curriculum offerings. If the curriculum is found wanting, it is far easier to change than the children.
I found that the forum related to Family and Physical development was a good venue to describe my relationship with my parents. My father was clearly an authoritative parent, but I noted that his influence encouraged me to be focused and be determined to succeed. Yet, his parenting style often left me feeling like I could never be successful enough to please him. Understanding the parenting styles described in the text, has improved my understanding of the relationship students have with their parents. Although what I learned is only on the surface level of the psychology of parent-child relationships, it will undoubtedly prove invaluable in working with my students and parents during the coming year.
Probably the most significant exercise for me this semester was completing the diversity paper. I decided to read, Memoirs of Geisha, a fascinating story about the lives and mystery surrounding the geishas of Japan. Reading this story gave me insight into a culture I always wanted to know more about. More importantly though, it made me challenge my beliefs and forced me to apply the readings and the knowledge learned about culture and development to what I was reading. From the story, I learned that both nature, what is internal, and nurture, the environment in which one lives, are both involved in the development. Prior to this, I felt one’s development was either influenced by nature or environment and that one plays a more significant role in the development process. However, I now know the course of development proceeds depending on the intricate interplay between both forces.
Over the course of this session, I have examined closely the path that led to my teaching and to Teaching Fellows. I guess my experience working as substitute teacher in Newark Public School instilled in me the desire to teach Special Education. Just as I recognized in Critical Links, a research compendium of 64 studies published by the Arts Education Partnership, Deasy (2002), the influence of arts may be greater on the academic learning for students with disabilities and special learning needs, students living in poverty, and students learning English as a second language, than for the general population of students. In our most recent discussion on media consumption and its impact in the classroom, I believe that integrating the arts and physical activity improves students’ cognitive, social and academic skill development. I know now that I want to be a teacher of action and encourage my students, who are so vulnerable to their own peers and environment, to get involved and be active participants in their own development. I guess I want to empower these individuals, especially as I look back to see how my parents empowered me too, even as they served as authoritative figures in my early life.
Similarly, I also recall what the NAEYC’s Position Statement states that Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs clearly explains and provides research evidence to support the value in early childhood programs. I am now more aware that effective guidance requires that I learn to consider many factors as I decide what to do and what to say to influence children’s behavior. My own upbringing, my experience, and my knowledge of what is considered best for children will be important factors. The values of society—goals and principles people cherish and enshrine in institutions and fundamental documents are important to teachers and will influence what we do and say to children. Serious thought usually goes into guidance that is effectively carried out by teachers. Even though the adults I observe seem to act spontaneously, they likely have thought about the kind of people they want their children to become. They use that background of thinking each time they interact with children.
Clearly as we see in New York City classrooms, we teach some of the most vulnerable and high risk group to social problems. Substance abuse, alcohol abuse or dependency, parental abuse and neglect, violence, poverty, and discrimination are among the social problems that the youth are faced with. On alcohol abuse, for example, Thomas and Seibold (1995) found that young adults drink to cope with problems such as loneliness, lack of acceptance and when they feel like doing so (cited by David M. Eggers 1996). On the other hand, Beck, Thombs and Summons (Eggers 1996) contend that the leading reason for adolescent drinking is due to peer acceptance, which they refer to as the pressure one puts on them to be accepted. They also found that alcohol abuse “usually doesn’t come into play until these young adults are already frequently drinking.” To young adults, “drinking to get drunk is all part of the social context of having fun with friends.” While drinking is not the biggest issues that I contend with in my classrooms, there is the increasing appeal to gangs and violent behavior. Given my deeper understanding of how this plays into development, I feel better equipped to handle these challenges in the classroom.
In most of the social problems encountered by today’s young adults, the critical factor is the role of parents and educational institutions in forming, molding and strengthening of children and young adults’ values. This is best captured in one of the reflections given by a father in his encounter with his children. Just listening to his children, looking them in the eye, and getting oneself into their minds and hearts establish a strong relationship of care and trust and openness. In raising teens, Covey (1999, 100) highlights the importance of being sensitive to the tendency of the youth to reject. According to him, this tendency of teenagers comes from their fear of being rejected. Their rejection experiences make them “pull back into a kind of shell to protect themselves from being rejected again.” This could be aggravated by parents who refuse to look honestly at what their children are doing; even denying that there is a problem, making excuses for their child, or blaming the school, teachers, family, friends, or society. “Fixing” the child’s problems by giving in to demands, justifying rebelliousness is just a normal part of adolescence. Compromising the parents’ own values just to keep the peace at home or maintain a veneer of harmony is not an uncommon solution. If and when the worst situation comes up, the decision to intervene remains with the parents and not with the juvenile justice system. Yet, parents are often at a loss on what best to do. All too often, parents seek counsels from all who could give professional, religious and forms of advice. They meet with us, their teachers, and consult doctors, ministers or other respected adults or experts, if that at all. But solutions remain elusive as problems arise due to lack of cooperation, resistance or sheer evasiveness of the child. These results in more tension-filled homes making those affected withdrawn and torn as their own parents.
As I look back on what was learned, I realize that when we are not living by the clock, when we are not enslaved by some irrational time schedule that we have set for our success, life becomes easier, and we are better able to accept what comes our way as we get older and mature during development. Sometimes, what we consider detours are really rerouting opportunities to put us into contact with the people we need to pursue our dreams, or the circumstances we need to confront in order to move ahead. When we have faith, hope and patience, our lives become more relaxed, and we more easily stop criticizing and judging every single thing that happens, and every mistake we make on our journey to understand life’s mysteries. We show compassion because we know that somehow all of our needs will be met. When you really think about it, those trying circumstances in the classroom that can make you cry and those mistakes we make, all teach us how to become better educators to our students.
We have material needs and we have spiritual and creative needs, and they need to be met if we want to be happy. I realize that we do not need to make huge changes in our lives in order to pursue our dreams. We do not need to do everything in one grand motion. We do, however, need to recognize that we are more than moneymaking machines, that we have dreams, and that our spirits have the right to express themselves in this world. One small step leads to bigger steps which ultimately lead to dreams fulfilled for my students and all children whose lives I will influence and touch.