OTR may only be fifty minutes away from MU, but it seems like it is worlds away. Living just across the way from W Park, I see homeless people everyday. On my way to school every morning, I see people lined up at the soup kitchen to warm up inside and sip a cup of coffee. I pass my students walking to school, some of them in coats three sizes too small, others not wearing coats at all on a cold winter day.
Once I get to school, I never know what to expect. No two days are the same; that’s one of the reasons why I love teaching, especially here. RPA, a K-8 school, has been one of the lowest achieving schools in the state for a number of years. This year RPA is undergoing its first year of academic redesign, which means that the entire staff is new. From what the students have told us, the teachers who were here in the past spent their day on the computer, instead of teaching. Because of the challenges here, the teachers would rarely stay for an entire year, so the students had no consistency.
As a result of these outrageous circumstances, five out of our sixty five 7th and 8th grade students are non-readers. Yes, we have students who are 12 and 13 years old who cannot read! Many of our other students are significantly below grade level in reading and math. It is truly a disgrace the disservice this school has provided for these young people, up until this year. These students are now receiving intensive reading intervention.
During the first eight weeks of my student teaching, a lot of our efforts were focused on getting the students’ behavior under control. They had become accustomed to doing whatever they wanted to do at school, which did not include listening to the teacher and learning.
Despite all these setbacks, the students really are eager to learn and to work. They just need a lot of “hand-holding” and affirmation. It also helps when you pique their interest in some way. I created a Christmas tree graphing dot-to-dot assignment that the students colored and I hung them all in the classroom. Students who had been absent and saw forty colorful Christmas trees on the bulletin board eagerly asked me if they could make one too. It’s dozens of these little moments everyday that make me smile and at least for a moment I forget about all of the obstacles these students face.
Living in the intern house in OTR while I was student teaching completed this experience for me. A couple times a week, I would see one of my students on the street or at the public library. One time, a student called out to me across L Street, “Hi, Ms. S!” The next day at school, he came up to me and said with a smile, “I saw you yesterday, Ms. S” as if I didn’t know. 🙂
Although there were plenty of challenges during my student teaching experience, I would not trade my time in OTR for anything. The lessons I have learned, and will continue to learn as I process my semester, will stay with me the rest of my life. The reality of poverty. The injustices in our public education system. The value of stepping way out of your comfort zone. The joy of friendships. The satisfaction of a job well done. The importance of laughter. The difference that one adult can make in a child’s life.