By Christine Nagle
The challenge of reflecting upon what I was taught in university and adapting it to meet the needs of my students is both daunting and exciting as I enter my first month in the “real world.” Armed with tons of theory that I have crammed into my brain over the past four years, I will need to rely on my skills and experiences to ensure that my current students are getting the best education possible. That being said, from my first three weeks of teaching, I can already tell that things I learned about the theory of education in the university setting are different than the daily reality in the classroom.
First, the fact that this is a voluntary program means that if my classes are not engaging, my students will leave. Imagine that back in the States. This has been one of the most inspiring aspects of working in Potrero. My students are voluntarily going to class! They go because they want to learn; the classes we have are appealing, and they see value in learning how to communicate in English. This has been extremely gratifying to me because I want to challenge myself to make these classes even more worthwhile for my students so that they can take the opportunities presented to them and run with their dreams.
Second, culture matters. Like it or not, life in Mid-Atlantic USA, where I studied, thrives on competition, and our entire education system is built around rank, independence, and entrepreneurship. In Potrero, the values of cooperation and communal effort are emphasized. Rather than facilitating rivalries, my students work together to solve common problems. For example, in class this afternoon, my fourth and fifth graders shared in each other’s joy when a new vocabulary word was found in their word search. Then they promptly helped one another find it in their own searches, ensuring all classmates were on the same task before moving on. This community ensures that they all thrive together despite the challenges.
Finally, kids are kids. In education we learn about how to best challenge and support all of the different learning styles and strengths that our students have to offer the world. But my short time in Potrero has already taught me that while each of my students brings a different personal story to the classroom, when it comes right down to it, all students are kids. They want to have fun, they want to be curious about the world around them, and they want to find a place where they can belong. All of which I look forward to in my classroom and throughout the other Abriendo Mentes programs.
While the theory of education differs from the actual implementation in the classroom, my experiences learned in university have given me a solid foundation. It is on this foundation that I can build and adapt my current classroom. This has become an invitation for improvement and an opening for creativity and reflection: How can I challenge my students to shape the lessons we learn in the classroom and improve the world in which we all grow up? Overall, education presents itself as an opportunity. With these diverse skills, students can build on the foundation of their education and change what the future has in store for all of us.