A Trip to Gingerbread Land

By Sarah Symes, SED 2016

SymesThis summer, I had the opportunity to work for Youthworks, an organization that runs mission trips for middle and high school students. I was hired to be one of the two service coordinators in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my responsibilities included reaching out to different community contacts, coordinating service projects, and serving alongside the students at our service sites around the city. While I grew to love all of our diverse service sites over the course of the summer, one of my favorite sites was a place called Gingerbread Land.

Gingerbread Land was founded in 1989 when a woman named Sister Clara felt called to make her neighborhood a beautiful place for children to live. In response to this call, she painted her house pink with purple trim, just like a gingerbread house. While her neighbors thought she was crazy and even wrote letters to local officials trying to get her to paint it back to its original color, Sister Clara continued to advocate for her vision of creating a beautiful safe haven for inner city children and youth.

Now, twenty-five years later, when you turn onto N 1st Street, you are greeted by a row of beautiful, brightly colored homes. When I asked Sister Clara to describe her personal vision for this neighborhood, she smiled and replied, “I want this place to be like Disney World in Milwaukee. With lots of flowers and colors. The kids in the neighborhood need something beautiful to look at. Something that gives them hope. The chance to be a part of something beautiful.” During our time on the site, the students and I helped with various tasks in the neighborhood including getting houses ready for families to move into and weeding at the local community garden.

As I began my junior year last September, I wondered how my summer filled with driving around Milwaukee, playing bingo at nursing homes, serving coffee at community centers, and weeding the community garden at Gingerbread Land could impact the way that I approach my studies here at BU. It wasn’t until I thought back to Sister Clara’s vision of creating a beautiful, safe space for children that I realized that, as an educator, I have the ability to do that same thing in my own classroom.

When reflecting on this during my General Methods class, I realized that creating this space is like building a house. Teachers are responsible for laying a foundation of respect and perseverance, providing intentional structure and purpose, and guarding against the elements (disruptions) to the best of their ability. However, students are the ones who make this house a “home” in that they should have the opportunity (within this structure of respect and learning) to create their own community in the classroom. Here, students have the opportunity to learn, grow, and, “be a part of something beautiful”.

Sarah Symes is a junior in the School of Education majoring, in English and English as a Second Language

The Use of the R-Word and Why It’s a Problem

By Abby Lefebvre, SED 2017

“That’s so retarded” or “don’t be such a retard” are frequent statements I hear casually said around campus. When used by someone I am talking to I will usually ask him or her to choose a different word. I typically get several types of responses. Many people are apologetic and say, “Oh, sorry, I mean stupid.” Other people have tried to explain that the r-word is no longer associated with people with disabilities and it is just a synonym for stupid and therefore is okay to use. To me, these responses demonstrate that there is a larger problem than the use of the r-word. There is a gross misunderstanding about the meaning of the word and why it is offensive in the first place.

Since the word has become commonly used in informal speech, it is harder to see the connection between the original word meaning and the current informal use of the word. For this reason, it may be difficult to understand why the word is still considered offensive. The definition of the word retarded, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is “Offensive: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development”. At one point in time “mental retardation” was a medical term used to describe a person with an intellectual disability. However, since then the word has been replaced by the term “intellectual disability” because it is more accurate and accepting. The r-word is an exclusive term that furthers negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. It can be hurtful whether it is directed towards a person with a disability or when used as a synonym for “dumb” or “stupid”. When used in this way it is equivalent to saying people with disabilities are stupid. In addition, the real message of the sentence is lost because the r-word has a completely different meaning than the words “stupid” or “dumb”. There are many other words to choose from instead of the r-word that will better represent the intended meaning.

I was recently in a situation where a person was using the r-word, and because I felt uncomfortable, I did not speak up. Afterwards, I spent a lot of time thinking over this interaction because I was upset that I did not say anything. Not using the word “retard” is part of the solution, but it is equally as important to speak out against the use of this harmful word. Many people, when I’ve told them I am upset by the use of this word, do not even realize that they are being offensive. By speaking up and telling others that the word is offensive to me and many other people, I am spreading awareness about the cause instead of tacitly approving by my silence. Hopefully this will lead others to stop using the word and become advocates themselves. The more awareness we can spread, the better. If you are interested in more information or joining the cause, there is a wonderful campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. Their website has more information as well as ways you can get involved.

Abby Lefebvre is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education. 

$79 Every Second

By Will English, SED 2016

Teachers have the opportunity to touch the lives of our nation’s youth, preparing them to become active, informed citizens. Yet being a teacher is not considered an overly respectable career, and people shy away from the profession for any number of reasons. But one popular reason someone might not want to be a teacher is the salary, which is considerably lower than many other full time jobs. So the question is why are teachers, the men and women who educate the future of our nation, paid so little?

Giancarlo Stanton, an outfielder for the Miami Marlins, recently signed the largest contract in North American sports history, $325 million over 13 years (ESPN.com). For those of you who don’t want to do the math, here you go: that is an annual salary of about $25 million or $68, 449 EVERY DAY for the next 13 YEARS… $79 EVERY SECOND! Now, I’m not saying in any way that Giancarlo Stanton does not deserve this kind of money; he is a fantastic baseball player, one of the best in the league. But let’s put this mega-contract into perspective.

The average salary for a high school teacher in the United States, for the 2012-2013 school year was $56,383 (U.S. Department of Education). So Giancarlo Stanton will earn almost $7,000 more IN ONE DAY than average teacher makes IN A YEAR! That’s almost incomprehensible.

It’s this type of severe salary disparity that fuels the ongoing discussion of why teachers aren’t paid more money? I’m not implying that I should have the chance to sign a multi-million dollar deal with the elementary school of my choice (although it would be nice), but think of the phenomenal implications of even a slight pay raise for teachers. Higher pay would make education a more appealing profession for our nation’s top college students. And bringing the best and most intelligent young people to the profession only enhances the education that our students would receive. Likewise, it would act as an added incentive for teachers to work harder and continually improve their trade.

This shows that a large part of this issue stems from the nation’s value of education, or lack thereof. We put such a strong emphasis on going to school and getting a good education. But can we truly say that we value a good education when teachers are so often disrespected, which is regularly displayed through their small salaries? These teachers play such an integral role in receiving a strong education, and therefore they should be compensated for their countless hours of dedication.

All good teachers share a passion for helping others and work tirelessly to provide their students with the best possible education. While I guarantee that Mr. Stanton shows this same relentless work ethic day in and day out, is there any reason that he should make such a staggering amount of money, which entirely outshines that of a teacher? There will always be differences in salaries between different careers, but until we show teachers the respect they deserve, both through pay and praise, then we cannot truly value our education.

Will English is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary Education

How Lucky Am I?

By Rebekah Forsey, SED 2016

Let me answer my own question, I am very lucky. Why, you may ask? I’ll tell you.

I take classes at one of the top universities in the world. Not only that, but my classes mean something to me. They teach me all of the things that I will need to know when I take my turn to teach others. In so many education schools across the country, little to no emphasis is placed on diversity in the classroom. Aspiring teachers are taught how to teach math, science, reading, and writing, maybe even health, but are they taught about the real issues? Are they taught the real world application of that knowledge?

How many schools can brag that they have faculty that works in the field directly fighting the real educational issues? How many schools offer multiple courses on the contexts of education? As a junior, I have taken three classes about civil contexts of education, the social contexts of education, and the inequalities in education. I have learned about the inequalities that exist in our public education system, why they exist, and what I can do to combat them in my own classroom. There is no other school that would teach me all of this. No other school would force me to think about the real issues. I cannot imagine walking into a classroom on my first day of teaching if I had not been taught why being culturally relevant is important or why students come to schools with different biases and preconceptions. Whether I teach a class in an all white suburb or in an urban school that boasts diversity, I will be a better teacher because I know that culture matters. I know that where a child comes from is important, but does not stop him from achieving. I know that cultural diversity is a huge resource, not a deficit.

One of the hot topics in education is the idea of “teaching to the test.” We always discuss how teachers teach specific information just so their students can pass the test. I am lucky that SED does not just teach the information I need to pass my licensure test. They give me the skills that I need to truly be an effective teacher

Rebekah Forsey is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary and Bilingual Education. 

Confessions of an Out of Place SED’er

By Caitlin Donnelly, SED 2015

Photo Credit: Brandy Shaul via Flickr

Photo Credit: Brandy Shaul via Flickr

Outgoing, organized, friendly, good with children, energetic, great at public speaking, overachiever, one that color codes everything…These are only some of the stereotypical features that go along with being a teacher, the labels that people automatically link to your personality when they hear about your career choice. There is nothing wrong with having these characteristics, but as someone who lacks many of these trademarks, I know that these stereotypes can definitely make a person question whether they’re made for the part.

I loved my first year in the School of Education. Everyone was so warm and welcoming; it’s one of the most accepting communities I have ever been lucky enough to call my own. That being said, I still felt a little out of place in the beginning. I felt a little too quiet, a bit less organized, and not nearly as energetic as most of my future educator peers. The worst crime of all was probably my penchant for pens over crayons…

I’m also not the biggest fan of the general education classroom. As a future special education teacher, I love working one-on-one with students as opposed to being the center of attention for a large group. I love teaching life skills, analyzing student behaviors, developing individualized education plans. While these tasks are a part of every teacher’s job to some degree, they are specifically my passion in the field of education and sometimes this specificity seems to set me apart.

My lack of “teacherly” characteristics along with my specialized interests made me feel like a puzzle piece that didn’t belong. I fit in place just fine, but I felt like I didn’t match the pieces around me. Looking back, that was mainly because I couldn’t see the whole picture.

Stereotypes are dangerous, and this is a prime example of why. There are so many types of people in this world; how many of them would make excellent teachers but won’t try because they feel as though they don’t identify with the stereotype our society has set? Yes, many of the above traits are useful in teaching, but everyone remembers their favorite teacher as the one that made learning meaningful. This was the person that truly loved teaching. So, no matter how quiet you are, how loud, energetic, organized, or outgoing, no matter if you prefer teaching in the general classroom or one-on-one, the world need teachers who love teaching. It’s as simple at that.

Caitlin Donnelly is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education.

From Summer Camp to the Classroom

By Heather Cohen, SED 2017

I have been attending the same Jewish overnight camp, Camp Galil, since I was 11 years old, and now I have been a counselor there for the past two summers. My camp is not your typical camp, because while of course we have fun, there are also scheduled educational activities throughout the day. The younger age groups (going into 4th-7th grade) have one educational activity while the older age groups (going into 8th-10th grade) have two.

These activities vary greatly, anything from Israel’s history to how to get along with your peers to gender stereotypes and etc. I remember learning about Darfur, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how to respect my fellow bunkmates, and how to express myself through art and poetry. I loved the approach that my camp took to learning about these things. Our counselors would first do a “trigger” which was an activity to get us excited about what we were going to do next. Then there would be some kind of interactive aspect, for example, sometimes we would either act out scenarios or walk around and read information like we were in a museum.

After that, we would sit in a circle and have a discussion about what we did or what we learned. I remember being a camper and wishing this was how my actual school taught lessons. I was so much more engaged in these activities than I had ever been sitting in my desk at school. I felt more confident in sharing my thoughts in these circles than I did in the classroom, where I always feared that I had the wrong answer.

As a sophomore in the School of Education at Boston University, majoring in English Education, I am studying how to become the best teacher I can possibly be for my future students. Currently, I am in a general methods class where I am learning how to design lesson plans. These lesson plans, it turns out, look a lot like the plans for the educational activities I planned with my co-counselors for the past two summers. So while for most of my classmates, this is their first time writing lesson plans, I have had two summers of experience planning and executing these lessons. Have these activities been as academic as my future lessons will be? No, definitely not. Regardless, I have gotten experience with teaching without truly realizing it.

Being a camp counselor can seem like a cop out summer job for most college students, but for someone studying education, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Working with campers over the summer has affirmed for me, that teaching is what I was meant for. Whether it be fall, winter, spring or even summer, educating others is what I’ll be doing.

Heather Cohen is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in English Education.