Céad Mile Fáilte! (A Hundred Thousand Welcomes!) – Studying Abroad in Dublin

By Yaelle Nisinzweig, SED 2014

One of the greatest opportunities I took advantage of while at Boston University was taking a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I was able to go abroad as a political science minor, and while I may have been taking a semester off from education classes, I was able to get more involved in another one of my interests. The BU abroad program in Ireland involves about two months of classes with Irish professors, and then about two months of an internship in my field of study. Incredibly, I landed an internship with two Senators in the Seanad (Senate) and went to work every day in the House of the Oireachtas, the National Parliament Building.


Photo Courtesy of Yaelle Nisinzweig

On my first day at the Parliament, I was given a tour of the beautiful government building and was taken through the historical artifacts of Ireland that are presented around the halls. After just finishing my Irish history class, I was able to see in person important documents and symbols of Ireland that I had learned about in class. One of the Senators I worked for was legally blind, making him the first Senator in Ireland with a disability. He is the first Senator to use an iPad in the chambers, which allows him to zoom in on electronic copies of all government documents. The second Senator is the spokesperson for Education, Disability, Equality and Mental Health as appointed by the Prime Minister, so while I was in Ireland to study political science, I was really learning about the politics of disabilities. I also met the first openly gay Senator and the first lesbian Senator to be in a civil union, who both have helped bring greater rights to same-sex couples, in addition to the leaders of several political parties and the kindest and friendliest security guards and tour guides in the world.

One of the highlights of my time in the Seanad was meeting the CEO and President of Special Olympics Ireland at a coffee and breakfast social. Growing up, I was very involved in the Special Olympics team in my hometown where my father and I were coaches and my older brother, who is autistic, was an athlete. When I introduced myself to the CEO and President, I told them how much the organization means to me, and while I was star struck by meeting such important members of the Special Olympics, they were just as thrilled to learn about the organization’s importance to me.

In all my preparation and predictions about my semester abroad, I never thought I would be interning with some of the most influential people in disability rights in Ireland and Ireland as a whole. If you are reading this post with time to study abroad, do it! You never know what wonderful things could happen!

*Yaelle Nisinzweig is a senior at Boston University School of Education, studying special education.

You Are Not Your Grade – Grading Systems in Our Schools

By Navraj Narula, SED 2016

I strived to be the straight-A student in high school; not because I wanted my peers to label me as the smart girl who always knew the answers, but simply because I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment that I thought I would never be able to experience if I did not receive a 100% on every single homework assignment I turned in. I did end up accomplishing my goal of receiving the many A-letter grades, and for the most part, I felt satisfied—I was glad that my teachers could see that my hard work paid off.

Artwork by Jason Gan

Artwork by Jason Gan

However, now that I am working towards becoming a teacher myself, I have come to a realization: grades do not matter—at least not as much as I thought they did. Yes, grades are necessary in that they offer educators an easy way to measure student performance. With grades, students are also able to see how well they might be doing in a class or by how much they might want to improve. Grades are important, but grades are not YOU.

I do not want my students leaving my classroom thinking they are just the letters I label their papers with. I have not met a single one of them yet, but I know that my future students are so much more than a D, C, B, or even an A.

In grading assignments, I certainly expect that I will not be able to give all my students the grades they hope to see. I know that some of them will be disappointed in themselves and feel that they have not worked hard enough seeing an “A-” at the top corner of their paper. Others will feel the need to give up because they think that they cannot do better than a perhaps a “C+.” How unfortunate it is that so many young people see so much of themselves in these letter grades! Teachers need to make it an effort to communicate to their students why they might have received such a grade instead of just scribbling some tiny letter down on a notebook paper in red ink and call that “The End.” How are we to motivate students otherwise if we do not explain to them the meaning behind our marks? Or to encourage them to keep up the good work that they have put so much time and effort in without acknowledging it personally?

I am college sophomore now. I do end up receiving a “B” every now and then on assignments, but I no longer find myself upset when I know that I have truly worked my hardest and tried my best. A “B” on a paper, quiz, or even a class may determine the way an institution looks at my transcript, but it certainly does not make a clear statement about who I am or what I am truly able to accomplish. The same goes to my future students.

*Navraj Narula is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education, studying English education.

I’m Not Special, But My Major Is – Perspective from a Severe Special Education Major

By Caitlin Donnelly, SED 2015

“Good for you.” “What a noble profession.” “You must be so patient.” These are only a few of the responses I receive after telling someone I am majoring in severe special education. At first, I appreciated these comments. Who doesn’t like being called a good person or told that he or she has the patience of a saint? But as I started to realize the subtext behind these responses, they quickly became frustrating. I could tell that I was being viewed as humble and sacrificing, giving up the chance to have a rewarding, lucrative profession to work with challenging students

Sometimes there is no subtext and I am met with total honesty. I have been asked why, with such good grades, I am not becoming a doctor, or if I realize what a difficult and unrewarding career choice I am making. In all of these instances, people blatantly imply that I am wasting my potential.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

It’s disheartening, year after year, to be met with either undeserved reverence for my so-called humility or disgust for my wasted potential. To imply that I am self-sacrificing is to assume that I pity my students, and that is the last thing they need. They need my high expectations and undivided attention. They need every ounce of my potential so that I can help them to meet theirs.

When students do overcome obstacles and succeed at even the smallest tasks, there is nothing more rewarding or exciting. I will always remember the time I observed a student grasping a life-changing skill for the first time. He finally understood the American Sign Language sign for “more”, and I watched as he signed over and over again with the widest smile on his face. I have never felt so proud, so fulfilled, and so excited about my career choice.

So the next time you meet a special education major, understand that we are no more special than any other education major. We have high expectations for our students, the desire to help them learn, and the drive needed to succeed. I am not humble; I am proud of my major, and I am not wasting my potential; I am using every bit to do something I love for students that deserve it.

*Caitlin Donnelly is a junior at Boston University School of Education, studying severe special education.

The Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute – Tutoring at 826 Boston

By Sarah White, SED 2016

At least once a week, I find myself at the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. I walk in to find Bigfoot staring at me, a tarantula crawling around its tank, and busy workers rushing from the front of the lab to the back…

Now, I don’t actually research Bigfoot – or any monster for that matter. Instead I volunteer as a tutor at 826 Boston, a non-profit organization that focuses on reading, writing, and achieving overall academic success. While the back half the building is the tutoring center, the front half really is the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute, home to the aforementioned Bigfoot (statue) and (living) tarantula. It functions as a small store that advertises unicorn tears, t-shirts, and books written by the students themselves.

Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute

I go to 826 to tutor students, but I often find myself the student. A few weeks ago in particular, I was helping a boy transform the draft of his English essay into a polished final copy. We talked for a while about his ideas, clarifying key points and discussing specific supporting evidence, and then he mentioned that he had recently moved to Boston from a different, non-English speaking country. However, he had never received formal English language instruction and instead had learned most of what he knew from watching American films when he was younger. I was a little surprised but more so amazed at his ability; considering the circumstances, he seemed to have minimal issues with the language.

Somehow our conversation turned to skiing, and I told him that despite my most valiant efforts, my days on the slopes usually resulted in some sort of disaster so I stopped trying. He stared at me for a minute and then said, “But that’s why you have to go to the top of the biggest hill and just ski down. Maybe you’ll fall, but you have to get back up and make it to the bottom.” He smiled, and by the end of the conversation I learned that he hoped to become both a doctor and a world traveler. He explained that we are in this world to experience, to help other people, to visit the most forgotten places, and to taste the most exotic foods; he did not want to miss out on any opportunity. I left 826 that day with a renewed sense of hope and inspiration. I don’t think he knew that his words would mean so much, but our simple conversation reminded me that I couldn’t “just be.”

By no means do I wish to purely romanticize the efforts of the organization. The staff and directors there are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and passionate people I have ever met. They strive to make the center a place where students can thrive, and I believe that their efforts have a great impact. The students genuinely look forward to learning; one boy even called his reading homework “beautiful.” As a future English teacher, I find it incredibly inspiring and am so grateful to have the experience so close to where I live.

Please check out 826 Boston and learn more about the organization on their website! This short video also explains a little about the 826 organization in the United States:

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*Sarah White is a sophomore in Boston University School of Education studying English education.

Special Education – A Personal Love Affair

By Bonnie Tynes, SED 2016

This past summer, I spent five weeks working as a teacher’s assistant and tutor at The Schenck School in Atlanta, Georgia. The Schenck School is a school for children grades K-6 with mild to severe dyslexia. As a secondary English education major at the time, it is safe to say I was extremely apprehensive about what I would encounter during my weeks spent at this school. Special education was not something I was well versed in, having had only one class in it up until that point. However, some sort of very powerful force had pulled me toward this internship from the start, and I knew it would be a life-changing experience the first day I set foot in a classroom there.

They say that education is for the passionate. It’s for the people who want to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s for the people who are patient enough to tolerate the sheer amount of time it takes to become an effective and truly good educator. It’s for the people who aren’t just doing the job because they have it, but they’re doing the job because it’s a job that they care about with every ounce of their being.

When I was studying English education, I found my passion slipping. I knew I was in the right general arena with education, and I thought that English was exactly what I was destined to teach one day. I saw myself in a high school classroom, surrounded by tired juniors or seniors, and I saw myself changing their minds about English and its importance. Essentially, I saw myself taking the English language and shaping it so that it would have an astounding impact upon these juniors and seniors. However, this image faded with every English class I took my freshmen year here at BU. This had nothing to do with my professors or really anyone but myself. I was highly unsatisfied and concerned about the idea that I would one day have to impress this knowledge upon students when I could barely tolerate it myself. And then came my internship at Schenck.

My rising first grade class this summer at The Schenck School in Atlanta, GA. Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Tynes.

My rising first grade class this summer at The Schenck School in Atlanta, GA. Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Tynes.

The students I worked with this past summer were students who did not yet understand their learning difficulties. They knew that they were different, but at just six years old many of them simply thought that was okay and that it wasn’t an issue of sizeable concern. I spent the majority of my time working as an assistant to the lead teacher of a rising 1st grade classroom, and I fell in love with the students one by one. It was a special kind of love too. I yearned for their success and understanding. I was ecstatic when they got through an entire deck of sight words with no mistakes, and I wanted to cry of happiness when I finally taught Amanda the difference between a lowercase “d” and a lowercase “b”. Their struggles and failures inspired me to try harder and to plan my lessons for longer, and I’ve never felt so complete in my life. When my lead teacher had to take an unexpected two days off due to a tree that had fallen on her house during a storm, the director of the camp asked me to substitute teach for those two days. Following that experience, I had no doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a mild-moderate special education teacher.

I switched my major from English education to special education at the beginning of this past year (my sophomore year). Though English will forever have a special place in my heart, this past summer made me realize that most of my heart is dedicated almost wholly to something else. Special education isn’t just my major or what I’ve chosen to study for my four years as an undergraduate at Boston University. It’s a love affair for me, and one that I envision growing and maturing continuously (as most love affairs do) for the rest of my career as an educator.

*Bonnie Tynes is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying special education. 

What is Success? – Competition in Education

By Jessica Gulotta, SED 2017

Last December, in Greenville, South Carolina, a woman was trampled and injured in a stampede. There wasn’t a protest, or a fight, or anything that might typically cause a stampede. The cause of the stampede was mothers-protective mothers- trying to sign up their children for a new engineer charter school. This school was an elementary school; I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any six-year-olds that tell their parents that they want to be a biochemical engineer when they grow up. In Greenville County, parents are allowed to enroll their children in any school they wish, as long as there’s room. This has caused serious amounts of competition to get their children into what they consider to be the “best” schools.

Gulotta Illustration-01

Artwork by Jason Gan

Greenville County is a small example of how the competition in education is causing changes in the educational system. I am an advocate for STEM (science, technology, mathematics) education, but why are six-year-olds being forced into engineer and science elementary schools when they have no idea what they want to do yet?

This competition in education flows all the way up through high school. People now join clubs and extracurricular activities not because they want to have a more depth meaning of self, but so they can write it on their college applications. Colleges say that they look for “well-rounded” individuals, but how can students become true well rounded people, if from the age of six, they are in this strict competition of who can get into the best college, make the most money, and be society’s definition of successful?

I think that the true challenge has become to realize that, although society tends to define success by the job one has, the amount of money one makes, or the college that one graduated from, true success is when one’ presence in the world has so much value, that it has genuinely changed people’s lives. That’s how I define success.

*Jessica Gulotta is a first year student at Boston University School of Education, studying science education.