By Griffin Monahan, SED’16
For the past four years my career trajectory has pointed me towards the classroom, but my path has recently changed. Last semester I was student teaching at a nearby high school. Each day I would be at the front of a tenth grade history classroom. I enjoyed creating, instructing, and witnessing the bright minds of my students engage in historical inquiry. They would debate whether or not the rebelling American colonists were justified in their violent resistance to the British; consider the motivations of America’s Founding Fathers; recommend changes to the American Constitution. My experience in the classroom was a historian’s dream, but I soon became familiar with a new passion that would become my main focus.
One day after I had finished teaching my section of U.S. History, I wandered into the school’s learning center, an area for peer tutoring, mentoring from community members, and for students that needed additional academic attention. Immediately the director of the learning center greeted me; she mistook me for a new tutor and began showing me around, then asking for my schedule. By the time that I had left that afternoon I was signed up for several afternoons to serve as an academic tutor and mentor.
My first week in the tutoring center was unexciting. I would help students with their homework ranging in subjects from Algebra to English. During my second week I was paired with an incredibly disinterested student: slumped in his chair, homework nowhere to be found. I had no idea what I would be walking into. Meeting this student would change my career aspirations and how I perceived myself.
I began working with this student, Dan (not his real name), in a manner that I had utilized working with previous students. Asking, “What homework do you have? Do you have any projects to start? Should we study for an upcoming test?” Dan responded with short quips. Clearly he wanted nothing to do with me. I took a moment and thought to myself, “why should Dan want to work with me? He knows nothing about me and I know nothing about him.” At this point I realized I was beginning in all the wrong places. Looking at Dan’s backpack I noticed that he ran cross-country and track. I began asking Dan about his experiences running. I had run myself in high school; this knowledge helped me catch Dan’s interest. From talking about running we began discussing other aspects of his life. Being from East Africa, Dan had plenty to share that I had never encountered. Once Dan was finished sharing he then began asking me about myself. We spent 80 minutes learning about each other. We completed no academic work but when the bell rang we had completed an invaluable experience.
In the following days and weeks Dan was eager to work on his assignments with me. Using the methods that I had to learn about Dan and build a connection with him I had began working with other students in the learning center. Many of the students, including Dan, were seniors hoping to go to college. I noticed that despite having the desire to attend college, many of these students lacked a concrete plan to achieve their goals. All of the students I was working with would be the first of their families to attend college. These students and their families lacked experience with the college application process: when to take tests, how to speak with admission representatives, how to write an effective personal essay– these were all areas that I began working on with the students. During this work I felt that a new light went off in my head. My students and I were creating great progress. I loved teaching students about what I would describe as ‘life skills.’
When my student teaching experience was wrapping up, I was lucky to hear from my students that many of them had applied to college. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride. Reflecting on my experiences I realized that I could be an effective educator in a capacity that I had previously never heard of. As I look ahead to the days after graduation I hope to pursue jobs working with first generation students assisting them in the college application process. After completing my student teaching I was convinced that I am an educator, but what I had not anticipated was that I would want to work as a an educator outside of the classroom.