The following piece was written by Miriam Rock, Trumball ’14 who served as an intern at the Russell Byers Charter School this past year. The Yale Club helps support this internship.
Section One: Objective Narrative
For the last two summers, Russell Byers Charter School partnered with Springboard Collaborative to target children at RBCS who were at risk of falling below reading level. For five weeks this past summer, the children worked in classrooms and, through independent and small group work, began to overcome their specific challenges. April Tomarelli, the director of the Springboard program at Russell Byers, served as my supervisor and placed me in three different classrooms throughout the course of the summer. In those classrooms, I helped the teachers with classroom management and, if an individual child needed extra assistance, worked one-on-one with him or her. For attending the program, the children received four free books. If, by the end of the summer, they reached their reading goal, the students also received a backpack filled with school supplies. Finally, if the children exceed their goals by a critical amount, they earned refurbished laptops. Around 30 of the 80 RBCS children made sufficient progress to receive laptops. Russell Byers is located in Philadelphia at 19th and Arch. The Yale Alumni club coordinator in Philadelphia is Jackie Buhn. While Jackie was very accommodating and agreed to host me in her home for the summer, as a native Philadelphian, I chose to live in my childhood home for the duration of the program.
Section Two: Professional Reflection
Learning Objectives Going into my internship at Russell Byers Charter School, I hoped to learn more about the day-to-day life of a classroom teacher and the reading strategies and classroom management techniques employed by I learned an incredible amount about ways in which to motivate and support children. Over the course of the summer I watched teachers inform a child that their behavior was less than ideal while still emphasizing their continued respect for and belief in that same child. In this way, the teachers shifted behavior in the classroom while building positive relationships. I was also unaware going into my internship of the importance of fostering a working, pleasant relationship with parents. The teachers taught me how vital it was to maintain communication with parents and to make sure to inform the parents when the children made both problematic and admirable choices. I very quickly realized that the best way for me to learn key skills in teaching was by mimicking the older, more experienced teachers. I listened to, watched and asked questions of them, slowly attempting to incorporate their advice into my interactions with the children. The teachers at the Russell Byers Charter School Summer Program were incredibly welcoming, supportive and helpful. They showed me both how much I had to learn and how best to go about shaping myself into a successful teacher. While I am nowhere near becoming a great, let alone good, teacher – I have far too much respect for the skills required in this profession to think that I’ve already mastered them! – I do intend to continue to search for opportunities where I will be able to keep practicing interacting with children. I also plan to place myself into situations where I will meet more experienced teachers who can serve as mentors.
Section Three: Personal Reflection – Individual Growth
I grew an incredible amount over the course of this past summer. I learned the importance of patience with children and that it can be a learned quality, whether or not you possess it in sufficient quantity innately. For me, the most memorable moment of the summer was when I made a child sob. The teacher in whose classroom I was working for the day was administering a test to several students in turn and, therefore, my role for the day was to minimize the noise level of the other students. One six-year-old in particular was having difficulty remaining quiet. Unfortunately, by that point in the day, I was sufficiently worn down that, instead of patiently asking him to stop talking, I barked his name and, in a raised tone, expressed my frustration at his failure to listen to my repeated directions. And with that, he looked slightly stricken, sat on the floor and began Afterwards, I had a discussion with the teacher who informed me that this child had learning differences and that he hadn’t purposefully ignored me but rather listened to the best of his ability. Needless to say, I felt incredibly guilty about the interaction. This guilt combined with a desire to do better and I set about learning patience. Similarly and, arguably, more importantly, I began to attempt to customize my standards for, praise of and interactions with children based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Rather than attempt to learn a strategy that worked for all kids, I began to observe the way teachers got to know their children and then used this knowledge to best connect with the children. My proudest personal achievement this summer was my successful reshaping of my relationship with the child who I made sob. I began to consciously display my affection towards him and praise him when he behaved well in the classroom. By making sure he felt special and loved I hoped to undo some of the hurt that I had caused out of my ignorance and inexperience. By the end of the summer, he began to hug me voluntarily and to smile instinctively when he saw me approaching. Similarly, by modifying my interaction with him within the classroom, I was able to get him to work more affectively and without becoming upset. Before this summer, I hadn’t fully realized just how large of a role a teacher plays in the lives of his or her students. This summer brought home to me how much I care about being a positive figure in my future students’ lives. I obviously still lack the expertise to do this, but this summer confirmed for me just how much I want to learn how to help, support and nourish children’s academic and emotional development. I am so thankful to this experience, to Russell Byers Charter School and to the teachers I worked with for providing me the opportunity to learn about education in this way. Similarly, I am truly appreciative of the existence of Community Service Fellowships and of the generosity of the Yale Alumni of Philadelphia who both set up and funded my internship with RBCS. It was an unforgettable summer.