On the Brink

This the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Jennifer Wright, COL ’17

jennifer-wrightEighth graders are on the brink. They are not yet in high school, but are showing signs of the transition from their middle school selves. With a good dose of enthusiasm for learning still in them, they can be tasked with more responsibility and be held to higher expectations than their younger middle school peers.  

I discovered this by teaching Social Studies to a group of dynamic 8th graders over six weeks this past summer. I have never been so challenged, yet so rewarded by any single experience as I was teaching at Breakthrough Greater Boston.  

Breakthrough puts high-potential, low-income middle school students on the path towards college by following 6th graders through high school. In the summertime, it serves a dual purpose as an academic enrichment program and a pre-service teacher training program for 1,000 undergrads in cities across the country.

Having lived my entire life in Philadelphia, Boston was the chance for adventure and the opportunity to test the waters of being an educator. Before Breakthrough I wondered whether I was really up for the task of educating, especially in an urban school – the type of environment that I feel connected to based on my own public school experience in Philly. However, I wrote the following in my teaching journal for July 26th: “If I thought I couldn’t do this job before, I know now that I can… with the proper supports and continued training, of course.” 

As a Social Studies teacher, I proposed a class centered around the upcoming presidential election. I challenged my students to mingle their own curiosities and prior knowledge with critical material to make them more informed citizens and future voters. We studied primary and secondary sources, “registered” to vote, created original ballot propositions and wrote campaign speeches. 

I dove head-first into implementing my own original lesson plans to students of highly varied academic levels with varying success. Drawing on the support of an experienced instructional coach who observed my teaching several times a week, I refined my “teacher moves”. I worked to encourage positive class behaviors. I practiced decreasing the amount I spoke and increasing the opportunities for my students’ voices to be heard in class. The satisfaction came from higher quality classes and more engaged students with every revised lesson plan. The better I got at guiding them, the more insightful and productive the students became in their own right.

It was surprising, but gratifying how quickly my fellow teachers and I built relationships with our students as we learned side-by-side in class. It illuminated the real reason I’ve always felt drawn to education: the relationships.

I have heard teaching be compared to tending a seed that you won’t often get the chance to see bloom until much later. The truth is that my students and I were all seeds this summer. If gardening is really anything like teaching – it’s an exercise in patience, care and ultimately, in the trust that you’ll see the product of the hard work tomorrow – making them more prepared for 8th grade in the fall and me for a lifetime of tending seeds.


Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.