Unlike most soon-to-be teachers who experience a lifelong pull toward the profession, I stumbled headfirst into teaching at the secondary level. Eschewing my mother’s frequent predictions that I would one day be a high school English teacher, I decided instead to pursue a career in university academia at Syracuse.
While obtaining a master’s degree in English - which I hoped one day would lead to a Ph.D. that would allow me to focus on my research - I was required to teach undergraduate courses in writing at SU. Although I had no experience as an educator aside from a week-long teacher orientation, teaching quickly became the (only) part of my academic life that seemed to “fit.”
At first, I expected to merely transmit my knowledge of writing to my students, seeing them as empty vessels that needed to be “filled.” I was anxious to assume the role as an educator and my limited understanding of the teaching profession initially barred creative thinking and unique lesson design. Luckily, in one of my elective courses in the African American studies department, I was asked to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), which I now highly recommend to all my friends.
I realized that students and teachers are part of a community of learning and each individual brings a specialized knowledge to the group, such that the seeds of knowledge and action are formed in a cooperative environment. By the end of my two-year teaching career at Syracuse, I realized that my students and I were “co-investigators,” trying to understand and question our text-saturated society together.
Yes, but why high school?, you might ask. My students at Syracuse were extremely intelligent, hard-working, and motivated but many of them lacked the essential tools necessary to succeed in academic writing. More importantly, many of them never fostered an appreciation for sophisticated communication skills even outside of the classroom.
I thought that if I could effectively intervene at the high school level - building communication skills in an English classroom setting - then maybe, just maybe, students would be better prepared for the challenges that await them in college and in the ever-changing occupational landscape. It might be optimistic, or naive, to believe that I have the power to instigate such a change, but if I can help any student succeed, then all of those Saturday nights clinging to my computer and textbooks will be worth it.
So, here I am. Two years after completing my undergraduate degree in English, I’m back at Niagara to embark on the next leg of my journey towards teacher certification. As I walk through the College of Education, I can’t help but reflect on my time here as an undergraduate, especially when I ambled around these same hallways as a student aide in the College of Education. This experience granted me a “behind-the-scenes” look at the goings-on of the department and facilitated my trust in and appreciation for the teacher education programs at NU.
Back then, I sat at my student aide desk, merely observing as soon-to-be teachers bustled through the office and hallways, planning and preparing for their future careers. Now, I’m part of the excitement.