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Re-uploaded reaction #3

szhang01's picture

Sikun Zhang

                During my first visit to the all-girls, private school, Cherrywood ,there was a tremendous pressure that was felt as I entered the school building. The inside of the main foyer was wide and spacious with an aged, yet elegant sofa in the center. Beside the sofa was a fireplace with an aged chimney, displaying a bright fire. A grand set of stairs was near the administrator’s office. Without even meeting my hosting teacher and her students yet, I was incredibly nervous. This environment was abnormal and discomforting for a person of my background. I was raised in a suburban, middle-income township with a wide variety of people; from those who made less than 40,000 dollars to those who made over half a million annually. Although our incomes were varied, our school was modestly built and funded. This prominent school was foreign and almost threatening for me with the way it held itself. There was an obvious sense of pride and elegance that the building and administration promoted. Aside from the environment, the children continued to emphasize the school’s ethos. In the dress code, students are required from a young age (as young as pre-kindergarten) to maintain their clothing in “neat, clean, and in good repair” (Cherrywood, Lower School Dress Code). This kind of responsibility evolves from the parent’s into the student’s responsibility when the students reach sixth grade, where they will be reprimanded for their own dress code issues. 

                After I pass by some neatly dressed students and through a long corridor, I reach Ms. Smith’s classroom. Since she teaches seventh grade social studies, her walls are covered with projects and current events. However, unlike the social studies classes I have gone through during my elementary and middle school years, this class focuses on the current issues of the world. Their syllabus does not have stale units on the discovery of America or the foundation of our government. Rather, their major units of study include: human rights, What the World Eats, Refugees, and other such global issues. Although her focus of study surprised me, what surprised me more was her treatment of her students. Through her interactions with her students, I have seen a large amount of independence given to the students. For instance, students were given several days to work on their group projects that involved making info-graphic posters. Although the info-graphic project was restricting and set with specific requirements on how the poster needed to look, but Ms. Smith’s approach to guiding the students was rather distant. She didn’t speak with the students unless they had a question or they were being especially disruptive, which did not happen very often. There was one moment when Ms. Smith left the room for several seconds, leaving her students to their own accord. This moment did not receive the attention I had thought it would receive. The students did not mind when she left, and instead continued to work on their project. Her leave and return with no incident shocked me. During my high school years, students were placed with constant attention. Very rarely were we left on our own, and when that did happen, it garnered a lot of head turning and questioning.

 This very simple action was a monumental climax in how I noticed the difference between Ms. Smith’s teaching and my own learning experience. Ms. Smith’s teaching utilizes Lareau’s idea of social class involvement in the classroom. Just as Lareau mentions the idea that upper class parents put more emphasis on promoting business like interactions between figures of authority and the children (such as when Lareau brings up how upper middle class parents maintain eye contact with their children so that in the future they show a professional side of themselves to employers) , Ms. Smith takes into consideration her students’ backgrounds, which are mostly upper middle and upper class, and the school’s philosophy (the school’s motto is: From thinking girls to accomplished women) to create a setting that promotes both independence and structure. In the situation with the info-graphic poster making, Ms. Smith leaves the students to their own work for a short time, seemingly confident that they are fine without her, but when she returns, she picks up her role as a leader and controls the environment when she sees things getting out of hand. The students then understand that Ms. Smith both acts as a figure of authority and as a middle-ground adult who sees the students as mature minds that can handle themselves without her. This mentality is then the reason behind the corporate like mindset in the school. For example, this project mainly focused around group work and peer evaluation. Group work, which could sometimes be foreign to middle class students, is exactly what the class’ projects revolve around. Group work then builds up a team mentality which can be fully incorporated into the corporate world.

 Ms. Smith’s leaving and returning to her classroom therefore scrapes the surface of the pedagogy of her own beliefs, her student’s parents, and the schools. Through a closer examination of Ms. Smith’s actions, we see that there is a lot of forethought put into the students’ education. Where they will be in decades from now is of great importance to the parents and the school, and subsequently, the teacher. The school and the teacher then become part of the environment for the children of affluent parents to grow into independent and strong students.