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my placement

eheller's picture

My placement is at a public K-8 school in Philadelphia, and I have been there twice already. The first day of my placement was one of the most overwhelming mornings of my life. The school is in a nice location and I had a lovely walk from Suburban Station to the school. The school looks like any other school from the outside, but inside it is rundown and institutional-looking.The school is predominately African-American, and many of the students are low-income.

I am in a third-grade classroom. The class only has 18 students, and I was surprised at how small the class was. However, its small size does not mean that this is an easy class. Several of the students have behavioral issues and some have learning disabilities. The students that act out distract the other students from their work, and the teacher has no productive way of dealing with these kids other than yelling at them and sending them out of the room. The students who are behind in learning cannot keep up with the rest of the class, and the students who are advanced do not get any challenges or any extra attention from the teacher because she is so busy trying to help kids who are behind. Because of the PSSA and the extreme pressure on the school to raise test scores, the teacher is forced to teach to the test and teach them how to answer the specific questions instead of focusing on more general skills or creative thinking. The test has things like plot structure and poetry on it, which is way too challenging for some of the kids who are reading on about a first grade level. 

I have many challenges in this placement. For me, my biggest challenge is probably going to be not judging the teacher and remembering the challenges she has to deal with. When I first came in , I was shocked by the way she treated her students. She often yells at them, sends them out of the room, and threatens to call their parents. However, the second time I went, after I had gotten used to her, I noticed the attentive way she listened to each student during morning meeting, making each one feel special and respected even when telling a 5-minute long story about going to the mall. She knows each students background and is aware of how their home lives affect their school performance. She told me privately that the class troublemaker, Jason, has a very troubled home life and that the school had to investigate his living situation. One of the students who is the most behind, Harry, lives in a homeless shelter with his mother. Another challenge for me is trying to understand these students without being able to relate to their lives. I know that I have so much privilege, and that I am a different race and class from these students. The first day I was completely overwhelmed because it seemed like the teacher had no control of the classroom and the kids were acting out and no learning was happening. However, the second time I went back, the kids were much calmer and I understood that the teacher is trying as hard as she can. This placement opened my eyes to some major issues in urban education, and though the 10 weeks will not be easy, they were be extremely educational.