Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Self Evaluation and Reflection

kconrad's picture

During one of our last Schools in American Cities class, you (Jody) summed up so well what I had been sensing for a few weeks: the deeper we explored the issues within urban education, the further we seemed to come from answers. Before you put words to this, I had been unsure of what to make of the feeling: was I the only one who felt more confused leaving than I had coming into the class? No, this was the hallmark of a complex learning process, involving challenged assumptions, recognition of conflicting realities, discovery of unfair and antagonistic systems, and ultimately, an unclear but vaguely hopeful direction forward.

As I reflect on what has come from my readings, those long, provocative, sometimes angering, sometimes saddening readings, I see most tangibly where my knowledge has been expanded. The readings in this class helped me reach a deeper and far more complex understanding of the systemic, micro/macro-level interactions in urban education. They have taught me that gentrification, math curriculum, Supreme Court decisions, school discipline policies, mayoral races, teacher education, real estate values, teaching to the test, huge corporations like Walmart, small neighborhood communities… they all impact one another. It still blows my mind, but I believe that you could relate literally any one of those factors to any other through the urban classroom.

The most crucial readings for me this semester have been “Yes, But How Do We Do it?” by Gloria Ladson-Billings, as it set forth the crucial goals of culturally-relevant pedagogy by, paradoxically, challenging the reader to determine its implementation on his or her own; “Teach for America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform: Searching for Agency in an Era of Standardization,” by Katherine Crawford-Garrett, as it drew parallels among the white savior complex common in urban education with both colonization theories and humanitarian aid work;  “Linguistic Diversity in Multicultural Classrooms,” by Sonia Nieto, as it captured the political nature of pedagogies and curriculums which equate success with assimilation; and “Visions of Teachers Leaving No More Children Behind,” by Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, as it examined how urban teachers have the critical position as simultaneous perpetuators of and activists against “the nation’s apartheid-like social structure” (p. 113).

In addition to my knowledge gained from the readings, another salient area of growth for me this semester has been through my class participation. At the start of the semester, I shared with you that I hadn’t felt completely comfortable speaking up in class because questioning my own right to engage in the urban education conversation had left me temporarily stagnant. Over time, I came to understand that in order to both believe and embody the material being learned in our class, I had to take risks, and I by the end of the semester, I considered myself a confident, impassioned, and consistent risk-taker in class discussion. This growth was inherently tied to my work with my classmates. By collaborating with them and considering them allies in learning and action through class discussion, small group work, and often reading web-posts, I came to feel how empowering it is to have your ideas, and your very identity as a learner, valued by peers. In the first few weeks of the semester, Sherilyn asserted that our class needed to be not a safe space, but a brave space. As we each pushed each other beyond our learning edges, I believe we came to create that brave space.

Something I have felt less satisfied with this semester has been my writing. Although my blog posts, in general, were fair representations of my thinking from a week-to-week basis, I felt that my papers (particularly the Issue Analysis and Strategies for Change) were not so representative. I believe this was in part due to a lack of focus in the topics that I chose, stemming from an uncertainty regarding how on earth I could possibly address all the interconnectedness I was thinking about in my mind, and as a result, my written words were vague and lacked the risk I embraced in class. Strategies for Change in particular represented the most significant “learning edge” I’m finishing the semester with: Where can we possibly go from here? I still don’t know. Again, I attribute this at least in part to that mind-blowing interconnectedness among all levels of society when it comes to urban education, but also to residual effects of questioning my authority in the urban education conversation.

Perhaps the most important clarification that I have reached, however, is my intended role in all of this. Coming into the semester, I knew I wanted to be a classroom teacher after college, specifically in an elementary school classroom, but if you had asked me in what context, I would have hesitated. “If I say an urban school will I look like a white savior? If I say not an urban school will I look like I don’t care about those students? If I say a private Friends school will I seem like I don’t support public education? If I say a public school will it look like I’m ignorant to the complexities and hardships that public school teachers face everyday???” Oh god. I didn’t have a clue what I should say. Now, I’m recognizing that it isn’t what I should say that I need to consider, it’s what I feel I can do. Here is my reasoning: Urban educators have one of the hardest, yet one of the most important jobs in this country. Urban students need and deserve teachers who can serve them well, and out of deep respect for the teaching profession, I expect that during my first year in the classroom, I will struggle. Once I gain the confidence, skills, and experience of a teacher that I believe urban classrooms should have, then perhaps I will be able to teach in that setting. Until then, I’m considering social-justice-focused private schools, where my learning won’t mean that I’m risking that of the students. This class has helped me figure that out and own it as my own deeply personal plan for education. For this, I am most thankful.

I’ll now finish this reflection by explaining the photo I chose for my portfolio banner: The picture merely says “QUESTION AUTHORITY.” As I have mentioned, when I came into this class, I was stuck questioning my own authority, doubting my right to even take part in a conversation as important as urban education. Eventually, I was able to use the critical consciousness that initially caused my stagnation as a mobilizer. Now, this phrase means something different to me. “QUESTION AUTHORITY” means that as critically conscious learners, we must challenge assumptions about urban schools and urban kids that have been internalized by our society, we must champion critical thinking over passive acceptance in classrooms, we must encourage kids to challenge the narratives that marginalize them, we must help to create a movement that challenges the social structure that limits us all. And maybe questioning that authority must start with questioning your own.

(The image comes from The contents of the page does not reflect my own views, nor is it at all topically relevant.)