Christina Cropper co-taught first grade at P.S. 277 in the Bronx.
An Eye-Opening Summer
All my life I have been passionate about working with children and education, but did not realize the extent of those passions until I entered my first year at Penn State. For an English class, I had to write an issue brief and do a blog on a policy issue and I found myself writing about topics in education. With some encouragement from my professor, I looked into a unique major that Penn State had to offer: Education and Public Policy (EPP). I took my first EPP class and fell in love with the major! I learned about the ins and outs of the education system and more importantly, all the issues it faced. But it wasn’t until I read the book Tested by Linda Perlstein that I truly got a taste for educational equity in the United States (or lack thereof). Perlstein’s book was a case study done on a Title I school struggling to meet test score standards while the teachers worried about the quality of education that their students were getting. For some, this book was just a closer look at a struggling school in the modern age, but for me, it was a look into my own educational experience. The school Perlstein showcased was an elementary school in my school district, just 15 minutes down the road from me, yet our quality was worlds apart. Reading first-hand how kids that grew up so close to me had a completely different educational experience than I did was eye-opening and sparked my interest in educational equity and policy.
As I learned about all the issues with education policy, one recurring theme was that the policy makers did not have any idea about what was going on in a classroom and there was a disconnect between policy makers and the ones affected by the policy. Constantly hearing this, I knew that I would need to gain a classroom perspective if I wanted to make effective education policy that actually worked. I started searching for summer internships and came across Practice Makes Perfect (PMP) and immediately fell in love. Here was a company embodying all the beliefs that I had and making a real difference in the lives of the children they service; I knew it had to be the place I started my path in education. I went through the application process and still remember getting my acceptance email and calling my mom crying about how happy I was. Through PMP, I was going to be able to have a hand in helping the children that the US educational system has really done a disservice to, and get a first-hand look at what is affecting these children’s education.
Going into the PMP program I was slightly nervous. I was not an education major and really had no idea how to run my own classroom, let alone plan a lesson. However, through the training, I gained the skills and tools to be successful in my classroom. I was able to refine my teaching style, nail down lesson plans, and gain a better understanding of what I should be monitoring in my classroom to maximize success in my students. I could not have been more excited to start my teaching experience after the training session and left with a confidence I didn’t have going into the training session. The first day of school was filled with nerves but, by the end of the day, I fell in love with my kids and mentors and knew this was going to be a summer I would never forget. The next few weeks however proved challenging. People always say that your first year of teaching is the hardest and I definitely got a glimpse into that this summer. However, through the support of my teaching coach and the support staff at PMP, I was able to overcome the obstacles that were thrown my way and gain more skills and confidence in my ability to teach.
One great aspect of this program is the opportunity to co-teach with a fellow college student. Having that support system and a person to lean on when things weren’t going as planned was such a crucial aspect to my success this summer, and I cannot thank my co-teacher enough for the support she gave me and the hand she had in shaping the kind of teacher I hope to be. Seeing and working closely with someone that had as much passion about helping these students as I did was a breath of fresh air and motivating beyond belief.
Through this program, I learned a lot about myself and the community I was serving. I learned that the families in these neighborhoods are no different from the ones that I grew up around. The parents of these children want them to succeed and have a better life for themselves; they just don’t know how to help sometimes. The students in this community want to do well in school and succeed, but sometimes there are things that happen out of their control that have an affect on their schooling. The teachers in this community care about their students, sometimes more than themselves, and want nothing but good things for them, but can get frustrated sometimes by the aspects of their student’s lives they just cannot control. The PMP program gave me an invaluable glimpse into the schools that need effective education policy the most and solidified my career goals in a way I did not think possible. Because of my participation in PMP, I applied for Teach for America and am happy to say that I will be continuing my service to low-income communities in Memphis, TN! PMP showed me that there is no better way to help these kids than to get into the classroom and show them that someone cares and wants them to succeed and that you cannot fix a problem without paying attention to its roots.
If you’re interested in changing a life this summer as a Teaching Fellow, click here for more information and to apply!