I remember the day that my student Ayla came into my 11th-grade classroom while I was student teaching and placed a brown bag on my desk. She looked at me and said, “Ms. Williams, I brought something for you.” She pushed the bag onto the corner of the desk and smiled. As you can imagine, many visions came to mind about what would be inside of this bag. I decided to take the risk, take a deep breath and open the package. As I peered into the bag, I was relieved yet shocked to find dried, seasoned, deer jerky. I guess giving your teacher an apple was a bit outdated for Ayla and not true to her personal experiences in Carlisle. Let me now tell you how this moment represented for me the ways that I would engage the world.
I am a double major in English and Africana studies with a minor in secondary education. During the fall semester, as part of my education certification program, I taught full time at a local high school. My placement was at Boiling Springs High School, which is located about 10 miles from Dickinson. I taught 9th and 11th grade English, preparing for three different classes each day. I quickly became more than a senior in college; I was a teacher. I distinctly remember the first time I had to teach my students alone I was terrified, and all I kept thinking was, “Where is the adult?” To my dismay, I was the adult. Even though I may not have felt ready to be a senior at Dickinson, I quickly adjusted to being the best teacher that I could be. I taught my students everything from the basics about verbs, nouns and adjectives to why Harper Lee would use the N-word in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I conducted parent teacher conferences, graded essays and designed various assessments. And those were just the academics—between high-school breakups and makeups, I was kept very busy.
This brings me to the challenge of being charged with the title of the “cool young teacher,” or so my students initially thought. Although I have lived in Carlisle for the past four years, I did not know much about the culture outside of the Dickinson bubble. I had not properly engaged with all that the local community had to offer. When my students realized that my growing up outside of D.C. meant that I knew nothing about hunting, muddin', or line dancing, my cool points began to diminish. In order to regain them I had to figure out how I could properly engage with the local community. This meant that I learned all of the intricate details about hunting that my juniors could provide and tasted deer meat for the first time (courtesy of Ayla and her brown package), all while being schooled on how dubstep was soon going to rule the musical world. I was introduced to girlfriends, boyfriends and parents throughout the semester. Needless to say, my students were able to take more away from our time together when they saw that I was willing and ready to learn from them as well.
I had never been exposed to this side of Carlisle and I was fascinated. The other student teachers and I often shared with each other our experiences in the classroom, and all of the new things we were learning about the local community. We had no idea how challenging teaching could be or how invested we would be in our classrooms—including our students, their parents, the other teachers, and most importantly the local community by the end of our experience. It was truly eye-opening for each of us. So thank you to all the wonderful professors and administrators that have invested their time in our educations and shared their passions with us. We will be forever grateful for all that we have learned both in and outside of the classroom at Dickinson. Speaking of dedication, passion and time, I had no idea how much work parenting could be! So thank you to my parents and to the parents of my fellow graduates for supporting and helping us become the wonderful adults that we are now. It is through your guidance that we have made it through four years at this wonderful institution.
The question then becomes: How did I engage the world while I was student teaching? For me engaging the world at Dickinson did not necessarily mean going away to a faraway place. Ayla and I came from different worlds, but together we met in our classroom and truly experienced a cultural exchange. I learned that engaging the world meant more than flying to a distant location—I did that when I studied abroad in England—but my time spent in the local community was just as valuable. For me it was not the distance, but rather the different culture and experience I gained while student teaching that made showed me how to engage the world. We are each surrounded by cultures and people we have not properly engaged. I encourage you all to take a risk and engage with the local community that is down the road, or in a neighboring town, in a way that you have yet to experience. Take full advantage of the people, culture and differences in your own communities to create long-lasting memories.
Student teaching began as one of the hardest things I’ve done at Dickinson but certainly ended up being one of the most rewarding. Whenever I see my students at Wal-Mart, and I’m greeted with big smiles and updated on the latest gossip, I know that engaging with their lives was the best thing I could have done. As I look forward to teaching in Baltimore this fall, I will remember every lesson learned during my student-teaching semester. I will carry these lessons with me into my future classrooms and for the rest of my life. I hope you each will carry a curiosity and reverence for every culture you experience throughout your lifetime. We are all ready to engage the world and take away as much from it as we can. Good luck and congratulations.