A Teaching Fellow Reflects on Fall Semester

Sylvia Monreal is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at MLK Middle School in Newark, NJ

It seems to me that you can use December in a couple of different ways - you can look forward to the next year or you can look back on what this year has brought you. While I’m busy writing out my New Year’s Resolutions like most people, there’s a great big WOW! Showcase standing between me and 2012. It’s a wonderful reminder to stop, reflect, and celebrate all the adventures of 2011.

Looking back, I’m amazed to see just how many things have packed themselves into the few short months of the Fall Semester. There were tears, natural disasters, weird smells and noises from the heaters, and entirely too many grey and rainy Mondays. There were a lot of times when I left work feeling like I wrestled a gorilla. I’m sure there were even more times when the students have left the school feeling the same way.

There was Courage, too. One Team Leader gave her class a speculative prompt that challenged them, “What if you had the powers to cure anything but every time you healed someone you lost a little of your own life?” As I graded their writing, I couldn’t help but be moved when, essay after essay, students declared they would take care of their family, friends, even their communities as long as they could manage.

And there was Pride. Last month, our campus team worked closely with the administration of the school to throw a celebratory lunch for the students that made the Honor Roll. One student’s mother hid in our office to surprise him when he arrived to collect his certificate. Though he must barely come up to my shoulder, I think he stood the tallest when it was time to pose for a picture with the Principal and his mom.

I think, above all else, there was Joy. I know that I have countless new memories from this last semester that, even now, put a smile on my face. For example, I hope I never forget the afternoon that a 6th grade boy, blind in one eye and all too quick to fight, ran up to me to show me a complete 3D puzzle, shouting, “I did it! I finally did it! It just took patience, just like you said!”

When asked about the trick to finding success, the author Robert Strauss replied, “It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.” Every day, students have to face gorillas in their schools, whether it’s the looming Achievement Gap or just a bad breakup. Fortunately for our students, there’s a great big WOW! Showcase standing between them and Winter Break. I hope that it helps them look back and find things to celebrate, too.

What are you going to remember most from 2011?