As part of my student teaching seminar, we are asked to write reflections about our experiences. I will have more to share in this space regarding what I have encountered when time and energy permit. For now, I would like to share my most recent reflection, where we were asked to write about a student who has had an impact on us, either good or bad. This is what I had to say:
There is a line at the film “The Devil’s Own” starring Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford, where Brad Pitt’s character is telling his father figure Ford that their story was always going to have bad ending. Pitt, who is Irish and a member of the IRA tells Ford “Don’t look for a happy ending. It’s not an American story. It’s an Irish one.” What Pitt’s character is saying is that we want so desperately for every story to have the miracle ending that we as Americans have come to expect, that we forget that so often in life, there are no happy endings. For people all over the world, they spend their whole lives, and then die, waiting for that miracle ending. In literature it is called Deus ex Machina, or “God from the machine” where no matter how desperate the situation, things will find a way of working out for the protagonist. I have made this mistake when working with my students at Hillside prior to starting my student teaching. Sometimes there are no happy endings. After talking with a student and a parent about the issues that are going on in the home, it is my expectation that from week to week, day to day, things will begin to get better. The harsh truth however is that sometimes things don’t get better. Sometimes a young person who is struggling against all that they are dealing with in their lives, will simply continue to struggle.
Sometimes, even though we are in America, the stories don’t have a happy ending. I would like to sit and write about my student who in three weeks I have turned from an underachieving problem student, into a social studies whiz-kid (it’s not as if I don’t have a few of them) but the harsh and brutal reality is that this is by and large not an American story. The students that I have spent the last month plus working with will go on after they are done with me, and I them. Some of them will succeed in both school and life, and some of them wont. The hardest part is that there is shockingly little that I can do to alter that course. I am not so naïve to think that in seven weeks I could alter the course of all 45 or so student’s lives. But I do also realize the impact I am having, if only for an hour and a half five days a week for a month and a half. Do I have students who have made an impression on me? Do I have students who I will remember long after they have forgotten about me? Of course I do. I far under estimated the impact that student teaching was going to have on me as a professional and as a person. Having worked in my school for two years, I arrogantly believed that I knew more about this than I did. This has been the single greatest learning experience of my life, and I say that knowing full well that I have two weeks left where I am now, and seven weeks at my next placement.
I am sorry for the negative tone to this, the ironic thing is, I write this after having what has been my most successful week here. You asked me to write about a student who has made an impression on me, and I could easily have filled these few short pages with stories about this young person or that, who has surprised me in a good way or a bad. I could talk about the young lady who has shocked me day in and day out with her ability to think at a higher level. Or the young man who is so confident in his abilities in social studies, but is so close every day to exploding on me that I have had to navigate a mine field with him. I could have written 10 pages on each and every one of them. But it would not have been enough. Instead, let me take these pages to talk about the group as a whole. They are wonderful, awful people, just like all of us, who for the most part are doing the best with what they have, and what they have been taught. I cannot move heaven and earth in 7 weeks, but I can alter the course of a young person’s life, even if just slightly. Maybe after all is said and done, it will be an American story after all.