An Experiment in Me

By Jesse Pfaff Secondary English Education Major/ACH Clear Pathways: After-School Arts Program Intern

I only realized I wanted to become an educator my senior year of high school. My English teacher at the time, who had inspired me to follow the same path, had some strong opinions. Mrs. Kress told me that she liked me. She thought I had a kind heart. She told me that the career is harsh, and that I should seriously reconsider. It would simply drain the good out of me. She did not say any of this because she doubted my capabilities, but because she was trying to warn me of what was inevitably ahead. When you want to become an educator, there is an expected amount of trouble or turmoil that is inevitable. But I had just started the preschool class where high school students help run a daycare out of the school for 3–5-year-olds. I taught my first lesson to the little tots, and I was exhilarated. I felt an immense sense of joy knowing that these little students learned something all because of me. Their accomplishments felt like my accomplishments. They gave me hope.

            I was intrigued by this specific internship because I saw it as a kind of experiment for myself. One of the main reasons I chose Duquesne’s education program was because their track gets you into the classroom for experience much earlier than most other programs I looked at. I received my first placement the spring of my freshman year. In my second semester I would enter a classroom, observe, and teach lessons that were created by Junior Achievement. At least, that was how things were supposed to go. There were issues with my host teacher, communication, availability, and time that made the process much more difficult than most of my peers. By the time I received a placement and entered the classroom, most of my classmates had been observing for two weeks. Some had completed all of their hours. I would have to finish my hours after the semester ended. I was not given enough time to get it done. This was frustrating, but it was not the end of the world. It did not make my love of teaching waver.

            When I got this placement, due to the circumstances, it was not a regular Junior Achievement placement. I, along with my partner, were assigned to a classroom for students with special needs, specifically behavioral issues. Our host teacher was not even a teacher. She was a psych student getting her own hours for her degree. It felt like we had been thrown in the deep end. After our first day of observation, our host “teacher” told us, “I’d be surprised if you wanted to be teachers still after this”. She was right. My partner switched majors after that semester. We had taken a whopping two education courses in our previous semester. We were not prepared. We had not been taught how to modify the lessons we were given, but we had to do so anyway. There were supposed to be three days of 30-minute lessons. We managed to have one for 15 minutes. During which, a student got upset and tried to jump out of the third story window. It was not the reaction I was hoping for or expecting from my very first lesson. It did not seem like a very good sign. Maybe Mrs. Kress had a point.

            I learned more about education in that classroom than I think I will have learned in all of my courses at Duquesne (this is not to say I did not learn a ton from Duquesne as well). For me, it ended up being an incredibly enriching experience. I got to watch and learn child psychology firsthand. I learned about the importance of education and what really matters. Most of these students came to class hungry. There were days where students would have breakdowns or episodes because their parents sold their medication for money. I watched classroom management strategies go through trial and error. I learned how to accommodate different students’ needs and alter lesson plans on the fly. I got to watch everything I would come to learn about education in one classroom. I was excited that I would one day become a teacher.

            I had two placements after this. One, which I completed all 15 hours, and the other which I attended for one and a half hours before CoVid-19 closed the school. That was the spring of my sophomore year. It has been over a year, nearly two, since I had in person classroom experience. Throughout this time, I have lost that spark. I cannot seem to find that joy I had when I taught a child how to write their name, or helped a student read a whole paragraph. I have sat through the pandemic and watched as society has viewed educators. I have watched the job change before my very eyes. I have watched, and am currently experiencing, the expectation of teachers to put their health and safety on the line during the ongoing pandemic. I wanted to say that Mrs. Kress was wrong. However, the past years have made me cynical and a little bitter. I am only seeing the harder, more negative aspects of teaching. I am writing IEP’s for fake students. I am watching videos of other teachers as a replacement for in person work. I feel as if I have taken on more than the accepted amount of stress that comes with being an educator, and I have not yet entered the field.

            The point is, there is no replacement for in person work. My internship with ACH Clear Pathways: After-School Arts Program is the first time I will be in a classroom-like setting in almost two years. I have come into this internship trying to keep the bitterness at bay. Trying to fight Mrs. Kress’s words. There is still good in me. I still have that love of learning and teaching. I think it’s just buried under some negative experiences and a whole lot of fear. It has to be. The students at ACH Clear Pathways have already ignited that little spark in the depths of my heart, below all the rubble and dust. I can only imagine that this flame will go stronger the more time I spend with these students in the art classroom. The experiment has barely started, and the data is already proving my hypothesis true: I love teaching.


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