A Bittersweet Goodbye

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

It’s officially official… my internship ended! It’s such a bittersweet feeling. I find myself wishing I had more time with the students and wanting to continue this until in-person tutoring is allowed, but I’m ready for the next chapter.

During my time at Duquesne, I’ve taken a multitude of English classes and Education classes. The double major demands that I take a number of courses and meet specific requirements. Each professor I’ve taken helped instill the necessary foundation that I will take with me into the profession. But I’ve always felt something was missing from my experience. My student observations in classrooms of local Pittsburgh schools are valuable and I am grateful for the experience, but I never got a chance to combine English and Education for myself.

This internship is exactly what I was looking for, I just didn’t know it at the time. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that this experience found me after a class was cancelled, but it wasn’t until the last week of the internship that I realized how valuable this is. It tied all the loose ends for me during my last semester of classes. Each week, I had the opportunity to combine my knowledge from the School of Education and apply it to English-based activities. For example, I tried to implement a “grabber” each week, by telling a joke or talking about the weekend. When this was over, the students knew it was time to focus on the worksheets for the next 30 minutes.

I set one goal for myself this semester, and that was to gain confidence. I find it difficult to teach more than 1 student at a time. This internship helped me achieve my goal because of the routine practice each Wednesday. I feel more confident entering my student teaching experience that begins in mid-January. Whether it be in-person or via Zoom, I’ll be prepared!

Embracing Change but Appreciating the Constants

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

Things at ACH Clear Pathways have been pretty quiet the last few weeks, which is exactly the opposite of how my classes are going. Professors are beginning to introduce final exams and I am starting the process of applying to law schools (a rather recent endeavor). The changes in the semester have forced me to adapt to an entirely virtual learning experience. I’m still adjusting and I don’t like change (does anyone?), but I am proud of myself. This is certainly a senior year that will be talked about long after my May 2021 graduation. Despite all of the changes this semester introduced to me, one thing remains constant in my life: the ACH children.

The kids at ACH continue to surprise me. After a misunderstanding about the end date, I entered the Zoom room last Wednesday with just 20 minutes to spare for me to talk to the kids. I think this meeting has been the most enjoyable for me to date. There wasn’t enough time to start a reading/writing activity, so we just talked about our weekend, which happened to be Halloween. Seeing the joy in the girl’s face reminded me of the magic of the holiday season and everything there is to take in as a child. They were excited to tell me about trick-or-treating and the talent show held at the center on the previous Monday. Another girl joined us for a few minutes (I think she is new to the after-school program) and smiled from ear to ear when I explained to her who I am and my role as a Community Writing Center intern. I hope she sticks around to do some writing with me in the last few weeks of the semester; she has so much potential.

As the semester winds down, I think about the things I would like to go back and change. I would study a bit harder for some tests, appreciate my time on A-walk a little more, and probably eat less candy. But one thing I wouldn’t change is my 1 hour per week with the ACH kids. We accomplished some writing, drew some pictures, played way too many games of hangman, but, most importantly, we appreciated each other’s presence, which is rare in the age of a global pandemic with no end in sight.

A Twist on Student Teaching

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

Due to the on-going pandemic, I decided to request for an online field placement as a measure to try to limit potential exposure of the virus. I will admit that when I submitted this request, I wasn’t entirely sure what an online placement would entail. Many of my friends in the School of Education also opted for this virtual experience. Because of the large response, a program was purchased for a field simulation. A first semester senior is expected to teach 3 lessons and complete 45 hours of observations. This is unrealistic due to the November 1st start date and December 1st deadline, so the requirement was decreased to a certain number of completed simulations with avatar students.

After some thought, I decided to ask my professor if I could use my internship opportunity as a replacement. I am actively writing with and observing students. It seemed like a fitting twist. Eventually, I was granted approval for this and now I am using this internship as a foundation for my field. There are a few assignments required for me to pass the field. I will use my current students at ACH as my guide to develop 3 lesson plans and will write a 5-7 page reflection on my experience this semester. I’m considering including my reflection in my internship final portfolio as a testament to my feelings toward the work I have been doing this semester. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I created a week’s worth of curriculum. I envision myself using this curriculum and expanding upon it to fit PA Standards, learning goals/objectives, and formative and summative assessments. As of May 2021, I will be certified to teach 7th-12th grade English Language Arts. This internship is geared towards children in Kindergarten-3rd grade. It requires me to think differently and consider other options that might not be as powerful in a higher-level classroom.

I’m looking forward to completing the assignments for my field experience. I think it will force me to sit down and reflect; this semester is untraditional and continues to be busy. I feel as if I’ve had very little time to truly appreciate the fact that we are still capable of learning and teaching amidst a global crisis. It certainly isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

Thank Your Teachers

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

“Oh, do you want to be a teacher because you have a free summer?” “Can’t you just show a video explaining the topic instead of making your own lesson?” “Isn’t curriculum building easy—just find worksheets and lesson plans online?”

Any good teacher would say “no” to each of those questions. As an Education major, each day I am reminded that just because a teacher leaves their classroom at the end of the day or because they traded in their physical space for a virtual Zoom room, it doesn’t mean their work stops. After three full years of focusing on how to lesson plan, build curriculum, meet standards, etc. geared toward 7th-12th grade students, this past week I had a glimpse into life as a PreK-4 candidate/teacher. And it wasn’t easy. The interns are taking turns building lessons for each week of this internship. I volunteered for this week. I surfed the web for hours trying to find 5 days’ worth (which really is only ~5 hours because of our schedule) of curriculum for students ranging from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. I tried finding ways to please each student but quickly realized how unrealistic that was. And it doesn’t help that the two students I work with couldn’t be more different… aside from the fact writing isn’t their preferred hobby.

I stepped away from my laptop and took deep breaths. My patience was thinning as I pondered what to include in my lesson. I wanted it to be perfect. Ultimately, I gave in and I decided to consult the joint Pinterest board that the interns and I share for some inspiration, and then I had my “Aha!” moment. I realized maybe I was approaching the task at the wrong angle—the 7th through 12th grade angle I worked so hard to fully understand the last 6.5 semesters. I can’t ask a kindergartener to write a paragraph about her favorite Autumn activities… she just learned how to correctly write each letter in her name.

I decided to include a handful of activities including pumpkin mazes, acrostic poems, color by numbers, and a story that asks the kids to draw a related picture after they listen. This week made me realize 2 things:

1. Sometimes you have to start small and grow as you go. We still have a few weeks left of this internship and I’m eager to see how the students progress.

2. Teachers are underappreciated. We should all take time to thank a teacher (past or current) this week because curriculum building is far from easy!

A Ph.D. in Flexibility

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

An ongoing battle that I am struggling with in all aspects of my life (especially now more than ever) is how to be flexible. No matter how much I try to model myself after my peers, professors, and people around me, I always doubt myself. I’m a Type A person that loves color-coded schedules and following meticulously crafted plans. As I grow older, I realize not everyone around me is like that. This internship is introducing situations that require me to adapt and go with the flow—something I’ve never been good at. I’ve struggled with how to teach when my students don’t want to learn. I’ve had iPad cases closed on me and been ignored when trying to ask questions, like “How was your day?” or “Are you ready to learn?”. Thinking back to a week ago, one child only wanted to watch YouTube. He was uninterested in doing the worksheets I found and the virtual treasure hunt I had planned; Teen Titans Go was the only appealing option in his eyes. So I shared my screen and streamed an episode from YouTube because sometimes it’s easier to say ‘yes’ than start a battle, especially through a screen, right?

I’m learning this semester is all about flexibility. The students’ physical space at ACH is under a large amount of construction and changes just as much as our virtual realm that my colleagues and I created. Saying we never know what to expect might be an understatement. These first few weeks of this internship haven’t followed my color-coded schedules or the plans that I crafted, but I am learning more this way. I am learning life-long skills that can be applied in multiple disciplines. The best way to earn your Ph.D. in flexibility is to experience what it demands first hand. Just like anything in life, it isn’t going to be easy, directions aren’t given, and my limits are being tested, but another week has passed and I am still grateful that I accepted this opportunity.

Making Sense of an Untraditional Internship

By Cori Agnoni, Secondary Education and English Major / ACH Clear Pathways and Community Writing Center Intern

As it has for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way I think, act, and even go about my daily routine. I’ve been told that you can never quite prepare yourself for a day in the Education field, but that only means so much until you’re actually faced with challenges that call for a worldwide shut down. I’ve been forced to find the positives in online school (as of September 14th, I’m roughly 80% online and 20% in person). I miss sitting in the classroom and being able to raise my hand, knowing that my teacher sees it and will call on me at the next appropriate break. I miss walking into class and heading straight toward my self-assigned seat. I miss checking my watch multiple times to see if we’re any closer to class ending… okay, I still occasionally do that. But I’m learning to love the five steps it takes me to get from my bed to my desk on lazy mornings and being able to have a true lunch break that I lacked from the busyness of campus life.

While this pandemic impacted my academic life more than I could have imagined, it also clouded my brain when asked what comes after my undergraduate work. I’ve always dreamed of attending graduate school, but still have trouble understanding where that might be. Does an online program seem more realistic for just the time being, or is this pandemic something that will change life for years to come? Is online learning our new normal? This question constantly runs laps throughout my mind. I think this internship opportunity will solidify my main aspiration at the moment: teaching. Whether it be virtual or in person or even a combination of the two, I want to make myself present in an academic environment. I always imagined my first teaching/internship experience would be traditional, meaning I would walk in to the building on the first day with sweaty palms because I don’t know anyone and a purse full of pens knowing darn well I would only use one, but wanted to have a backup pen for my backup pen. That’s not what this will be. I don’t anticipate physically meeting the kids at ACH Clear Pathways, but I think a relationship via Zoom will teach me just as much, if not more. I must learn to be patient, to be understanding, and, most importantly, to be present. While this format is unlike anything I’ve experienced, the children are fighting the same battles behind their own screens. With a leader that is present, these kids will be exposed to the ups and downs of writing and storytelling. By working with one another through mutual creative outlet, we can help each other with our struggles. I want to be an additional resource for them.

This internship came to me after a class I had registered for was cancelled. To be blunt, Playwriting Workshop 1 didn’t attract me; it was simply a course that fulfilled a requirement for me. Maybe I should see that as a wake up call and a need to expose myself to more from this genre. After its cancellation due to lack of registrants, this opportunity found me. After conversations with my advisor and professors, I felt intimidated. How am I supposed to lead a writing workshop when I don’t even feel confident in my own writing? My answer: I’m learning too. I chose to accept this opportunity with hopes of leaving my comfort zone and expanding my writing background. I’ll try to prepare myself every Sunday evening for the week ahead, but, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never truly be prepared for what a day in teaching will bring.