I can't tell you the amount of classrooms I have been in in which teachers do not believe in their students capabilities. Maybe this is because they are burnt out, over worked, or struggle with behavior management; or maybe it is because they are meant for a different profession. Nothing frustrates me more than when I see or hear a teacher undermine a students capabilities.
While working for Center for Literacy in Philadelphia a little over a year ago, I was placed at the E3 Youth Empowerment Center off Broad and Girard streets. The E3 Youth Empowerment Center is a non-profit organization that focuses on reengaging out-of-school youth in their education. E3 stands for Empowerment, Education and Employment. The primary goal for the youth who attend E3 is to obtain their GED while reestablishing an appreciation for learning and/or gain work exposure. The E3 program’s main initiative is to serve as a safe place for the youth and to help them regain the confidence and strength they need to face their everyday lives as well as to guide them towards becoming self sufficient members in a larger society.
Most of the youth who attend this program have or are currently struggling with outside hardships such as: family problems, financial restrictions, drugs, crime, pregnancy and a variety of other emotional and physical disorders. I served as the E3 program’s college advisor and literacy specialist. My roles included meeting with students individually and in small groups to help them understand who they are as learners in order to help them develop the literacy skills they need to pass the Language Arts portion of the GED. My entire curriculum was built from a life skills and/or real life framework in which the students were exposed to a variety of “texts” that address issues and situations of their everyday lives. Relationships, school struggles, sex, drugs, street mentalities, are to say the least some of the topics I addressed. Journaling played a predominant role in this process as it helped many of the students find their unique writing voices.
It was an everyday battle for these students to believe in themselves, to stay on track and make good decisions in life. Most of the student’s did not realize their potential and felt disempowered and worthless inside. They saw the future lives they wanted, but most of them did not believe they would ever get there. This frustrated me, as often times I wished I had a magic wand to jolt them with empowerment. However, I attempted to redirect my frustration towards a sense of belief and empowerment by challenging my students to push and develop as writers.
I am a huge believer in the power of the written word, as I believe it can serve as a force of empowerment. I believe in challenging my students to write about things that are important and meaningful to them. The first step in this process is finding ways to get them to take risks and simply write. It is through these free-writes, that I find ways to embrace my student’s unique writing voices. I try to use writing as a source of empowerment by helping students realize that they have something to say and their own special style of saying it.
Attached herein (at the end of the blog) is a potential college essay that my student Hakim spent weeks developing. The inspiration for this essay was developed from Hakim completing different free-writes about people and/or situations that anger or have angered him in his life. Anger was an easily observable force of disempowerment within Hakim. My hope was that journaling would help him understand where his anger came from and how to cope, address and manage this anger.
Challenging Hakim to talk and write about previous forces of disempowerment in his life was an extremely therapeutic exercise that helped him to process and attack some of his previous fears. Writing was a nonthreatening way to put Hakim’s emotional distress on the table. Each day, the process of writing became more fluid and in the end Hakim had a personal narrative/college essay he was proud of. My interactions and experiences with Hakim reinforced my belief in the power of the written word. It also reinforced my statement that all students have unique capabilities that teachers need to believe in.
Personal Statement/College Essay
Surmounting Typical Expectations
Angry. Worthless. Harmful. Unconstructive. Failure. Disappointment. Weak. Negative.
These are words to describe the role models of my life.
My dad is a disappointment to me. He was never there when I was growing up. He was always involved in negative activities- smoking, drinking and getting lockup were some of his usual habits. I remember one time he got pulled over by the cops and they asked him for his name. He could not give it to them because he had a bench warrant out for his arrest. He ended up giving them my name. The cops ended up showing up at my house asking for me. I was like, “Bench warrant for a D.U.I., hold- up wait a minute, I don’t even have a car?” No sooner than those words left my mouth I knew my dad was in trouble… again.
Mr. fristen, my six-grade teacher was another harmful force in my life. He was always putting me down and telling me, “Hakim, you’re not going to surmount to anything in life!” In middle school I never knew what the word “surmount” meant. Now I know what it means, and I know that I can surmount to anything in life. In six-grade, Mr. fristen made school feel very difficult for me. I did not do his work because he did not want to help me. I did not like school. I thought to myself, was school for me? Back then school was difficult for me, and difficult ultimately lead me to droppin out.
Today, many things are still difficult in my life, but I am determined not to give up and to push myself to go to college. My grandma always use to tell me that you can learn from both the good and the bad people in your life. From the good, you learn to lead not to follow and from the bad you learn not to let anybody tell you can’t surmount to anything. My role models were obstacles in my life that taught me to get ahead in life, I must work hard, push my hand out and grab my dreams and be the strong African American male I know I am.
I want to be the first person in my family to go to college. I will prove my dad and Mr. fristen wrong by going to college. I still feel anger, but these negative role models taught me not to be like them. Now, I have several goals. I will get my G.E.D. and graduate from the E 3 center. I will get into college. I will go to college. I will graduate from college. After college, I have a dream to become an auto mechanic and to own my own shop. I still have the pain inside of me, but I am not going to let it pull me down.
Successful. Determined. Positive. Strong. Helpful. Handsome. Satisfied.
These are the words I want to be remembered by.