The gatekeeper

Despite being a secondary ed major, I find myself constantly working in the realm of elementary ed. When I volunteer with Open Books, the writing field trips are usually made up of students grades K-8. When I volunteer with my LLC (WORD), we are helping young children hone their reading skills. Both of these experiences have been fulfilling ones and it’s been an honor to see students produce amazing work and become excited about literature. I am thrilled about being a reading tutor for the first time ever and working with my LLC to provide scaffolding for these young learners. The joy I get from working with students is unparalleled and a constant reminder of my love for education. I find myself becoming more and more curious about reading strategies/approaches that will help the students I work with succeed. In times like these, I can hear elementary ed calling my name.

But last week, I heard secondary ed screaming my name. And for the first time in a while, I was positive this was my proper education niche. It was the documentary The graduates/Los Graduados that spurred this reminder. The graduates (part 1) follows six Latina students in their quest towards a highschool diploma and onward (part 2 follows six Latino students). In many ways, these students’ obstacles outweighed their opportunities. Here were some of their challenges: being a mother at a young age, going to schools lacking in resources, living in a gang/drug infested neighborhood, and/or having parents who didn’t understand the specifics when it came to higher education.

After the film, we reflected privately on paper and were invited to write words/phrases on the board that we associated with the documentary. We were then asked to discuss, at our tables, how our lives are different from what we just saw. I sat silently. Feeling that, while I haven’t dealt with all of these issues, these stories were mine. But not just mine: they were my family’s stories, my friends’ stories, and (eventually) they will be my students’ stories.

Earlier that week, I told a classmate that most of us have that one thing that drove us to education. For me, it was my AP Lang teacher who made me understand the power of writing and the art behind an essay. But since then, the driving forces behind my desire to teach have become much more expansive/complex. It’s social inequality, it’s the far too common deficit perspectives, it’s the teacher who has become bitter, it’s the student who isn’t applying to college, it is all these things and more.

I look at documentaries like The graduates and am moved as I–a Latin CPS graduate from the southside of Chicago–equate this to my “normal”. As a prospective educator, I want to change that.I don’t think a class of 30 students reading shakespeare will shift the societal power structure, but I do think the implicit curriculum can help those students’ develop self efficacy and build transferrable skills.

the-starfish-story1the-catcher-in-the-ryeWhile I still struggle with my own deficit perspective, I try not to see “at risk” students as kids that need saving. I am not the catcher in the rye. I am not the boy on the beach of starfish.

Rather–all teachers, my professor says, are gatekeepers. We have the power to unlock the gate for our students, to allow them to reach their full potentials. The more I reflect on my own experiences, the more I understand this metaphor for education. My high school’s educational philosophy, at its core, is about unlocking gates. Over and over again we were told how smart we were but also, how we needed more than just good grades and test scores to be successful. We were given study abroad opportunities, connections to internships, enrichment programs, and everyone was expected to go to college. I constantly wonder how different my life would’ve been if no one opened the gate for me. And as I contemplate the gravity of my career path, I open my textbook. I take field notes. I watch documentaries. I talk to educators and classmates. I do everything I can in the hopes that I will become the gatekeeper my students deserve–the one they may have never had. 

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