Forming young people’s lives By Elizabeth Fernholz Flattery, Ed ’04
A young teacher at a central-city Milwaukee high school reflects on the role her Marquette education — and everything she learned afterward — play in her approach to socially just teaching.
Photos by John Sibilski
partners have shared findings. Chief among them are the program factors found to be most related to the development of justice-oriented teaching goals and practices during the pre-service years and beyond. They include: 1) field experiences and student teaching in urban schools and community agencies with culturally diverse populations; 2) course content that sparked moral responses and challenged previous thinking; and 3) student teaching mentors and methods instructors who modeled and explicitly talked about culturally relevant teaching practices. However, one of the more interesting findings of their research indicates that background experiences and pre-dispositions that future teachers bring to their collegelevel programs may matter even more. “Students whose prior experiences in multicultural settings have already established a dispositional orientation toward socially just teaching benefit most from the course work and field experiences,” Dr. Whipp clarifies. “However, particularly for students who enter our program with no cross-cultural experiences, we also need to think about adding early intensive and guided immersion experiences into the culture of the diverse students that our students will be teaching. We need to find ways to stay involved with our students and offer them guidance and support in their development as socially just teachers.”
Like so many new teachers, I had high hopes, aspirations and ideals when I graduated from Marquette. I was so happy to start my career as an English teacher at Messmer High School in Milwaukee, just a few miles north of campus. Now in my eighth year there, I do not know if any teaching program can really prepare a teacher for the day-to-day reality of teaching. Although my program at Marquette gave me valuable experiences in classrooms in a variety of settings, I have learned that to be a teacher is to be so much more than a person who imparts knowledge of a certain subject. I have fulfilled the roles of guidance counselor, coach, parent and mediator. I am responsible for forming young people’s lives, something that so often extends beyond the school day and outside the classroom. Fortunately, my training in the College of Education instilled in me the notion that working in education is a means for fighting social injustice. It made me realize that this profession is not just a job, but a vocation. Although it sounds clichéd, my students really have taught me more than I could ever express. They have taught me the meaning of resilience, compassion, determination and hope. I am impressed every single day by their ability to see beyond their circumstances and realize how education can be the vehicle for achieving their dreams. In one day they can make me want to pull my hair out and then well up with tears of pride. There are definitely times when the content I am teaching is secondary. Sometimes my job is more about creating meaningful relationships and fostering an environment of intellectual inquiry. My hope is for each of my students to feel valued and be challenged to go beyond what is expected of them. After all, that is what Marquette’s education program did for me.