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All Eyes on Me: My Journey to the Head of the Class

Written by Matt Prokosch '13

Matt Prokosch '13

A hush fell upon the classroom as 25 pairs of adolescent eyes fixed upon me, eagerly anticipating the beginning of the lesson. I realized that more than three years of my history and education classes had culminated in that moment. I was teaching my dream class, Advanced Placement European History, to a group of gifted sophomores at Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA) in Harlem, New York.

For 17 years, seniors and graduate students in IC’s teacher education program have gone for one week of student teaching experience to Frederick Douglass Academy, a large urban public middle and high school. The student demographics at FDA are vastly different from what many of us in IC’s education program are used to. Most of the students at FDA are minorities, many from low-income backgrounds. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first arrived at the school, but what I found was talented, engaged, motivated, and excited learners.

Shadowing a Student

Monday—the first day at FDA for all of us student teachers—was spent reliving high school life as we each shadowed a student for the day. During my student’s trigonometry class, we all took an exam. The student passed with no trouble. (We won’t talk about my own performance.) The shadow day was a great opportunity to remember how it felt to be in high school and realize that the best teachers are the ones who understand how difficult the life of a student can be.

On Tuesday, we student teachers assisted FDA faculty and staff with their college workshop day. We worked in teams of two and gave two 45-minute presentations: one to seniors about college life outside of academics and the other to freshmen about college preparation. My teammate, Heather Kozimor ’13, and I used a teaching model called “think, pair, share” with the purpose of activating the students’ current perceptions about college. We passed around a hat filled with blank pieces of paper and encouraged the students to write down any questions they had about college. I was impressed with their thoughtful questions on the kind of academic skills they needed to develop in order to be successful in college. They showed us that they were focused and willing to put in the extra effort to be successful high school students while preparing themselves for college.

Teaching for the First Time

On Wednesday, it was finally time to start my lesson planning. My mentor teacher informed me that I would be teaching a class on the proliferation of Jewish ghettos throughout Europe in the 18th century in relation to the overarching theme of anti-Semitism among Christians since the crucifixion of Christ. After two days of lesson planning, creating a PowerPoint presentation, and scouring primary source documents, I was ready.

On Friday, I walked into the classroom prepared, confident, and ready to teach. As it was my first time teaching a class for a full period, I didn’t know what kind of behavior to expect from the students. Would they be too talkative? Too silent? Would they understand my questions? Luckily, all of my uncertainties were dispelled within the first 10 minutes of teaching, and I quickly settled into a groove.

Finding My Calling

To the students, I wasn’t just a student teacher but a qualified and knowledgeable instructor of the subject matter. At every slide, the students asked questions that tested my own knowledge from the numerous history classes I had taken in the past. Since this was a college-level course, I treated it as such and asked questions similar to the ones my own professors would have asked during the classes I had taken throughout college.

At every turn, I challenged the students to think critically, and they challenged me with their questions. I felt comfortable and in control as my classes at IC trained me how to present information and my history and education classes trained me how to teach.

My field experience at FDA fueled my fire to teach, and I know I’ve found my calling. I am taking what I’ve learned at FDA with me on my next journey into teaching.



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