In the spring of 2000, when I officially enrolled in Kingsborough at eighteen years old, I was told to go to the PAC building to take a placement exam. While sitting in the auditorium, Kelvin Gift, my proctor, told the room full of incoming freshmen, “Don’t worry. It’s nothing—just do your best.” Like many of our students, I had no idea the exams I was about to take, were going to shape my entire experience at Kingsborough. I passed the English portion (reading and writing), but failed the math. I was expected to register for two remedial math courses that would set me back two semesters. I felt ashamed and misunderstood, but decided to make the best of it, and found myself encouraging the learner in me. With this new mindset, I was able to find the motivation to move forward and take advantage of the remedial math courses. Actually, my overall experience at Kingsborough made me wish that Kingsborough was a four year senior college because I had learned so much, and Kingsborough’s professors and teachers offered me a safe and dynamic environment to begin thinking critically.
As a student I was not fully aware of the many different learners who come to KBCC to acquire both academic and professional skills. Thus, as instructors it is our duty and obligation to continuously develop our pedagogy and teaching strategies to accommodate each learner and his or her individual needs so that s/he has the opportunity to accomplish the course objectives in his or her own individual way. In order to help students advance in their academic and professional careers, incorporating a variety of techniques and methodology in the classroom is necessary to move students’ into their next endeavor– be it, the military, a senior college or a career in nursing, that will equip them to better advocate for themselves professionally and intellectually.
Many Kingsborough students enroll in the college as English Language Learners, GED Graduates, NYC High School graduates, with learning disabilities, extenuating family circumstances and non-traditional outside obligations. It is important to understand where students’ are starting from without blaming them for being incapable, lacking discipline, or being lazy. With careful attention and thought to designing creative and dynamic lessons, activities and practices, Kingsborough students can begin to fill in any gaps and find confidence in their abilities. I have observed that students respond well and believe in their performances when I approach lessons that cater to the many different learners in the class; such as, peer to peer ink shedding activities, modeling, negotiating, along with a variety of strategies and approaches; that they see and feel themselves changing and becoming critical thinkers, readers and writers, and begin to understand what it is all for.
In order to transcend certain challenges and create a dynamic and interactive learning experience, I believe the first step is to excite students and then inspire them. Simply asking students to write a first draft of an essay assignment can be difficult. As a former tutor of the Reading and Writing Center, and as an instructor, I’ve realized that students sometimes, “just don’t know where to start, or how to do it.” I try to use my classroom as a place for them to begin learning, in a safe, honest and process oriented environment, where they can experiment and explore the different genres of texts, authors’ positions, explicit and implicit themes and messages, and multiple voices. I try to facilitate and encourage students to feel secure and confident when building upon their prior knowledge and new knowledge and when attempting to enhance reading comprehension or essay development. I encourage a student centered classroom, where students have the opportunity to discern information, multiple voices and perspectives more actively, in their own new ways— individualized ways that will travel with each student through their lives instinctively. I am also, simultaneously, creating an environment where professionalism is valued. The young adult student population nowadays entering college are not only enrolled to build their intellect, but also to acquire professional skills. Often students do not yet know how to conduct themselves in a college setting or a job setting. As their instructor, it is part of my job to gently develop students’ habits that I hope will carry over into other areas of their lives.
My colleagues are a valuable resource and I approach each semester tailoring my former approaches, to apply to new approaches and practices, inspired by my colleagues’ ideas. I raise my standards each semester, always thinking about what was ineffective and what worked; trying to raise the level of student response and engagement; adding to the dimensions of the course; establishing stronger momentum and excitement for activities and practices; making the experience more meaningful and transcendental; increasing depth of thought in reading and writing, and in general . I look for exciting new strategies and techniques so that I can elicit more from my students and challenge them accordingly. Even if my curriculum is the same, details between semesters change dramatically. Once I know the demographic, understand my students’ strengths and weaknesses better and once I can understand and tap into the individuals in each group more perceptively, I can build on my new knowledge and new experience.
When I enter the classroom each semester, I want to open students’ up to new ideas, possibilities and options, in addition to strengthening and shaping their reading habits and writing styles. Collaboratively, these goals help me focus on better preparing students for the academic, professional, political and social challenges, they will inevitably be confronted with throughout life. My hope is that they embrace their new skills, continue to build upon them and nurture their ability to advocate for themselves and become productive citizens in their communities and beyond.