Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Travel and Expectations

"I dreamt about going away.  To a far away place where no one knew me.  Where I was free to do anything I wanted and be anonymous.  That's what it was like growing up for me.  Always in a dream...But in the end there were always fields and fields of green grass and swans.  We didn't have swans where I grew up, but they were in fairy tales" (125).  
In Sia Figiel's They Who Do Not Grieve, Ela's expectations of America do not at all match her experiences.  While she dreamt of beauty and freedom, she ends up encountering twelve years the hard labor at a "burger joint" and later an "old folks' home" before she completes her education as a dentist (116).  Ela struggles to deal with the disparity between her expectations and the reality that she faces, but ultimately perseveres to achieve her goal. I have experienced a similar clash between personal expectations and reality in my service learning this semester.  As a future teacher who has taken a few education courses, I thought I would be more than prepared to help out in the classroom at Villa Maria.  I expected to walk in and really "wow" the students and teacher with my knowledge, both of language arts and teaching strategies and techniques.  Furthermore, I thought the students would really accept me, and be interested in a college student from Loyola.  Now, six weeks into the service learning experience, many of these expectations have come to true to some extent.  At first, though, I felt very disappointed.  I had failed to take into consideration when forming my goals and expectations that this was a situation in which I had never before been placed.  All of my field experiences for teaching were more like one on one or small group tutoring sessions.  Just like it was unrealistic of Ela to expect to move from Samoa and seamlessly fit into dental school, it was foolish of me to think that I could immediately enter a middle school special education classroom and be an effective educator.  Because the students are diagnosed as emotionally disturbed, they have severe problems with appropriate behavior.  As a result, their school days are very structured, and the routine rarely changes.  I had this working against me on my first few visits.  I was new, and did  little more than distract the students from what they were supposed to be working on.  I certainly did not see this being a problem, in fact I thought that since I was a new face they would be excited to accept my help.  As we talked about in previous classes, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is accept help from someone, and this was certainly the case in my class.  The students did not know or trust me, and in the same respect I did not know them and their abilities, and could not really provide effective help.

My early visits to Villa were an incredible learning experience for me.  I realized that I had to sit back and let go of my expectations, and only then would I learn something.  Once I decided to take more of a backseat, and learn the ropes, so to speak, I really began to get something out of my experience.  I watched how my mentor teacher interacted with each student in order to learn who needed help and what they needed the most help with.  I also began to form relationships with the students.  I sat and chatted with them during transition times, in between activities, or while walking them to and from the bathroom.  After these positive relationships were formed, they became much more accepting of my presence in their classroom.  Now, when I walk in, it is to a chorus of "Hi Miss Jacobs!" and "Miss Jacobs could you come help me?!"  I know the students well, and I really feel like all of us are getting a lot out of my being in the class.  It was only after I let go of my own expectations that I began to learn, and the experience really became worthwhile.

For Ela, the reality of her life in America is much more difficult than she expected.  She, too, finds that sometimes it takes a lot longer to accomplish our goals, because of the unforseen obstacles and circumstances in the way.  In an interesting twist on expectations and travel, Ela persists through all the hurdles that she faces because she does not want to let down others: "she'd rather die because everyone expects her to come back a dentist" (113).  Her family had their own expectations for her, and she uses this as fuel to keep going even when she wants to quit.  Is it okay or healthy to let others expectations keep us on track for achieving our goals?  I would venture to say yes, as long as our own goals are the same as those that our families or friends have for us.  In that case, the expectations can urge us on or encourage us where we might normally have given up.

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