2016 PFIG Recipient Colby Dickinson
Journal Entry #1
WHEW! Well this marks the end of my first week teaching at Summerbridge San Francisco and my oh my has it been a whirlwind in the best way possible. First off, I want to acknowledge that while I have always had so much respect for educators and the people who taught and inspired me throughout my schooling, I have an even deeper appreciation for the countless hours these heroes put into education because, let me tell you, it’s not easy!
Let me start with a little bit of background about what I am up to this summer. I am working at Summerbridge San Francisco, an organization designed to prepare motivated, low-income, minority middle school students for high school and set them on a path to not only graduate high school, but also to attend and graduate college—a goal that would make most students first-generation college students. The program is a three-year, highly competitive and selective program in which during the school year, several times a week, Summerbridge students attend Summerbridge after school for academic assistance and increased rigor that many of the local middle schools do not provide. During the summer, college students from all over the United States are selected and trained to teach these students in order to give them a head start on the material they will be learning the following year. That’s where I come in. I was selected to teach 7th grade humanities and 9th grade math to these incredible students.
Day to day, with the assistance of my wonderful instructional coaches, I am responsible for compiling the lesson plans and executing 7th and 9th grade lesson plans along with organizing an elective dance class (“Get Loose!"), among other administrative tasks. The workload is rigorous and exhausting; in fact, aside from eating, showering, and occasionally exercising, during the week I am constantly working whether I am teaching, lesson-planning, or creating posters, PowerPoints, and interactive activities to make learning easier and more fun. Teaching is a never-ending job and I am working to find a balance between working and resting. As tiring as this job is, though, it is so rewarding and I absolutely love it. The students make all of the stress, lack of sleep, and time spent planning worth it. There is truly nothing like seeing a student understand a concept YOU taught them.
As this summer continues I hope to develop my skills as a teacher, using time more efficiently, being able to discretely differentiate students—in other words, be able to provide those who are not understanding the material as well with more assistance while providing more difficult material to those who have mastered the material. Personally, I aspire to find the sweet spot of being able to balance work and rest, ensuring that I soak in all that San Francisco has to offer while I am out here. So far, the weekends have been adventurous as I am discovering dozens of trail runs and taste-testing the city’s ice creameries. Well, time to get back to lesson-planning, I’ll keep you posted on what the future weeks hold!
Journal Entry #2
Halfway through working at Summerbridge San Francisco and I am more sure that I feel called to education. I am becoming much more comfortable in the classroom and love coming up with lesson plans that get students engaged and interacting with the lesson material in a disguised, fun way. For example, in my 7th grade humanities class we are going over the parts of a response-to-text essay and after examining the outline of an essay, we have begun to delve into the individual parts. This past week my students were learning about evidence and specifically how to distinguish relevant, quality evidence from less important evidence. In order to grab the students’ attention and make finding textual evidence more entertaining, I split students into groups and gave them all a murder mystery in which there are three possible suspects. Each group was assigned the role of the “prosecutor” and had to find the best evidence to convince me (the judge) that their suspect was the murderer. The kids loved it and were able to distinguish better evidence having started out with a fun activity!
The days are still long, but I am getting into a groove with lesson planning, my pacing in class has improved (a much more difficult task than I would have imagined), and I am learning differentiation strategies to keep kids who move at a faster pace engaged and learning while also helping those who may struggle with concepts. In the first half of my internship, I have learned a lot about behavioral management and control of the classroom. It is amazing how well thought out procedures and task analysis can do in terms of maintaining classroom behavior and earning students’ respect.
In addition to teaching, I am currently organizing the College and Career Day that students will attend this Wednesday. Every summer, different organizations in the San Francisco community give students from our program an inside look at what a day in the life at their job is like. I am one of the teachers in charge of finding and working with these organizations to set up visits for our students. I am excited to see how the day goes on Wednesday! Other than that, the program is winding down for students, nostalgia is setting in (for me, anyways), and I am trying to make the most of the weeks left at Summerbridge.
Summerbridge has by and large increased my desire to teach and work to implement better education policies nationwide that offer underserved communities the support and education they need and deserve. Even on the tough days, I love what I am doing and cannot imagine doing anything else after graduation. This internship has affirmed my passion for public service and inclination to go into the field of education. During my last few weeks I hope to continue fine-tuning my teaching skills, taking as much advice from my instructional coaches and administrators as possible, and working to make sure that each of my students walks away smarter than when they arrived in June and, most importantly, as better people overall.
Journal Entry #3
If you had asked me what my plans were post-graduation one year ago, I would have confidently told you that I planned to go to law school. I was not sure what type of law I wanted to practice but I knew law was my calling- funny how things change! After taking an education policy class at UVA in the fall, I decided I might want to broaden my horizons and explore the realm of education and boy am I glad I did. These past eight weeks were some of the toughest weeks of my life- working from 6:30am until 11pm is exhausting- but they were most definitely the most rewarding.
I am certain I learned more from the students at Summerbridge than I could have ever taught them. These kids have been through more than any kid should have to go through and yet they are still eager to learn, so much so that they come to school throughout the summer to get ahead and be on track to be the first in their family to go to and graduate college! Some of my students’ parents are in jail, some families struggle to put enough food on the table, and some of the students are the only English speakers in their family. Still, the enthusiasm and optimism these middle schoolers brought to Summerbridge would never show the struggles they have been through. They taught me what perseverance and determination looks like when the odds are stacked against you. On days when I was feeling down, they had the right word of encouragement or joke that made me so grateful for the opportunity I had to be touched by each of them.
As I reflect on this summer, one particular student comes to mind in terms of encompassing the progression I, along with the students, have made. She was in my 9th grade math class, and had therefore been in Summerbridge for two years prior to this summer. It was clear to me (from her test scores and “can’t do” attitude) that math was not her strongest subject and that she had been convinced that she would never be good at math. When I first started working with this student, let’s call her Leah, one-on-one she often would not even attempt the math problems. When I asked her where she thought we should start or what about the concept had already been familiar to her, the response was always, “I don’t know.” It took some time but with reassurance from me that she could absolutely do math and was actually quite good at it (she truly was when she did not let her fixed mindset get in the way), Leah became more comfortable in her abilities and by the end of the summer she was voluntarily participating in class, less timid about making mistakes, and handled trigonometric problems seamlessly.
Leah’s growth mirrors much of my own this summer- I began fearful of making mistakes and often overwhelmed at the problems in front of me, but with the support from my instructional coaches, my peers, and especially my students, I came a long way in one short summer. I cannot wait to continue improving as my plan after graduation is now to get my teaching certification and continue to serve the underserved community by teaching in low-income areas. I am not sure what I will do in the long-run, be it continue in the classroom, work in administration, work for an education non-profit, work in education policy, or maybe still go to law school. However, I know that whatever I do I have been forever changed by my experience at Summerbridge and have a passion for helping these brilliant students who society often pushes to the wayside. This summer has pushed me outside of my comfort zone in more ways than I could count, but I am thankful I was willing to veer off the path I had paved for myself and explore other options. I would encourage anyone who is even the slightest bit interested in something to find an internship in a field they may have never explored. You never know what might happen and truthfully it is more fun choosing a path you may not have thought you’d walk down- after all, that’s how I ended up at the top of Mount Tamalpais, but that’s a story for another time!