By Megan Morman — After being nearly convinced that I would have to spend the summer completely uselessly due to a lack of job opportunities, I saw the email from Dean Henk that informed Marquette’s College of Education students about a summer tutoring opportunity for the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project.
I was first drawn to the fact that it was a reading program, which, since I’m an English major, is my favorite subject to teach. Secondly, the entire program was created “in response to the recent reports of reading failure in Milwaukee Public School.”
I later learned that, more specifically, Wisconsin’s black fourth graders had the worst reading scores this year than black students anywhere else in the country. Dr. Fuller, Dr. Ellis, and others put together this program quickly, but with a lot of heart. Dr. Fuller expressed his outrage to all the summer employees concerning not only the reading scores, but even more how unconcerned others seemed.
The leaders of the program, the student support staff, and the donors represented the Milwaukee community coming together to show that we care about these students and are committed to doing what we can to address this problem – now. The student support staff, or literacy tutors, came from all different backgrounds, ages, and fields of study ranging from high school students to education students to nursing students. I was proud to be a part of such a diverse and hard-working team, one that was so committed to the children in MPS.
The Milwaukee Summer Reading Project was an eye-opening experience for me in several ways.
After testing the incoming third and fourth graders, the truth was evident. Not many enrolled in the program at our school were at a third or fourth grade reading level, and several students could not even read basic sight words. We definitely had our work cut out for us! For the next six weeks, we had many challenges to confront: a rigorous curriculum, behavior disorders, defeatist attitudes, separation anxiety, and our own uncertainty about how to handle some situations.
However, there were two aspects of this program that made it such a great and unique teaching experience. First, we saw the kids every single day for four hours, including having breakfast and lunch with them. So they got to know us, and more importantly, we got to know them. We knew their habits, their strengths and weaknesses, and their personalities. We also saw them progress in their literacy skills (whether it was in fluency, decoding, comprehension, vocabulary, writing, etc.) from the beginning to the end of the program.
I really enjoyed spending so much time with the same students every day. It was particularly rewarding during experiences outside of the classroom, such as when I joined their CLC program for roller skating!
The other aspect of the program that may even have topped working with the students was working with the other staff. While doing field experience during the school year, I often wished that another teacher could see exactly what kinds of situations I have with my students and give advice. In the MSRP, three other students like me and one experienced teacher were there to do just that. The five of ous worked with all of the students every day and constantly bounced concerns and ideas off each other. Just being able to debrief one another at the end of the day made me realize that there isn’t always one obvious solution to every problem. It also made me more confident in how I approached both pedagogical and behavioral issues. Working together to figure out how to best teach the students turned out to create a great bond between our team.
I was fortunate to gain some great teaching advice over the course of the summer. One great tip came from the teacher in our classroom. She said that you really have to know who you are and how you want to teach before you begin. People disagree so often on the best way to teach, and she realized that when a teacher gets stuck in a program with which he or she disagrees, it does a disservice to both the teacher and the students. Hearing this made me grateful for receiving the opportunity of constant praxis at Marquette. We are given the opportunity to both teach and reflect on not only how our teaching went but on who we are as people and educators.
This experience with the MSRP has reaffirmed my commitment to urban education that stems from my strong belief and trust that with the right support, children are capable of filling their vast potential. I know that teaching is so important and that I am meant for this job when I see my students bursting with pride for getting one hundred percent on their vocabulary test or for being rewarded for a day with great behavior, and my pride matches theirs. These kinds of programs, these kinds of people, and these kinds of positive attitudes can make a difference.
This is exactly why I’m here at Marquette.
Megan Morman is a senior majoring in Elementary Education and English. She also has a minor in Music.