I recently came across a picture from my first year of Teacher's College student teaching placement. It was almost 10 years ago! My first year was a community placement where I was working with adult learners refugees from Burma.
The program was focused on providing adult English conversation classes through COSTI immigration services. Here I was very passionate about teaching and learning. As I reflect now, on my learning, what I know for sure now is my commitment to community and all the different stakeholders within it. My early personal as well as professional experiences have taught me the importance of being part of the community. This placement showed me that 'community' in all of it's ways is the very heart of teaching and learning.
Through this program what I learned was the importance of building relationships and rapport with community members. I was working with adults- parents, caregivers and family members of the students in this school community. I learned early on that I had a lot to learn from the people in my classes. I was supposed to be ‘the teacher’ but rather, they were the ones teaching me about, community, resources, lived experiences of New Canadians, identities, relationships, the importance of building assets based learning spaces and the issues that were relevant for them like their children and their education.
This program was important for my development as an educator because I learned the importance of listening, learning and being present with students. It was also very important for me to remember that just because I speak English, this did not make me “more knowledgeable”. As well, it was important for me to learn the importance of culturally relevant and responsive content and honour their identities and lived experiences. Often times, in the beginning of our work together we would teach topics/create learning experiences of what we thought was important or relevant. Over time through the relationships we built we learned the importance of creating learning experiences around what the students wanted to learn. It was a dynamic and diverse experience which has impacted me because it showed me what it means to be a culturally relevant and responsive educator as well as a person in this world.
As I reflect on my experiences, I consider the following questions, How can I learn about the community that I serve in an asset based way so that I can cultivate meaningful and relevant learning spaces? How can I learn about the different community services that are offered? How can I ensure that the information I am delivering in my classroom can also be delivered in an accessible way to all stakeholders in my community? How do I center the identities and lived experiences of my students to deliver the curriculum? How am I an ally?
My early experiences working with and within different community organizations has solidified my ideas around what it means to teach in a way that is meaningful, contextual and 'people' centered. My ideas around the community are shaped by my early exposure to community centres and services within them. As a new Canadian, my mom modelled through her volunteering for many different community programs and or participating in different workshops offered the role the 'community' could play in our lives. She instilled in me the hope and commitment to community. I remember visiting her oneday after school at the community center where she was volunteering or taking a class only to be filled with a warm presence. This feeling is etched into my heart. What I remember seeing is women from different backgrounds learning and cooking together. What I saw was bridges of understanding being built. What I saw was hope, unity and commitment.
I believe community is a broad term. We are part of many communities such as in the classroom, wider school as well the broader neighbourhood/world context. I hope to continue learning more about how 'community' is fundamental to being an educator and a leader.