The Profound Ways Our Students Teach Us: Reflections on the End of the Term & Introducing a Celebration of Student Work

I had the most peculiar and moving experience today.  I sat down to read my students’ finals to grade them.  And I enjoyed it.  I was moved emotionally and intellectually by what they shared and discussed.

Two of my courses at Portland State University are Capstones, required senior-level classes that pair community work with classroom learning. During the term, we discussed issues of local and national education and equity in our classroom while my students also volunteered with the James John SUN Program, Parkrose High School SUN Program, University Park Community Center Homework Club and Preschool, and Portland Youth Builders.

They served over 450 hours in the community.  They developed learning activities and taught them, supported a tutoring center that is struggling to get off the ground, participated in GED test preparation, ran a panel for students to ask questions about attending college, found resources for a tutoring library, networked to give youth access to a recording studio and recording artists, ran a family night event, and more.

Even more importantly, we had deep conversations about real issues.  And the truth is that we ultimately all learned more from our students and each other than we could even learn in a book or from our teachers alone.

For any of you interested in teaching this kind of community-based course or for those who are just curious, here are the Instructions for Capstone Final Reflection (Spring 2012) that I used.

One student wrote:

This class was probably the most enjoyable, time consuming, and informative course I have taken during my entire college career….There are so many students who grow up at an extreme disadvantage, and therefore suffer in school and the rest of their lives because of it. I feel that this problem, among many others we’ve touched on this term, definitely has ethical and social ties surrounding it. I doubt every Capstone course gets super serious and in depth about the kinds of social issues we face every day, but this one sure does, and I’m very pleased with how informed I’ve become.  

This was one moment among many that reminded me how important this work is, how lucky I am to be teaching in a program that focuses on the connection between the classroom and the community, and how much we all learn in this kind of space.

To all of my students (past and present), thank you for motivating me to always strive be a better guide; for sharing the journey of learning more about education in our community; for teaching me more about service, equity, and justice than I could ever have learned about in books or in my experiences alone; and for committing to small and big actions that will continue to make our community a more equitable and livable place for all in the future.

Upcoming Celebration of Student Work: To all PDXEAN readers, check back here for the next week or so.  I will be posting student action plans, letters, and reflections.  This is work that is meant to be shared!


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