Directions: Choose two peers, read, analyze and criticize.
1) This is Only the Beginning
History has been my favorite subject in school since my earliest memories. I could recall learning about the American Revolution in elementary school and realizing that history is significant in understanding today. Both of my parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. They worked hard to achieve the idea of the ‘American Dream’ for my family and I. They also made it essential that I appreciate the opportunities this country gives versus what life could’ve been like if I was born in their rural hometown in the Dominican Republic. This all made me proud to be an American. It created a need for me to serve this country. My career goal as a senior in high school was to get a bachelors degree in global affairs and join the military as an officer. I’m currently a senior at the University of Bridgeport in the International Political Economy and Diplomacy program and still have the same aspirations.
My program perfectly aligns with my interest. Overtime, my interest in history expanded to politics, social justice, and global affairs. This was a result of learning the important negative history of this country and of the world. From slavery to world wars; the more we learn about those events the more we realize how vulnerable our current systems are. That being said, while courses like US Foreign Policy and Intro to UN Studies reenforced my knowledge in history and showcased the events that led up to where we are today. Other courses like Sustainable Development and Human Security taught me new concepts and approaches as solutions to current issues or to prevent future atrocities. They showed me methods that leads to a better society.
All the courses I’ve taken related to my major have shown me that global affairs is intertwined. Meaning one area of conflict affects another. Therefore, one solution to an issue can potentially fix several others. The best way to explain this concept is describing travel opportunities that the University of Bridgeport provided for me. The first, was traveling to Ecuador as a volunteer for a non-profit that helps street children develop basic educational and cognitive skills that are lacked due to their families inability to enroll them in schools. This trip was apart of a course focused on intercultural competence. The second trip was to Costa Rica, this was a component to the Sustainable Development course mentioned before. There my classmates and I worked on an health care international grant for rural coffee famers that lacked basic health care services and literacy. The international grant would cover the cost for locals to travel to hospitals that were difficult to access due to a poor infrastructure. And would pay for a health care specialist to show the locals hygienic and healthy lifestyles to avoid future medical issues. Both communities in Ecuador, and Costa Rica were victims of poverty.
Violence, conflict, hunger, or even illness can directly be related to persistent poverty. A way out of poverty is focusing on education. The more access to education, the more opportunities are present; this is sustainable development. In Ecuador, the goal was to provide the children a basic education that they should be getting from school. The attempt is to educate the child to expose them to future opportunities that the parents might not have had, breaking the chain of poverty. In Costa Rica, the international grant for health care services could potentially prevent the farmers from getting sick. If farmers are sick, they can’t work. Adequate health care services eliminates the potential of defaulting on local loans, or from impeding farmers from putting food on the table. A disruption in one families economy can spiral into a decline in the entire communities economy. Therefore, access to education and health care invites opportunity and promotes stability respectively. An educated and healthy society is essential for a prospering economy which prevents issues that arise from poverty such as conflict and hunger. Those trips directly showed me that issues are intertwined.
During my studies I had two jobs. One was a work study at the Registrars office, and the other was a summer internship at the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Both positions taught and prepared me for the workforce. At the registrars office I learned how to work with a team to complete tasks, developed skills in data entry, and professionalism when answering phones and working with students or alumni. Having such experience helped me obtain that summer internship mentioned before. The internship demonstrated specific government functions. My position at the Justice Department consisted of creating organizational charts for the agency. They used the charts to reevaluate divisions within the agency in an attempt to find and fix discrepancies. The findings were submitted to Congress in a report for adequate annual funding. This made me feel like I had an impact in the work I do. Preparing me for the workforce after graduating.
I’m proud to say I have no regrets in my post secondary educational experience. I’m also proud and appreciative of the staff and instructors at the University of Bridgeport for preparing me for the workforce and life after graduating. I was pushed to do better, challenged in terms of ideology, and encouraged to think for myself based on research and logic. My parents came to the US seeking a better life and successful children. With this education I intend to make them proud.
2) My educational autobiography reads more like a long novel with many twists and turns than that of a simple short story. Looking back at my experiences in school, I am able to understand the powerful impact that certain people, events, and places have played in shaping my views on formal education, who I am as a learner, and my career choices. Although I have worked in a variety of school settings for over twenty years, it was not until I understood who I was as a learner that I began to align my passion for teaching with my educational and career goals. To summarize my philosophy about learning and education, I will quote my favorite children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance, “We all can dance, when we find music that we love” (Andreae, 1999). To further explain this concept and gain perspective on my journey, I will focus mostly on my college experience, while briefly describing my earlier years.
I am fortunate to have grown up in a household where both parents not only stressed the importance of education, but also created a stable environment that allowed my twin sister and I to succeed as students from the moment we entered kindergarten. Being a student made sense to me and I did well in a structured setting where clear expectations and consistent routines enabled me to learn the curriculum with ease while achieving high grades in all subject areas. By all accounts, I was an engaged student who was socially accepted, participated in sports, and had no behavioral problems.
After graduating from high school, I had the opportunity to attend a small, private university about an hour and a half from my hometown on an academic scholarship. My big plan of graduating in four years with a degree in Sports Management, getting a job with the Yankees, and living in New York City was quickly derailed once the freedom of being on my own with no parental supervision and lack of any real study skills caught up with me. Because I was able to do minimal work throughout my highschool years and still do well, my false sense of security made me believe that I could get by in college without putting much effort in. To make matters worse, I was enrolled in business courses to fulfill my major’s requirements, but had no real interest in economics or statistics.
My brilliant idea to remedy my poor grades was not to dedicate more time to my studies, but instead, to change my major to communication even though I had a fear of public speaking. To my shock and dismay, this strategy failed miserably and I struggled for the next two years with my motivation to make school a priority. One of the very few classes that I consistently attended and enjoyed was Abnormal Psychology, taught by Professor Pinder- Amaker. Although I had only enrolled in that course because I wanted to meet our basketball coach’s wife, I was instantly fascinated with the material and learning about the inner workings of the brain and how it affected behavior.
I was baffled that while I was barely making it to class, my twin, who I shared a dorm room with, excelled academically and was able to balance her responsibilities with a healthy social life. Finally, after spending three years floundering at Seton Hall University, I left with only fifty credits, not returning until a year later when I watched my sister graduate with high honors. As I sat at the ceremony, filled with emotion, all of the choices I had made ran through my thoughts, leaving me with a desire to understand where and when I had gone wrong.
My only option at this point was to move back home, find a job, and start attending a local community college. When I started working as an assistant teacher in a preschool, I had no idea it would be the job that would ultimately serve as a starting point to finding purpose in my education as well as a career. While working in a four-year old classroom, I fell in love with teaching my students the skills they would need to be successful, life-long learners. For the next two years, I also took courses to obtain my associate’s degree in early childhood education and was excited to apply what I was learning in class at night to my daily routines with my preschoolers.
Unfortunately, the unresolved problems that plagued my earlier college years overshadowed my new-found motivation to complete my degree and I impulsively moved to Boston, where I spent a year lost and wandering with no real direction. Again, swallowing my pride, I returned home to regroup and finally seek help with the issues that plagued me both in and out of the classroom. My parents urged me to make an appointment with a psychiatrist at Silver Hill Hospital, thus beginning the most difficult, yet insightful road in gaining an understanding of my mental health problems.
At 25 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and generalized anxiety. Finally, my intense mood swings, the inability to remain focused, and my paralyzing fear had a name. Although I now knew why I had struggled for so long in many aspects of my life, I was unwilling to be completely honest with my doctors and therapists, and believed the prescribed medications would fix me, without needing to change any of my maladaptive behavior. What I had not disclosed to anyone, is that I had been abusing alcohol and other substances since I was 15 years old.
Over the next five years, my life got better, but I did not. I continued to work with children in preschool settings while earning my Child’s Development Associate. From the outside, I was getting back on track, and did find pleasure teaching young children and learning about their development. But, my lack of healthy coping skills, the inability to be honest, and substance abuse prevented me from being able to function as a well-adjusted adult. When I hit bottom in July of 2011, I was given an ultimatum by my family to seek help for my addiction or lose everyone I loved. On July 18th, I walked into my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and have not had a drink since.
I spent the early part of my sobriety focused on becoming the person I was meant to be, regularly attending meetings and seeing a psychiatrist to address my mental health issues. Fear, remorse, and self-pity no longer controlled my every thought and I began to rely on hope and faith on a daily basis. Around this time, I started working at a school for children with special needs as an Instructional Assistant and attending University of Bridgeport to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. My passion for teaching and learning became crystal clear as I focused my field of study on courses that pertained to education, developmental psychology, and deviant behavior.
As I worked with students that had varying diagnoses and challenges, I quickly realized they all required a different level of support and guidance. It was my job as their teacher to build a strong, meaningful relationship with each of them and use their interests and preferences in motivating them to learn. By applying the material I was being taught in my own courses, I was able to individualize each student’s program, in order to capitalize on their strengths and maximize their learning potential. The way in which I viewed formal education began to evolve and my excitement to improve as a teacher motivated me to complete my degree and ultimately continue with graduate school.
Reflecting on my own educational experiences enables me to understand the ways in which both internal and external factors influence your ability to learn in and out of the classroom. Studying psychology has given me an awareness of who I am as a person and how I learn best. I now comprehend the importance of a nurturing, yet structured environment that allows students to explore and develop their interests. When students are intrinsically motivated, learning becomes a product of their engagement in meaningful activities that inspire thoughtful observations of the world.
In conclusion, I will again use one of my favorite quotes, “We all can dance, when we find music that we love,” (Andreae,1999) and connect it to my philosophy on learning, as well as teaching. Every student has his/her own unique learning style with different challenges and obstacles to overcome while in school. As teachers, we must find what they are passionate about and use those interests to excite them about learning. It is only then they will be able to become intrinsically motivated and develop the desire to be life-long learners.
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