“The Americans are a brave, industrious, and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character….Where are their Foxes, their Burkes, their Sheridans, their Windhams, their Horners, their Wilberforces?—where their Arkwrights, their Watts, their Davys?—their Robertsons, Blairs, Smiths, Stewarts, Paleys and Malthuses?—their Porsons, Parts, Burneys, or Blomfields?—their Scotts, Campbells, Byrons, Moores, or Crabbes?—their Siddonses, Kembles, Keans, or ONeils—their Wilkies, Laurences, Chantrys?—or their parallels to the hundred other names that have spread themselves over the world from our little island in the course of’ the last thirty years, and blest or delighted mankind by their works, inventions, or examples?”–Sydney Smith, “Who Reads an American Book?” 1820
Geneseo’s Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education specifically touch upon reflection, which is defined as “to reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time; to make personal, professional, and civic plans. ” To me, this notion of reflection not only looks into the past, but also considers the present and future. Reflecting is only beneficial if one chooses to look into the past, can recognize what happened, and be able to learn for present and future circumstances. If practiced correctly, then only is recognition in accomplishment valuable to consider. Growing and learning from mistakes is a huge component of reflection; but only if one chooses to be vulnerable and honest with themselves (which sometimes isn’t the easiest). When reflecting upon not only this previous semester, but my senior year as a whole, the epigraph by Sydney Smith posted above forms a through line with the texts engaged with in class.
Questioning and noticing is an aspect of reflecting that is occurring in the present and will occur in the future. Does what we do/did, what we believe(d), and what we choose to pursue actually matter? Past experiences, actions, and beliefs all help shape identity. Representation, in terms of demographics, of certain roles in society are questioned and noticed. In my own personal life, school has been a factor that has played the largest role in my identity. By having the opportunity to attend my former high school, ranked 327th in the entire nation, and then SUNY Geneseo, it has given me the agency and choice to pursue anything I please. At first, I was at a loss. Freedom can actually be overwhelming by the many different paths offered and not knowing which one to pursue. But I realized that my level of education gave me the most power and confidence to be the student and person I am. It was a bit ironic, though, growing up, I did not see my race represented in the career field I chose to pursue. Claire Cain Miller states in Does Teacher Diversity Matter?, “Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students. The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Overall, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are Black and hispanic.” Regardless of the lack of representation, I gained the passion and confidence to pursue a path that is incredibly meaningful to me.
A specific instance that I remember from last year is my practicum experience. Every Friday when I used to check in at school, a comment would be made about my last name. The front desk lady would be in charge of checking student teachers in looked at both mine and my White friend’s ID cards and read our names. “I would think your last names would be switched [each other’s],” she laughed. I’d let out a hesitant chuckle. I am who I am THROUGH my last name. Was she aware of where my last name originated from? Was she making a subtle comment about my race? I believe this lady could be defined as “brave and industrious” by expecting my ID card to carry and uphold a certain name that she has already perceived for me. Through the lack of inaccurate representation, it can be easily understood why one may believe that my last name does not “fit” me. This specific instance can be regarded as an “experiment” in which I am being observed. In Perceptible Mutabilities by Suzan-Lori Parks, the Naturalist states, “In our observations of the subjects subjects which for our purposes we name “MOLLY” and “CHARLENE” subjects we have chosen for study in order that we monitor their natural behavior.” The IDs serve as a type of monitoring as my friend and I are constantly watched and stared at by administration and students at the school. We are “subjects” as our names are exaggerated through our ID cards placed on lanyards around our necks. Lutzky later states, “Ha! You look like a Charlene you look like a Charlene you do look like a Charlene bet no one has ever told that to you, eh?” When stating that one doesn’t look like their name or insisting the fact that someone doesn’t match their name, similar to the situation I faced, ignores the real identity, struggles, experiences, and accomplishments someone holds.
Another instance of where I’ve had my own last name play a role would be during both my student teaching placements. At my middle school placement, which happened to be consisted of 31% of students being white, mostly all of the students referred to me as “Ms. Marolia.” On the other hand at my high school placement, which consisted of 92% of students being white, mostly all students referred to me as “Ms. M.” I was thinkING a lot about this, even months after leaving my placements. Was it due to the close age gap or “difficulty” in pronouncing my last name? Was it pure laziness? Were the high school students considered “delighted mankind by their works, inventions, or examples?” that they felt that they didn’t need to learn my full last name? A common stereotype that high schoolers hold is obnoxiousness and selfishness, that at times, can trickle into the classroom. This obnoxiousness and selfishness is sometimes overlooked because of their age, but in some cases, I believe this adds to their sense of privilege. The notion of having a teacher that looks similar to them is something that they are used to, and in fact, so am I. By increasingly being aware of my racial identity, I believe I can bring upon new perspectives to students that other teachers may not have been able to.
This semester not only marks my final semester as a Geneseo student, but also the semester after my student teaching. I have sort of been straddling with the completion of student teaching and then coming back to being a regular student this semester. Compared to other past semesters, I have definitely felt more of a “fly on the wall” as I’ve been more passive and observant. My sense of identity as a student has completely been shifted after my completion of student teaching. I consented to being a student one last time, but I necessarily did not have to join any extracurriculars, as I have been overly involved in the past. By being a sort of “fly on the wall” this semester, is has given me more time to think and reflect upon my blog posts and readings for this course. I had the time and opportunity to recognize my accomplishments; through and not through my name.
The relief of not being the center of attention was also interesting to reflect upon. It’s typical for me to always progressively increase my workload and involvement but this semester, there was a decline. This idea of increase and decline made me think of the seed shaped Koch curve from class. In African Fractals Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Ron Eglash states, “Fractals are characterized by the repetition of similar patterns at ever-diminishing scales.” This particular design helped to normalize the feeling of not having to ALWAYS keep moving forward and it is acceptable to pause and reflect of what I already have accomplished. My bravery and delightment of my work, invention, and example is strong enough to speak for itself without needing to force an exponential growth. This course has helped me realize the importance and beauty of the increase and decline in not only plot structure, but my own personal life through identifying the recognition in my accomplishment.