Our Prior Experiences Shape Our Views

It is an accepted proposition that key events during one’s childhood and youth provide the lenses through which one sees later events. I am a proponent of this belief, for I agree with Vygotsky’s ideas of cultural and social context influencing individual learning – both academic knowledge and the various social mores and values that we internalize. For Vygotsky, the environment in which children grow up will influence both ‘how they think’ and ‘what they think about’, ultimately impacting cognitive development in a number of ways (McLeod, 2014). This impacts not only one’s own learning, but also how one is likely to approach learning as an educator.

As a child, I possessed an intrinsic motivation and natural curiosity to both learn and teach. My father passed away when I was a toddler, and my family lived in a very rural area with a low population density. I spent much time entertaining myself while my mother was away providing for the family and I was in the care of my grandmother. I developed a quiet capacity to read and discover as an individual, and I often prefer this learning style as an adult. In high school, I preferred individual projects to group work, even in instances of complicated or multi-step requirements. I felt comfortable and able to focus more readily on my objectives. In college, I preferred independent analysis to group discussion. As a teacher, although I incorporate group discussion and partner-work quite frequently in my curriculum, I hold a strong belief that students must also have individual tasks to complete to prepare them for individual modes of assessment.

Growing up below the poverty line, I viewed education as a luxury that shaped not only my knowledge and skill acquisition, but also my self-worth. School was a safe haven for me, a place where I felt accepted and able to excel in a bubble that differentiated not on one’s financial value or status but on one’s readiness to contribute to the success of the institution. At the same time, I viewed my neighborhood, one comprised of Section 8 housing and seedy interpersonal relationships, and understood that my opinions on education were quite different from those of my peers. My younger sister struggled academically, and was not interested in learning for the sake of a future of which she did not feel a part. I came to understand that without relevancy, education could easily be taken for granted, or even seen as yet another daily obstacle to overcome. As a teacher, I relate to students in my high-needs district that come from a similar background. I try to incorporate culturally diverse works, as well as topics that relate to my students and their personal interests and aspirations. For the majority, these goals are far from the college-readiness track that might be expected of higher socio-economic demographics. In assuring these students that their goals are important, I strive to build trust and spark a motivation that is not naturally present. I suppose my true assumption is that learning can always be extrinsically motivated; it’s simply a matter of discovering what the impetus might be.

Additionally, I was raised in the Virginia education system at a time when the Standards of Learning were being implemented, so these tests are second nature to me and a part of who I am. I often believe that my ability to accept the mastery of certain skills as a requirement, and the measure of these skills as a positive aspect of learning, stems from attending school in a district that consistently achieved quite well on the test despite being a Title I school with a high proportion of struggling learners. I entered teaching without having experienced a world prior to the existence of the tests, so analytically I view them as a means to ensure a quality education across the board. Therefore, since I exist as a product of the system, I naturally search for ways to meld my teaching style within the confines of the system and its expectations.

McLeod, S. (2014). Vygotsky | Simply Psychology. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html

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