Not The Plan

[info]Stephen Casey ’11 will graduate in December from the Secondary Math Education program with a degree in Education and a degree in Bible. This past spring he participated in PBU’s Urban Practicum program, and at the time of this interview with Dr. Brian Toews, had just completed his first student teaching internship experience at a school in Bogota, Colombia, and was looking forward to his second student teaching internship in the urban Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.[/info]

BGT: Was math a surprise? Was it something you’d always been good at? There’s a lot of math in our math program here.

SPC: Math in high school was very traditionally taught – quizzes, tests, practice problems. I loved Algebra especially because it made sense. It was just follow these rules, apply it to this situation, and you get the right answer. The ironic thing is that I showed up to PBU and all my hardest courses have been every single math class I’ve taken. The math program has taught me a lot about work ethic and perseverance. I’m taking these courses so that I have a much better understanding of what’s happening behind the mathematics that we teach in our traditional curriculum. And because I’ve had to struggle, I can say to my students, “Okay, how can we do this? This is our task; it’s not to give up, it’s to actually go through it.”

BGT: So you come to PBU, become an education major, and then, now you’re into your program and you head to the Urban Practicum – you had to apply, you had to have a professor sponsor you – so how did all that evolve in your thinking as you were at PBU?

SPC: If you’d asked me freshman or sophomore year about Urban practicum, I would have said, “No way. No, no, no. That’s not for me.” My junior year we were required in a one of our classes to observe an ESL classroom, and I went to a charter school in Philadelphia. I drove down there with a friend and it was like a new world. Walk into the school, go through metal detectors, and go into the class and I was blown away in a good way. There was a totally different culture, a Hispanic, very rich Spanish culture, which, for me is very personal because my mom is Hispanic; she was born in Colombia. So I’ve always wanted to be more connected to that. I got to this school and felt like I was in another country in some ways.

I came back the next fall and decided that I was going to do my student ministry in Kensington, in an urban setting, volunteering at an after school program. I would help them with their homework after school and then we would do different projects, community projects, life skills projects, and I was sold on working with them. That semester was when you need to apply for Student Teaching and practicum. I just thought, “I want to try. I want to give it a go. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I want to give it a go.”

BGT: So what did the Urban Practicum entail?

SPC: The Urban Practicum is only 10 days; you go up to your cooperating teacher on the first day and let them know, “Throw me into the fire as quickly as possible.”

PBU has utilized the Philadelphia Urban Seminar as a means of their Urban Practicum. A bunch of universities come together to participate in this seminar. We were required to move down to LaSalle University where everyone in the Urban Seminar stayed, and we were bused every day to our different schools.

So, we lived there, we worked at the schools, we tried to get in as much teaching as possible to fill our requirements for Practicum, and at the end of every school day the Philadelphia Urban seminar had professional development seminars for us to attend, different breakout sessions for us to attend, and after that, at the end of the day, PBU wanted us to sit and debrief with each other and talk. So it was from morning until night for ten days.

BGT: What were some of the main themes that came out in that debriefing with the other students?

SPC: In that context, classroom management and classroom discipline are very prevalent issues. What do you do when your students do not listen to you? What do you do when they get aggressive and start cursing you out and they leave? And then there were also positives: “I tried this out in my lesson today and it worked really well and the students reacted really well.”

It was good for us. The PBU group became this little community that would go out to do our work each day and then come back and meet and have dinner together and debrief. And that was so important, not just to have people to listen to what I was saying and to listen to other’s are saying but to actually know that they’re in a similar context, to know that they actually understand what I mean when I say that the students are getting into fights or that these students are blatantly refusing to work with me. That was so important, because the ten days was awesome, but it was emotionally and physically draining like you wouldn’t believe.

Mrs. Rivera [the Director of Student Teaching] would give us assignments each night – for example, put yourself into someone else’s shoes who is from a different culture and try to understand things from that perspective. And we were constantly looking at the fact that we were in different cultures – it wasn’t just that we were in an urban situation, but I was in a predominantly Puerto Rican culture – so what does that mean? How do I adapt to that? How do I teach within that culture? She challenged us to reflect on our culture and examine what we bring to the classroom. Do you recognize what would be beneficial and what would not be beneficial to teach your students? How can you connect with them, how can you really meet them where they’re at?

BGT: You’re going to graduate in December. Is this the field you want to go in? Urban education?

SPC: Yeah! And again, not the plan! But after Urban Practicum – which was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, one of the hardest 10 days of my life –it was a very clear direction for where I want to go when I graduate from PBU. I do want to pursue some type of urban route and see where that will take me.

BGT: What’s the story you would tell about PBU when everything is said and done?

SPC: I can’t think of a better way to say this: PBU has made my world bigger. It has made me aware of just how huge this world is, and it’s filled with diversity and differences in people and cultures and worldviews and theologies and doctrines. I constantly look at what the different courses have done for me personally and they keep expanding my perspective of the world, and consequently, of God, which leads to greater admiration for Him, a greater heart of worship for Him, because He’s getting much bigger in my perspective. That’s why I think programs like international student teaching and urban practicum, getting these different certifications that all of our programs offer, taking different professors, or doing different ministries that would make you uncomfortable – if it’s expanding your perspective of your world and your God, I think that’s a good thing.

Watch a video clip from Stephen’s interview.