The IED program attracts many former teachers. Some of us have taught in U.S. classrooms while others have worked abroad. The relationships we formed with students deepened our commitment to improving schooling for all children and led us to further our own education at Penn.
When I returned to the classroom as a student in the IEDP last fall, I missed my students and couldn’t wait to be a teacher again. That’s why I was grateful to be able to work as one of the graduate student coordinators for the Penn Reading Initiative (PRI), a program based in Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
PRI matches Penn students with second and third grade children who are reading below grade level in West Philadelphia schools. Penn tutors and their assigned student meet for an hour once a week to practice basic reading skills. Tutors follow the basic PRI curriculum workbook, the Reading Road, while supplementing set lessons with games and activities tailored to the interests of their student.
A student I tutor is incredibly energetic and struggles to sit at a desk and read, so each week I try to find new ways to incorporate literacy principles into physical activities to keep him engaged. I look forward to the weekly opportunity to keep my lesson planning skills fresh on a very small scale.
Being involved with PRI has also allowed me to remember what education should look like in the lives of actual children. As we study education, it’s easy to get caught up in theories and academic research and philosophical best practices, but working with actual children on a regular basis brings clarity to the abstract. Education should be liberating, facilitating meaningful positive change in the lives of learners. Education should be individualized, meeting each child where they are and address their unique needs and abilities. Education isn’t just about all students; it’s about each student.
In our classes, we learn that development work is everywhere, not just in remote countries. The knowledge and skills we learn in the IEDP can prepare us to improve education throughout the world, but also in our own local communities.