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Wrapping Up the Semester

I can’t believe the YMEJ experience is already half over. Nor can I believe even at the halfway point how profoundly the course has affected me. For certain I couldn’t possibly have foretold how it’s impacted my very life. In fact I clearly remember back in September debating whether or not I should register for the course. For one thing, the schedule arrangement seemed very daunting to me – 3 hours, from 5:30pm-8:30pm on Mondays. I wasn’t sure I could physically handle that. It would mean I would have to come to Teachers College directly from my job as a high school teacher in East Harlem, and I wouldn’t be getting back to my mid-town apartment until close to 10:00 pm. As it turned out, my job actually served as both the possible hindrance and the ultimate good fortune to be taking the course. As I got acquainted with my new school and the surrounding community, I quickly saw how the topics discussed in class – youth incarceration, foster case, media, trauma in adolescence and race relations – illuminated prevalent issues in the lives of the young people I teach.

Coincidentally, after school today (Dec. 22nd), just as I sat down to write this post, a student came over to me and said he was arrested on Friday and held over the weekend at the ACS-run Horizon Juvenile Detention Center in the Bronx. At the beginning of the school year, I told my students that the juvenile justice system, among other social issues impacting youth, was a particular interest of mine and that I would be happy to talk about it any time. Perhaps the student told me of his troubles since he remembered what I’d said earlier. He knew I wouldn’t hear him out without a sympathetic response to his plight.

In the YMEJ class meetings, some colleagues let it be known that this was the first time they were given the opportunity in an academic setting to engage in serious discussions on these issues.   I conclude that many of our teacher preparation programs have failed us. I now firmly believe that a course such as YMEJ can help all of us further develop as both educators and as individuals. By critically examining the ways in which these issues impact young people, I hope to be able to better serve my students.

From the very first week of class, the YMEJ teaching team created what I felt was a very welcoming and supportive environment. We have all shared deeply personal stories – about our families, our educational experiences, etc. The phrase “safe space” has been brought up many times in the semester. It’s a phrase that’s tossed around in educational circles but rarely truly dissected. I’m guilty myself of casually telling my students they’re in a safe space, but after a discussion in class one evening, I began seriously to question what that even means. I now think we must ask ourselves, for whom is the classroom safe? The privileged? The oppressed? The teachers? All students? I’ve learned from YMEJ just how complicated the answers to those questions must be.

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