Lessons Learned from Interning at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning

This semester I have had the privilege to assist in a preschool classroom at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning, the Ohio State lab school for children ages six-weeks through six years. For the last four months, I have spent 20 hours a week working alongside children and staff in room 124. You can read more about my daily experiences here and here. These are the top takeaways from my internship:

  1. Children’s development is complex. Children are very rarely totally “ahead,” “on track,” or “behind” in most or all developmental domains as I had previously thought. I guess I believed that since all parts of the child grow in the same environment then that environment nurtures all parts of the child equally well. However, this is not the case. A child can have extraordinary language skills and poor social skills. They can have strong print awareness, but poor phonological awareness. A child’s strengths and weaknesses are complex.
  2. No one likes to be told what to do, so avoid telling people what to do. I could go on and on about my growth and understanding in this regard, but I’ll cut to the chase: speak to children the way you want to be spoken to.
  3. The best teaching has nothing to do with lessons or planning. Teaching happens in every interaction a teacher shares with his or her students. It’s the conversations shared at the snack table, lining up for outdoor play, or while feuding in the building space where most of the teaching happens. Lessons make up a small fraction of the day; it’s the interactions that really count. 
  4. You have to be stubborn. There are times when it would be easier to just let things go, but seizing every opportunity to model and correct behavior is key to building independence and creating a happy, calm classroom for all.
  5. Guidance and discipline involve a tricky balance. You have to teach students the skills to succeed while providing consequences that deter destructive behavior.
  6. If it doesn’t matter, don’t control it. Climb up the slide! Spend 10 minutes washing your hands! Put the baby dolls in the water table! There is no use in getting into power struggles over things that don’t really matter, and normally if you let go, pretty impressive learning happens. Limits should never be arbitrary.
  7. The better the teacher you are the less stressful the job is. Before this experience, I was worried that teaching would be too stressful for me, but after seeing my master teacher lead I understand that a strong teacher can create calm within the class once he or she has the skills to do so.
  8. Affluence affects development and learning in different ways than I previously thought. Mo’ money, mo’ problems
  9. Working with the same children over an extended period is more rewarding and easier than subbing. Knowing students is half the joy of working with them.
  10. Teaching is not isolating work. Possibly a problem specific to me, I was wary of being a career teacher because I thought it would be lonely and emotionally laborious work. I thought working with people at such a drastically different stage in life as myself would be isolating. I thought I would have to pretend to feel positive emotions when I didn’t. I was wrong. Teaching preschool is the most human job I have ever had the privilege of working. My students show up as their whole selves and so do I. That’s what it takes to build connections. I know them, and they know me more intimately than any coworkers at an office job.

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Serving as ACES Service Co-Chair in the Covid-19 Pandemic

This year I have served on my scholar program’s leadership council as service chair alongside my peers including my co-chair, Anna Gardner. When originally applying for the position I was expecting the role to entail coordinating with community agencies to host group volunteer experiences as has been done in past years. I was eager to connect students with the people and places of my hometown. So much of the Ohio State experience is spent within the University District, and I was eager to encourage students to get out into other Columbus neighborhoods. However, when entering the role our world was still effectively shut down. In-person events have been suspended for most of the year and many organizations have had to shut their door to volunteers for the safety of their beneficiaries. Anna and I have had to adapt to bring service-learning opportunities to our fellow scholars. We utilized virtual tools to provide accessible educational experiences.

During my tenure on council, I planned and hosted 5 virtual service learning events including a 3-part lecture series centered on ethical and self-aware service and philanthropy, implemented a program-wide event planning procedure to improve event attendee experience and increase fidelity to program mission/pillars, and developed a marketing plan in response to reduced volunteer opportunities caused by the pandemic. 

My lecture series, Being a Better Servant: Understanding Your Impact as a Volunteer and Donor, aimed to strengthen scholars’ understanding of how to best serve their community through introspection of their own lived experiences and values. Presentation objectives were created based on program pillars of social change, community, service, and advocacy. Topics of the series included Paternalism in Service: Who Knows Best?, How Charity Can Hinder Social Justice, and Effective Altruism. Below is an event plan and presentation slide deck from the series. 

How Charity Can Hinder Social Justice Event Plan

Paternalism in Service

Summary of Mentorship Experience

This semester I had the pleasure to mentor Payton Harvey through our scholar’s program, Advocates for Communities and Education Scholars (ACES). As part of my final year capstone project, I have documented my mentoring journey. As the spring semester concludes, this is my final entry.

Payton is a first-year student from a small town in Ohio. She studies psychology with a planned minor in art. She hopes to become an art therapist. She is a first-gen college student. A middle child, Payton’s older sister currently attends Ohio State with plans to work in the medical field. She is a junior and lived on campus this year. Payton and her family have been visiting the campus since her sister began at the university. Payton’s transition to college has been greatly eased by her older sister the experience she had with OSU before enrolling. (Unfortunately for her little sister it has been hard to have both of her siblings away from home over these last nine months.)

Payton has enjoyed her first year at Ohio State despite the challenges that come with the transition to college and social distancing as a young adult. She lived in the connector of Smith-Steeb where she became very close with her hallmates. (She is next-door neighbors to my old room!) She has succeeded in her coursework and especially enjoyed her in-person classes. She is hopeful for next fall as most of her classes will be in person.

Payton and I share a love of the outdoors and reading and an interest in helping people learn and develop. We both have a connection to small-town America and bonded over the similarities of our extended family dynamics. At the beginning of the program, I was unsure why Payton preferenced me as we had differing majors, hometowns, and listed interests. However, after meeting for the first time I realized we have similar temperaments and zest for life. After speaking to other mentor and mentee pairs this became very clear.

Over the course of her freshmen year, Payton has grown into a confident and capable college student. She has soared socially as she has connected with people on her floor, in ACES, and wherever on earth she manages to make friends in a pandemic with almost exclusively online classes and virtual clubs. In reflecting on the year, I realize I envy her ability to make new friends in this socially distanced world. Payton has strengthened her ability to study and complete school work. She has adjusted to the rigor of college well.

Participation in the mentorship program enabled me to grow personally, academically, and professionally. I believe that personal growth, community contribution, and strong relationships are the triad upon which happiness is built. I proactively pursue growth in each of these areas in all of my endeavors. Every goal that I set for myself must align with at least one of these three objectives. This mentorship program built my skills as a leader inside and out of the university context, assisted a fellow buckeye in their transition into our OSU community, and built a fulfilling personal relationship.

The ACES mentoring program provided me with an introduction to mentoring and peer support that I will use in my role this summer and next academic year as a First Year Experience Peer Leader. I can only hope that my 300 students will be a tenth as amazing as Payton is. Working with her has advanced my relationship-building and outreach skills, task management, and charisma.

Mentoring Payton demanded I build and maintain a close personal/academic relationship. I enhanced my cooperation, communication, and trust-building skills by working as part of a partnership to complete a project. Working on a project following the capstone guidelines and deadlines strengthened my ability to accomplish tasks efficiently. These skills will transfer to professional roles in the future. Maintaining contact and meeting with my mentee strengthened my communication, specifically interpersonal communication, skills. This experience made me a more charismatic individual.

Over the last two semesters, I have supported Payton by checking in with her periodically on her transition to the university and areas where she may need support. I have provided her with personal advice and shared my own first-year experiences so she does not feel alone in her challenges.

The mentoring program allows you to form a connection with a fellow buckeye while deepening your involvement with your scholar program. Mentoring Payton has been the highlight of my ACES experience this year. While I didn’t technically have a mentor my first year (long story!), I highly recommend the program to all of my fellow and future ACES.

Payton and I with Brutus