Summer Reads Hightlight: Merissa Louks

Merissa, left, and her partner Kysa at Pre-Service Training

Merissa Louks is a rising sophomore at Bethel University who is studying TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) education.  This summer, she is serving as a Summer Reads VISTA at Andersen Community School and Boys and Girls Club-Southside, both in Minneapolis.  In this post, she reflects on her service thus far and shares her perspective on working with students.

Optimism and Literacy

I can’t assign words to the feelings that swell up inside of me when I get the opportunity to work with people, especially students. There is so much mystery in individuals: what they like and dislike, their background history, their favorite memories from childhood as well as their least favored, their learning style, their hobbies.... It is a new and exciting journey getting to form fresh relationships with a clean slate. Despite all of these aspects of people, I find it tempting to view them, especially students, as one-dimensional human beings. I know that there is more to people than just what I see in a given setting on a specific day, as there is much more to me than what one person may see. However, especially when placed in a teacher role, it is almost easier to look at only the academic side of students while dismissing other parts that make them unique.

As I have learned through training and my placement as a VISTA, it is vital to understand that students are multi-dimensional with layers of emotions and experiences that can contribute to what happens in the classroom. Every time I go into work with students, especially traditionally disadvantaged ones, I am reminded of the importance of taking time to listen to what my students are saying instead of just plowing through a lesson plan while blank and confused faces look back at me.  If a student is acting out, I am encouraged to take time to listen and observe, instead of reacting harshly right away.

At the Boys and Girls Club where I currently am placed, discipline of students is an everyday occurrence. I am so tempted as the teacher to label certain students as ‘trouble-makers’ right away while dismissing anything else that may contribute to their actions. Soon my eyes become fogged by the negative and I fail to see past that into what great things the student is doing. I find it helpful to take a step back from those thoughts and make a mental list of all the positive aspects of a student and then I make sure to take time to praise them when I see them doing something great. There seems to be a subtle balance between approval and dissatisfaction with a student’s activities. It is important to have an aspect of optimism involving the behavior of students. I may not be aware of what happened that morning or that week that may contribute to the actions of a student, and I should put effort in realizing this in order to best serve my learners.

My VISTA partner and I have also spent a lot of time working through our surface-level thoughts about students. We feel as though it is important to dig deeper than the one-side of a student that we may see. We are constantly trying to think of ways to individualize our lessons to capture the interest of not only the majority of the students, but also the ones with different learning styles and expressions.

I look forward to continuing interpreting more aspects of students to create the best lesson plans for the class.  I encourage you to think about those students who continue to act-out during sessions. Think about what background aspects may contribute and how those relate to academics. I also encourage you to be flexible with lesson plans to accommodate students who may need it, especially during summer sessions-I have found that they are much different than school-year classes. It really is about literacy and fun, and I know there has been lots of that in these short two weeks. I can’t wait to learn and teach more and to hear about the great things that all of the VISTA members are doing!

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