by Nomi Small
Three weeks ago, I took on another internship. I really enjoyed the work on the worksite, but I found that I was struggling to see how the little tasks I was doing were essential to the bigger picture. I knew that they were important; I just couldn’t feel it.
I was approached by our construction trainer’s wife who is an English teacher at a local high school in Clackamas, Oregon to see if I would be willing to help out in her classroom. She teaches two classes of students who are at a middle school reading level and a lot of them also come from immigrant families. With over 30 students in this program and their comprehension levels all over the board, it was clear that she could use some help.
The first day I was there, I started to test the students to see what was their reading level is. I would time the students for a minute on two different expository pieces to see how many words they could read through per minute. Then I would have them read a compound list of words and then a list of words that increased in their difficulty. I would record how far they got on each list and how many mistakes they made. I would then consolidate all the data on one page.
After each class, the teacher would help me to analyze the data to see where each student’s strengths lie and what their GE or “Grade Equivalent” is. Eventually, I think I will get a smaller subset of the class to work on sounding out multisyllabic words but for right now, when I’m not testing students, I just get to watch a classroom in session without the stress of a grade looming over my head.
As I start to learn more and more about the high school, I’ve been adjusting and revising my schedule too. To put things into perspective, it takes me about an hour and twenty minutes to get to Clackamas High School from our house in Portland. I take a bus to the MAX, the MAX to Clackamas, and then a bus from the MAX to the high school. For you Bostonians out there, Portland feels like a Cambridge/Brookline/Newton kind of city while Clackamas, feels more like Sharon/Stoughton/Canton. For everyone else, Clackamas is the suburbs.
Not surprisingly, my students in the English classes are more diverse than my Jewish High School. There are Hispanic students, African American students, Asian students, Russian students, and even white students amidst the 30 English students I assist. Apparently there are a few high schools between Portland and Clackamas and Clackamas HS used to be the “rural” one. Cowboys even went there! But over time, Clackamas County has been built up and Clackamas has become suburban too. There are about 500 students per grade (which is larger than my entire high school) and very nice facilities.
This is all a long way of saying that Clackamas High School covers a very diverse and broad range of students and learning abilities. The reading program that I was helping out with was cut by funding about five years ago but was just refunded this year. The English teacher has also introduced me to her teacher friends, all of which have voiced envy at her new assistant (me!).
One of the teachers is also teaching a class for unmotivated students who need a little extra push. Her class is an Environmental Science class that not only runs the school’s recycling program and is learning about voltage currently, but there are also some learning disabled students in the class. I do what I can to just be an extra set of hands, answering questions but not giving out answers to the students. As of right now, my schedule is up in the air as I try and realistically help the school as much as I can without making myself go crazy as the need for assistance just becomes more and more visible.
It’s been eye opening thus far working with students who are from more diverse and different motivational backgrounds than anyone else I’ve ever interacted with. It’s also interesting seeing high school from the teacher’s perspective. The high school has been yet another puzzle piece for me as I try and piece together the socioeconomic standing of greater Portland and attempting to understand the value of education.