A Teacher's Perspective

I asked Alex, a busy full-time teacher and former moderator of this blog to share some of his experiences (both pre and post-graduation) with us. I expected to wait a few weeks, at least, before he would have time to respond, but a dedicated alumni and (apparently) very fast writer, he got back to me the same night. Here's what he has to say: What Inside-Out class did you take? Briefly, what was that experience like?

I took a Cinema Studies Inside-Out class with Professor Bill Cadbury in the Spring of 2009. It was held at Oregon State Correctional Institution. I remember how lifeless OSCI felt when we were processed in for our first class: the long, yellow institutional corridors and the sad-looking men that walked them. That heaviness was lightened by the buoyancy of our class discussions. I feel more comfortable being myself when talking about art or pivotal personal experiences than making light small-talk. My first Inside-Out class showed me how powerfully people can connect when they're working toward a common goal of learning some things.

How did you get involved with Inside-Out Alumni activities? What did that experience mean to you?

After my class, I didn't want anything to do with Inside-Out, for awhile. My class had drained me emotionally. The next Fall, though, I emailed Assistant National Director Melissa Crabbe, who is based in Eugene. I just said I wanted to reconnect with the program, somehow. When she wrote back she asked me if I wanted to be an intern. Of course I said yes, and the next thing I knew I was working closely with Melissa, Katie, and Madeline (two UO students and Inside-Out interns), three of the best and most influential people of my time as an undergrad. These are the kind of people who think more about what's best for you than you think about what's best for yourself. Katie and Madeline introduced me to the Serbu Book Club, and eventually asked me and Ted to lead it. Then came the best experience I had in college: I had the opportunity to TA Bill Cadbury's Spring 2012 Honors College Course at OSP. I also served on the ACE Think Tank, traveled to the National Headquarters in Philadelphia, and more, all with the support of Katie, Ted, Madeline, Melissa, Shaul, and Bill, and the goodwill of many other I-O alumni. Basically, my involvement with alumni community allowed me to be trusted with way more responsibility than I deserved. I was able to test things out, gain some confidence in the classroom, and fail and grow as a leader, all opportunities for which I'm eternally grateful. I encourage all I-O alumni to put themselves out there, so to speak, and follow the thread that starts with enrollment in an I-O course.

What did you decide to do post-graduation?

When I graduated from college I moved to Minneapolis, MN, where I got a job teaching Writing to 7th and 8th graders full-time.

What’s your job like?

I love my job. It's very difficult. My students have many significant needs -- even more so than the average adolescent -- and I believe in doing whatever it takes to serve them. Our school population is 95% low-income, eligible for free or reduced lunch, 94% African-American, and mostly hailing from a single large and poor section of the city. 3 out of 4 of my students were reading and writing well below grade level at the beginning of the academic year. I am doing my very best to change the odds for my students, and we've seen modest gains. I try to focus on developing my students' competency, sense of self-significance, and their actual power of their own destiny. This is hardwork that is only sustained by my love for my wonderful and sweet students.

Has Inside-Out impacted how you do your work now? If so, in what ways?

During my last ACE Think Tank Meeting, days before graduation and my impending move halfway across the country, each of the 'inside' and 'outside' participants said goodbye to me, speaking one at a time, around our circle. One of my fellow ACEs, an 'inside' student, looked me in the eye and said, "On some days, some of your students aren't just going to have a hard time paying attention. Some of your students are going to bug you on purpose. They might even try to make you quit. One or two might make you feel like you never should've signed up to teach them in the first place. Well, you have to remember -- always -- that the kid who makes you feel like that is the one that needs you the most. He needs your teaching the most. How do I know? Because I was that kid." The implication is that most if not all teachers turned away from him because he was a handful. His uninterrupted trajectory landed him in prison. That piece of advice has re-calibrated my mindset on many a Wednesday night during my first year of teaching. I couldn't be more thankful for the way that Inside-Out and the Inside-Out community redirected me toward an active pursuit of social justice.

-Alex P. UO 2012 graduate and I-O alumnus