The Middlesex Alumni Association has awarded a handful of young alumni summer internship stipends for the past three years. Kathy Smithwick '08 received a stipend this past summer to work at Student U in Durham, NC, an organization that supports the empowerment of students. These are her reflections on her experiences.
After my internship with Student U, I am even more in awe of my teachers from Middlesex. I went into this internship believing that if I could take some of Doc Freiberger’s wit and sarcasm and combine it with Malcom Russell’s compulsive passion for his subject while also holding my student’s to John Hirsch’s expectations, then I would be the perfect teacher. I truly believed I had the perfect formula for success: I had great teachers; therefore, I will be a great teacher—‘I think therefore I am’—Descartes.
I did not anticipate the amount of work that went into day-to-day preparation. I taught four 50 minute classes per day and was required to be at work from 7:30am-4:00pm every day. I maintained a difficult schedule trying to balance Student U with my role as captain on the Rowing team at Duke along with summer training. As a teacher, I found that I could never prepare enough. It was not so much getting through the material that was challenging, but classroom management. For example, I contemplated seating arrangements at dinner every night: Where can I put Fili so he will not kick Louis? How can I separate Jackie, Jamilah, and Diamond? Why does Frankie get up in the middle of every class? How many times does Louis really need to use the restroom? Every day I would come to class and feel as though I had finally figured it out, but somehow I could never prepare for the unpredictable mood swings of my thirteen year old students. Rather than setting up disciplinary actions for this misbehavior, I found that it was more helpful to have a one on one conversation with my students. I would ask them why they think I asked to talk with them, and they usually knew the answer. I would then remind the student that my goal is to make them successful, and that their goal is to be successful, so why should we fight against each other if we are after the same thing? In other words, I will not be successful unless you are successful. These simple conversations transformed my classroom into a happier and more productive environment with much higher expectations because my students knew that everything I had them do was for a purpose and for their own benefit. Of course there were some days where this point would not get across, but for the most part, my students knew that I was on their team.
Student U and Middlesex have a lot of similarities and differences, but both have the underlying philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. The people who taught me and loved me at Middlesex created the person I am today. Similarly I hope that my kids at Student U are shaped, if only a little, by the time I spent with them. This year’s motto at Student U was to create a ‘beloved community,’ a phrase that aligns perfectly with Middlesex principles. Unfortunately my students cannot attend a school like Middlesex, so they are completely dependant on summer programs like Student U to nurture their development enough to survive a plagued and outdated public school system. At Student U, we often discuss the role and significance of an advocate for our students. I realize my role this summer was not only to be a teacher, but to be an advocate, someone who is determined for them to understand the material and one day go to college. Specifically, I will to continue to be an advocate for my four advisees—calling them once every week during the school year. I was also invited onto the Unity Fellows, which consists of 12 Student U teachers from this summer who meet with the Duke, UNC, and NC State school administrations to discuss ways to foster partnership in the Durham Community. I am in the process of creating a Student U club at Duke, which will fundraise and recruit potential teachers. Although I am not entirely sure if I want to be a teacher, I know I want to be involved in some way with education and mentorship. I would like to thank the Alumni Association for their support this summer, and Middlesex for its amazing faculty and staff who inspire me every day.
Katherine Smithwick '08