The Role of Teaching in Social Work
How do you know that you know something?
How do you know your favorite meal? How do you know the quickest way back home? How does your favorite song get stuck in your head? How do you conclude what is wrong or right? How are you sure? Where does this knowledge come from?
I believe that simple questions can create more poignant answers.
My class, 6A – U Albany, starting the day with morning announcements
My name is Maalik Dunkley and I am a rising sophomore at Skidmore College in the class of 2021. This summer I interned at the East Harlem Tutorial Program in New York City to learn how knowledge is retained, how to properly teach, and how to help people. This funded experience gave me the freedom to explore the questions I had and create definite answers and a definite approach.
East Harlem Tutorial Program is a Harlem based organization which offers educational and recreational programs to members of its community—primarily children and teens. The main site of my work was in EHTP’s Summer Program where I worked as an assistant to the teachers in my class. The Summer Program lasts the entire month of July and has the purpose of helping the children remain academically active during the summer. Daily, I would work on assignments given to me by teachers, help classes proceed through the schedule, and most importantly observe student-teacher interactions. Though seemingly mundane, this was where I was able to learn the most.
In the future, I want to pursue a career that offers services that help people. My idea of my future career varies from becoming a defense lawyer or social work. Through my internship with EHTP, I understand the dynamics of social service and how this work is done right. Those who designate themselves as the aid to their respective communities receive trust from the community and are granted power. They, therefore, have jurisdiction over their sites and must properly use it. They must have values, expectations, and hold themselves accountable because of their tether to their target community. As a part of EHTP this summer, I witness them use this donated power to teach. After this revelation, I paid attention to their methodology behind their teaching and how it helps East Harlem. I found that their use of their status to mostly to educate unique—not because it is innovative but because it is largely their focus as opposed to providing resources, financial support, or advocacy.
Aside from seeing them in action, I also spent time asking the staff of EHTP questions. Being surrounded by teachers and people that work with children gave me ample opportunity to understand how and why they teach. Through my surveys, I concluded that EHTP teaches students for them to learn. This conclusion may be unimaginative because of the supposed obviousness of the relationship between teaching and learning. However, my experience, as well as the experience of plenty of others, with education can attest that some teachers do not try their best to teach and some students have trouble learning the material. The Summer Program provided me with a small insight into EHTP’s quality and impactful teaching. EHTP practices “sacrificial teaching”. I believe they manage to find so much success because of their adaptability.
The words adaptability and success both apply to their work in the classroom and the community by extension. Teachers are willing to alter their lesson plan and their method of teaching to accommodate for the children. Constant explicit provisions are made for their audience of students. My class’s ELA teacher, Mrs. Jackie, told me about the caution she takes when preparing lessons to “break it down” for them to understand. An example of accommodating for students is using social media to explain social justice, protesting, and positive reinforcement. EHTP is willing to amend its own mission statement and training process to properly do its job and help the community. It recently changed its official anti-racism statement to avoid perpetuating stereotyping of Harlem; They would do this by eliminating phrases and words that relate to the stereotypes which unintentionally added attention on the negative prejudice rather than highlight their commitment to reject it. Ultimately, their outreach is more successful because of the scrupulousness behind their teaching. This willingness to adapt shows their acknowledgment of their position which results in a positive alteration of the dynamics of service.
This year’s Summer Program’s focus #BuildLove incorporates social media into their goals for the community.
Members of the community learn from EHTP, and subsequently value and support it, because the teaching is made for them. Using an example in the summer program, once a week, students engage in “real talk”. In this time, they discuss social issues that affect them and their community with their classmates. Many would claim that these topics are too much for the middle school-aged children that we work with. However, the coordinators of “Real Talk” emphasize the importance of social-emotional learning and exercise acknowledging the complexity of their audience to make it work. The ideas on “breaking it down” and flexibility are echoed in the work of “Real Talk”. Teachers are the guiding force that manages students’ education. Their sessions and the things taught resonate more because they are made for these to comprehend and retain the information. Here I learned that perhaps people learn best when they are given accommodations and freedom to make conclusions themselves. EHTP’s fluidity makes sure there is always a comfortable space where students can learn.
Students and teachers take time to discuss the United States’ current immigration policy.
Yet, we still haven’t answered the question of why the teaching and learning in EHTP are so important and are integral to social work.
When asked how they are certain that students learn, many EHTP’s staff believe it is when students use what was taught beyond the classroom. EHTP’s goal is to build up the East Harlem community. That is why it alters its official statements, why it helps students and parents, why it focuses on teaching, and teaches for students to learn. When they truly learn how to explore diverse pools of knowledge, express themselves confidently, and appreciate learning, they will apply it to places other than school. ETHP’s work helps create a self-sufficient supply of intellectually engaged people. This is why teaching and EHTP’s value for learning is important to social work. Effective service is something that truly helps the community. I believe that some issues people face are too complex to be solved by simply giving them physical things. EHTP uses their donated power to create an educational space. With their knowledge of the social dynamics, they alter the hierarchy service and emphasize that their target community are the ones who dictate the details and structure of the aid. Because of their work young people of the community are invited to grow rather than simply receive. I think that all service should invest in creating an educational space or, at least, one that encourages independence. Teaching for others to learn entertains a future where the social service is no longer needed. I believe that should be the goal of social work—the creation of sustenance for the target community not for the organization. I believe teaching invites the adaptability and receptiveness necessary to best help the others.