Name: Emily Spooner
Site: Breakthrough Philadelphia SJU
Subjects Teaching: 8th Grade Writing Through Literature and 8th Grade Social Studies (Global Issues)
School and year: Tufts University, Class of 2011
Define “academic rigor.” Tell a story about when you pushed a student to achieve beyond what they thought they were capable? If you’ve just started the summer, tell us how you set a high expectation for academic rigor for the summer from the outset?
Throughout my own education, high expectations and academic rigor have been at the forefront of my learning process. My best teachers were those who always pushed me beyond my own goals for myself, causing me to believe that anything is possible and that the foundation of academic success is found first in the ability to dream beyond what is in front of a student, to challenge and push the boundaries, and to constantly strive for that which is further and higher than it originally seemed.
Throughout my two summers at Breakthrough, it has become so abundantly clear to me that if you expect students to do more than they ever thought possible, they will more than rise to the occasion. Last summer, and even in the first week of this summer, I have had several conversations with students that have started with the students complaining or questioning why I did not seem to value their work. My answer was seemingly simple: “I think that you are such an incredible person and such a wonderful student, and what you have been showing me is not what you are capable of. I know you can do better, and I expect you to do better.” This, I believe, is the definition of academic rigor: pushing students to think critically, to love learning, and most importantly, to work to exceed the expectations set for them. This means, however, that these expectations must be set high to begin with. It is not enough for us to ask our students to settle. Instead, we must constantly challenge them to move outside of their comfort levels and move beyond that which is easy or nearby. When we do this, we create a generation of students that is fully equipped to enter and change the world.