Life Inside and Outside of the School Business

By Sandra A. Turner. Sandra is teacher at Diamond Valley Middle School, San Jacinto, USA. Please read her entry and leave your comments below.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” This quote is by the famous French novelist Victor Hugo . The meaning of this quote does not infer in a literal sense of opening a school door and closing a prison. It is interpreted in a figurative manner as how a person can be given the opportunity to develop and change their fixed mindset by allowing themselves to open their mind. I can relate to this quote as it describes my personal and professional life in the world of school business.

Let me first begin with a brief summary of my educational background. I received my educational guidance in various schools and universities in Southern California. In my hometown of Calexico, there are two goals that every child from the Imperial Valley must accomplish by the time they reach adulthood: one, finish school and achieve higher learning, and two, master the art of bilingualism. Although, I did accomplished these two specific goals, they were not acquired in Calexico, but elsewhere in Southern California.

School, that is education, was my gateway to a new, prosperous life. The exposure to distinctive and unique mindsets from different personalities allowed me to develop a multicultural view of various aspects of life. For example, my High School experience which took place during the late 1980s-early 1990s in the town of Spring Valley located in the eastern part of San Diego County, was in a multicultural, multilingual school. There were seven different nationalities, street gangs, and languages spoken on that campus. Yet, somehow we managed to get along despite our philosophical differences. As a result, this exposure during my early formative years has been “a blessing”. Especially, when I am able to show someone either personally or professionally a different perspective of life in any given situation.

On the contrary, I see “prison” not in a physical sense, but as a fixed mindset. As an educator and parent, I face this adversity on a daily basis. I have been teaching professionally for over twenty years. A majority of my career has been educating the young minds in the middle school setting- sixth through eighth grades. The thousands of students, who have graced me with their presence, bring forth their personal and family ideals. The subject area that I have been teaching primarily in the middle school setting has been History/Social Studies. However, I teach the subject from a multicultural point of view. By using this approach, I have been able to change a majority of my students’ fixed mindset. For example, I had this student named Michael, in my seventh grade World History. He was upset over the drama that was happening with his group of friends and another group. The situation was racially motivated and was influenced by his older brother, who was at a local high school.

Michael was of Irish descent and I am of Mexican descent. So, we talked and I calmed him down. How I calmed him down was by letting him know of the similarities between his culture and mine. These were the exact words that I said to him, “Michael, you are Irish and I’m Mexican. Guess what? We are just alike. Mexicans and Irish like to drink and fight. Maybe not in the same order but, close enough.” He was amused with my comment. Even though, one could say that my words were stereotypical. However, it holds some truth. From that day on, my student, Michael and I had developed this rapport that when he had questions about various cultures, he wasn’t afraid to ask me. Little did Michael and other students that have walked through my classroom know, they, in return, have helped me develop a growth mindset where I am able to apply both personally and professionally in my life.

On the other hand, as a parent, who shares custody of a teenage boy, the conflict of growth mindset (school) versus fixed mindset (prison) is an issue I undergo on a daily basis. I can honestly say that I try every day to assist my son to recognize, acknowledge, and accept the different perspectives and scenarios from various situations and people. I know that the struggle to break free from “the prison” will be an ongoing dilemma until my son reaches adulthood. In the meantime, I will continue to communicate and express my philosophical ideals, and hope that with positive influence and a little prayer, my son will understand the reasons why having an open mindset (school) can lead to better opportunities, where as, a fixed mindset (prison) will prevent him from reaching his destiny that his spiritual creator has planned for him to fulfill.

Ultimately, the individual must make a decision. Do they follow Victor Hugo’s advice, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” or do they continue to live a life of closed mindedness? It is fair to say, that a person living inside and outside of the school business, faces this predicament on a day-to-day basis. We strive to grow both personally and professionally, yet there are times that we may see a difficult circumstance as a challenge and not as an opportunity to change one’s mindset. It is with absolute certainty, I chose to follow Victor Hugo’s advice. I will continue to open the school door and close the prison until my last dying breath.

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