In this edition of #PROFspective, we discuss with Jonathan Dale, an elementary education major, his intrinsic desire to go into education as well as the different motivations that have fueled him to go into the schooling system. Jonathan, a sophomore from Jersey City, NJ (Hudson County) also serves as marketing coordinator for Rowan After Hours (RAH).
So what was high school like for you in Jersey City?
I’m a product of the Jersey City public school system and I’m proud to be able to say that. There’s about seven public high schools in Jersey City. Where I went to school it was specifically for performing arts. Even though students were separated based on what they wanted to do, everyone still knew everyone.
As a Black man, how often did you see teachers like yourself?
All four years of high school; I can’t really complain. I think I only had one or two teachers that I couldn’t relate myself to. I think that because of that, it was one of the reasons as to why I knew that teaching was something that I could do. With me seeing other people being able to put themselves in such a position it helped me envision myself in the same spot. I was able to pick up so many different teacher mentors from my school experience. I think every year I had a teacher who was Hispanic, Black or even international, such as from India. My school did a pretty good job at making sure I could see myself as a teacher.
How has your time been here so far at Rowan?
My experience has been good. I think now I’m getting more of the behind the scenes view. As I’m working through the school now I feel as if it’s become a lot better because of the friendships I’ve started to create with people. I’ve only been here a year, but I really do feel the appreciation and support here. I was just telling my coworkers about this, but just the other day it was my birthday and I had around 20 people text me and tell me “happy birthday!” I can’t remember how we met but just knowing that connection is there feels so gratifying.
For yourself, you’re in the process of becoming a future educator. What do you think is necessary for someone who’s thinking about going into the education field?
I think that at a certain point, you feel like it’s something that you know you can accomplish. You have those understandings where you can kind of sit back and reflect on things like “I’m actually inspiring other people, what else can I do?” Of course, there are a plethora of different things that you can go into within the education field like becoming a counselor. I was fortunate enough to have teachers who were minorities, it helped me see myself in a similar career and know I’m not alone. I know that there are situations where a lot of people don’t have that same experience. However, I also think this brings out a great opportunity. You might not see people like yourself in school, if that’s the case do it yourself. Make a name for yourself. Instead of waiting for something to happen, start the next big trend of your city and start trailblazing different paths for young people.
How did you come into RAH (Rowan After Hours)? How did that type of dynamic come to be?
I have a funny story about that. A while ago I was on the phone with my mom and remembered asking her for money. I still remember, my mom had told me “You need to find a job.” When she had told me that I remember I had looked down and I had an immediate response. I replied back to her and said “I think this is our lucky day”, the floor tiles were advertising for Rowan After Hours. It was probably one of the best moments that could have happened to me. I’ve made so many meaningful connections with RAH and it’s really helped me develop as a person and leader as the marketing coordinator.
What drew you towards elementary education?
Going back to high school, I was a part of a mentorship program. They have students from my school go to other diverse schools around the area. I remember doing that my freshman year of high school. Another thing about Jersey City is that the school system is not that good. To put it lightly, we do have our rough places. But I remember going to one of the roughest schools in the district, at least in terms of trouble and behavior with students. I would go there and teach these students about different aspects that mean a lot to myself, such as bullying. You know, I’ve had family members that were personally affected by bullying and I would tell the students of the different experiences that go on. For the students, I think they knew I wasn’t just coming up with some generic story, they knew that I was being sincerely genuine. Because of my work with that, I think that was the beginning of when people, specifically kids that I talked to from before, would start coming up to me and telling me how my interactions had mattered to them. Kids come up to me all the time with things like “Jon, I remember you. Do you remember coming to my school? You taught me about bullying, drugs etc.” There’s something about that, I believe it to be the most gratifying part of imparting knowledge on people. Teachers will always say that they’re in it for the long run. With elementary education, I think this is the part of kids’ lives where they’re starting to make choices for themselves and you can really make a difference for them.
What do you think of the lack of male teachers in the education field?
At first, it was a bit shocking to me. I remember specifically last semester where I was one of the only guys in my class. I had thought it was a bit odd and I do feel as if there could be more males in the field. For most people, their male teachers are usually centered on physical education; but it doesn’t have to be like that. I just think that really constraining yourself into one field that you might not feel passionate about really isn’t the most optimal way to try and live your life. I’m actually apart of a project which is solely focused on increasing male practitioners and classroom teachers. It’s a program centered around men of color and enrolled students where they are paired off with a mentor. It’s not just like a very usual conversation with your mentor, it’s always extremely deep and eloquent in terms of context. Personally, I talk to my mentor just about every week. We discuss the different ways that we ourselves can improve ourselves and our mentors also help different parts of the education process that isn’t necessarily discussed enough; like finding clinical practices, data, networking with different school districts. I do believe that men are moving in the right direction and we’re starting to see more diversity in the field.
What drew you to Rowan?
It’s such a funny thing. When it comes to me and my mom, almost everything that we do could be a coincidence. Covid had occurred during my junior year and I recall being with my mom and looking at all of the different college shows. At the time, virtual tours were especially big just because of how no one could get to any of the campuses. I remember doing research with her and something had caught my eye. I had known barely anything about the school but I was extremely perplexed over it. I remember seeing Rowan and asking myself how I never had heard of this university before. It was hitting all of my check marks at the time. In Jersey? Two hours away? I was extremely interested and was ready to sit through those three-hour virtual campus tours. I was mulling over a few other options like Moorehouse but after I had got to around the three-hour mark with the video, I was sold on the dream.
What attributes of Rowan made you know that was going to be your spot?
One of the most important aspects that I was looking for with colleges was the emphasis on location and traveling. Knock on wood, but if anything were to happen, I think one of the biggest things that I need is the security of knowing I’m not too far from my family. When I was looking at different colleges the ones that I was really interested in unfortunately were in different states or many hours away. During this process of figuring out where I wanted home to be the next four years I figured that I had wanted to stay home in New Jersey. There’s something about it; I know that it’s somewhere I can build a life in and be successful for years after college.
In regards to my parents, I didn’t want to make things difficult for them. Of course, I don’t want them to drive two hours to see me, but I think that it’s far enough and also close enough. If I ever get that feeling where I want to go and see my mom I’m fortunate enough to be able to get in my car and still do so. It’s really reassuring knowing I have that security.
How do you envision yourself as a teacher? We talked about how you’ve been able to connect with all these kids. How do you envision yourself as a teacher? What do you hope to accomplish once you do become an educator?
I always envisioned myself being that teacher where students could come to and know that everything is going to be okay. I want to be the teacher where I can hear things like “Mr. Dale I’m having a bad day. Can I stay in your room?” I want to create and cultivate a safe space for my students where they know they can come and see and we can come up with a solution together. That’s always been one of the biggest aspects of my life. I think that all my values are increasing for the hope that kids can get taught irregardless of what’s going on. I’m a teacher. It genuinely makes me really happy just to say things like that.
How did your family react when you told them of your plans of pursuing education?
It’s funny because I feel like I was often told “your mom’s a teacher, therefore you want to be a teacher.” When we actually sat down and started discussing my future we had been going over a bunch of different career paths that might interest me, but never actually had a solidified route. I remember her saying “we have to figure out something you like.” I think that at the time we both knew that we couldn’t envision myself really enjoying anything outside of education. For my mother, she was just really happy that I had a sense of direction. I still remember when I had first told her that I wanted to go into education, she had just looked at me rather plainly and said “Yeah, it’s something that I thought you would do.” Mothers really do know best.
What do you hope your lasting legacy will be as an educator?
I want to be a contributor; I wouldn’t say change because change comes with time, but I want to improve the system as a whole. When I say I want to improve my school system, I want it to be specific. I want there to be more people of color in my position. I want the students to be able to envision themselves in the field and not feel disoriented. How can I make the students more comfortable? How can I improve the system? It’s these types of questions that I ask myself that fuel my mindset toward education.
What words could you give to somebody who’s on the fence with majoring in education? What could you say to get them on board?
Just go for it. Take advantage of all the resources and opportunities that your school provides. If you can go back and reflect on your own high school experience and still be able to name five teachers that had an impact on you, take a second and try to envision yourself in the same circumstances. Could I do something like that for someone else? It takes a lot of introspection and self awareness; this isn’t the field that you’re going in just for the money it’s a lot that you’re undergoing. If it’s something that you know you feel passionate about, I do think that education has a place for everybody.
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Story by Lucas Taylor, Graduate English Education