Teaching for Change: Bridget Filarski | Arts and Humanities

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Teaching for Change: Bridget Filarski

With a passion for making others feel welcome, especially those new to the United States, Bridget Filarski’s life reflects her commitment to advocating for immigrant youth.  “I always had a very strong urge to make people feel welcome, in whatever context, so I think that’s what drives me to do this work, to work with immigrants — especially immigrant youth — who have no say in the decisions about where they’re brought to.”

As an Applied Linguistics & TESOL program, TESOL PK-12 track, masters degree alumna, Bridget currently teaches high school global studies at her dream school, International High School at LaGuardia Community College. Although she loves what she does, Bridget never anticipated becoming a teacher. During her time at The Ohio State University, when she wasn’t studying Spanish and international relations, Bridget was working and volunteering with nonprofits, helping to train and mobilize others for community service. Unsure of exactly what she wanted to do, but sure of her desire to work with young people who were immigrants, Bridget decided to join AmeriCorps upon graduation and moved to Arizona to work at a shelter for immigrant youth. What she didn’t know was that it was this time in AmeriCorps that would shape the course of her future. “I thought I’d work in immigration, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do post-college. So before I graduated, I decided to do AmeriCorps, and that’s where the idea to teach came in.”

As is true in any field, not every ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher is created equal. The teacher Bridget was paired with during her time with AmeriCorps left much to be desired in regards to effective language teaching. This inspired Bridget to consider becoming a teacher herself, using her linguistic knowledge and passion to advocate for immigrant youth to change students’ lives. “While I was there I really realized how I could use my knowledge of the language, the actual linguistics behind it, and the grammar I learned to help students make connections.” Additionally, Bridget realized that teaching would be a way to touch the lives of immigrant youth in a deeply positive way. “When I was working at the shelter, it became very clear to me that teaching is a way I can advocate for these kids that gives me energy and that I’m good at. So that’s why I decided to pursue teaching.”

Initially drawn to TC during her graduate school search because of its reputation as an elite school for teachers, Bridget feels that her time completing her TESOL PK-12 masters flew by. She is very grateful for the opportunities she had to observe classrooms and student teach. “Both my coursework and the spaces my professors set up for sharing strategies among my cohort have heavily influenced my teaching today. I’ll remember a lesson that somebody planned, and then we workshopped together with a professor, and draw on that.”  

Her student teaching actually led her to secure her current position. “The most impactful experience at TC would probably be my student teaching experience, which was set up by TC. I really lucked out to be in a place that jived with me. Almost everything I do now is inspired because my cooperating teacher did it. I don’t think I would’ve been able to student teach at that school if it hadn’t been for TC.”

You can hear the joy in Bridget’s voice as she explains how great her job is. “The school I’m teaching at is the best place to be, I think, for someone who wants to teach secondary level English language learners because things are designed specifically for those students. All of the students have been in the US for four years or less. Since content-based language teaching is the model, the content and the language are taught side by side. When I was at TC, especially my first year, we read about these schools in a lot of my methodology classes, how they were teaching language the right way.”

During her time in AmeriCorps, part of Bridget’s role was to create the content for any enrichment-type class she wanted. This was just a taste of the freedom she would receive at her current job. Most public schools are required to teach in a way that prepares the students to pass the Regents test, a high school exit exam. But since Bridget’s school is part of the Consortium, she is not bound by the material on the standardized tests. Instead, her students graduate through PBATS (Performance Based Assessment Tasks), a project-based portfolio they work on throughout their high school career. “I don’t have to follow the Regents plan. I can do whatever I want; I just have to create projects that students can use in their portfolios for when they graduate. I have a lot of freedom; I get to create my own content as I go.”

Initially dazed by the sheer amount of freedom she had in creating her own content, Bridget quickly grew to embrace that freedom and the implications it has in her classroom. “When I got the job, I felt very overwhelmed because it was too much freedom. I had student taught in ELA, but stuff crosses between social studies and English. For example, at the school where I was, they’d be reading a book with historical context, so in history class, they’d study the history. So I had some ideas, but I was really floundering over the summer. I’d try and ask people what they thought and they’d be like ‘do whatever you want!’ Now I like the freedom I’m given; it gives me a chance to see where my students are at, not just academically, but also gauge their knowledge of world issues. I’m able to see what my students already know and what sparks their interest and also respond to what’s actually going on in the world today. I like the fact that I’m able to do that.”

It’s her passion to make people feel comfortable in whatever context they’re in combined with her deep desire to be an advocate for immigrant students that has led Bridget to teach. But she hopes to someday also be able to advocate for them on a political level as well. After all, the same lessons on educational policy that some classmates considered boring and irrelevant, Bridget loved. “I get a lot of energy knowing the politics behind the things that affect these young people.” Her interest in the policy that affects these immigrant students stems from her desire to see the big picture of all the forces that are acting on these kids in order to best teach, love, and support them. “To me, educational policy is so important because my job as a teacher is so political. Of course, I’m teaching language, but how can I teach students who don’t feel comfortable or advocated for, who don’t understand their rights, or who don’t feel welcome in the place they live.  So for me, digging into the laws concerning immigrant youth was very meaningful. The fact that those professors pushed to teach theory and pedagogy, but also wanted to make sure we were learning the policies that are affecting our students, was powerful for me.”

Although she loves teaching, Bridget wonders if her love for policy will take her down a different path down the road. “I enjoy teaching. I love it a lot, and I think that it allows me to be so creative while giving me a lot of energy, but I do feel like someday my path could go into politics. Maybe not politics, but some sort of position of leadership that creates policy around education for these students.”

From her time at Ohio State training others in effective community service, to her time at TC preparing to be a voice and a support for her students while effectively teaching them, to her possible future in politics, one thing remains constant: Bridget’s determination to be a voice for those who are often ignored, creating a welcoming environment of active support and understanding.

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