Written by Lydia DuBois, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Capital Area United Way Team at Capitol Middle School.

We are officially at the halfway mark of our year of service. Everyone seems to be feeling some sort of hybrid of accomplishment, tiredness (fear not; winter break will recharge us!), anticipation, and nostalgia for those first few months that flew by right under our noses. We're excited to see our families and friends and to tell them all about the work we've been doing. We miss our kids and cannot wait to start the second half of the year. In looking forward to the second semester to start, it is essential to also look back on the time that has passed. I know that as a person whose mind is always buzzing with thoughts of self reflection, it is difficult not to get critical when I'm looking back on my now half-a-year of service. 

Instead of thinking back on my year and seeing all the things I wish I did, or the things I did that I am dissatisfied with, I have decided to compile a list of things that I would tell my newly-Red-Jacket-donned self if I had the opportunity. Future Americorps Members: read closely! Fellow Americorps members: take this list as a lesson that teaches you to use self reflection as a primary tool for learning. Happy reading! And if you've left the state you might want to bundle up. We all know that winter in Louisiana isn't really well, winter. 

Things December Me would say to July Me if I could travel back in time:

  • You’re here to help your teacher and you’re here to help your kids. Finding a healthy balance between the two might take time. Pay attention.
  • Spending the first 10 minutes of class organizing the notebooks doesn’t build any relationships; it only puts your obsessive-compulsive voice to rest for a few seconds. 
  • Worrying wastes time. Replace any worry by asking yourself this question: did I have enough “aha” moments with my kids this week? Enough moments of creativity, of free thinking? 
  • Cherish yourself and your impact. You are important. But you aren't all-knowing. 
  • You aren’t all-knowing. Nobody is. Don’t get intimidated by people who seem to know more than you. Learn from them, and humble yourself by your knowledgable peers. 
  • Find time for creative writing. Give prompts, but tell the students that they can actually write about whatever they want. Help them with grammar, but more importantly, help them understand that they are always capable of producing some body of work to call their own. Start this practice early.
  • Don’t close your mind off to anyone. You are capable of having a “moment” with any student; that moment could be academic or emotional and it could revolve around something as easy as coloring. Don’t discount these moments. 
  • Establish consistency early on in the year. Let your students know that on certain days they’ll be working with you. 
  • Don’t compare yourself to AmeriCorps Members working in elementary school. Don’t compare yourself to AmeriCorps members working in other middle school. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, really. 
  • Don’t always reinvent the wheel, but always get creative. Read the textbook story and make it exciting. Draw pictures. Assign roles. Get up and moving. 
  • Always carry candy. 
  • Buy a watch or a timer. Asking your student for his phone to keep time is just embarrassing. 
  • Like those khakis? Buy two. 
  • Remember, above all: everyone is always learning. Including you.

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