“ MS. MURRAY I NEED A PENCIL!”
The sound of Sara’s high-pitched nine-year old voice snapped me out of the trance I had fallen into in the back of the class. My partner teacher had just wrapped up the days math lesson and the students were directed to independently do some problems on the area model. I calmly looked at her and put my index finger in the air, a silent reminder of the symbol used for pencil at our school. She hung her head reluctantly with a sigh and put her index finger in the air.
I walked over and quietly placed the pencil on her desk. Snatching it up, she looked up at me as I waited expectantly.
“ What do we say when someone does something nice for us, Sara?” I said
“Click,” Click,” “Click,” the sound of my blue ball-point gel pen casually clicking up and down was the only sound on the third floor of the stoic library. My gaze floated from the Boston skyline outside the window and shifted to the scholarly law students crowding the library; they stared intently at ominous books that boasted of prestige with heavy hard covers, gold trim and small print. Highlighters, pens and iced coffees were lined up on the tables in front of the students, the essential tools. I casually looked back down at my brief, and there it was, that gut-wrenching feeling that bubbled up in the pit of my stomach sending a sharp warmth of pain through my whole body.
“ Have you read Mills v. Wyman for contract law yet? They ruled if a material benefit is received from past action, then a promise to compensate can be enforced. Fascinating.”
I snapped out of my trance and looked up to see my friend smiling at me from across the table, her eyes filled with delight as she pondered this revelation.
“Oh cool, yeah I’m about to read that,” I replied to her, trying to share her fascination.
In college, I had loved my pre-law classes. However, as law school progressed, it became clear I didn’t get the same joy and excitement from the solitary pursuit of legal knowledge as my peers; it felt lonely to me.
Only a year later, my struggle with my student Sara ensued. City Year’s goal to end the high school drop out crisis asks Corps Members to target early attendance, behavior and coursework warning signs which are indicators of future dropouts. As one of my Social-Emotional Learning (behavior) focus students, Sara and I had spent a lot of time together talking about respect, and manners during lunch and in class.
“Thank you Ms. Murray, now can you help me?” Sara said with a sigh. I gazed at her again, clearing my throat.
“I mean, can you help me PLEASE?” She said with a smirk.
I kneeled down beside her to help her tackle long multiplication using the area model. Manners had been a yearlong battle with Sara, but we were making progress.
In one year, my life had gone from nights in a silent library bent over a book, to long days in a noisy, vibrant, elementary school in Dorchester. Instead of arguing points of law, I spent my days debating with nine-year olds the purpose of being polite. Not quite the glamorous career I had expected to be in, but the gut-wrenching feeling had stopped completely. In fact, as my year as a City Year Corps Member progressed and I built relationships with students, teachers and teammates, the feeling that bubbled in the core of my stomach was joy.
I had always imagined that I would take on the fight for social justice in the courtroom. City Year showed me there are many ways to be a part of the movement for social justice; it helped me see that success looks different for everyone. I realized that although lawyers have a lot of prestige and can make huge impacts on society through their work, there are others ways to make an impact. In my transition from law school to City Year I learned that I am a people-person; I thrive off of working directly with people and forming relationships. At City Year, I have been able to make many strong relationships with students, teachers, administrators, teammates, City Year alumni and staff. Through those relationships I have grown significantly as a person and learned a lot about myself and at the same time have been able to directly be apart of the movement to close the achievement gap in education.
This year, I have returned for my second year at City Year Boston as a Senior Corps Member serving as a Team Leader in a middle school. As I co-lead my team through their year of service, I am excited to continue to be a part of the effort to increase graduation rates in a new role and to help my team build impactful relationships with their students, as I had with my students.
Emily is a proud alum of Manhattanville College in Westchester, NY.