By Brendan Anderson, AmeriCorps member serving with the Staples, Inc. team with Curley K-8 School
It takes a lot to serve as a tutor, mentor, and role model to a classroom of students, not to mention building and maintaining a partnership with a teacher and supporting your team in school-wide initiatives. With all of those responsibilites and more, it's no surprise that City Year gives you plenty of opportunities to learn and hone a plethora of valuable skills which you can carry with you into the larger world.
Students say some of the most amazingly kind, hilarious, and wise things you’ve never imagined. Frequently, however, they say these things all at once and shout over one another in order to be heard, leaving me rather at a loss to decide whom to hear first. I consider myself reasonably patient already, developed through years of waiting for the next Harry Potter book, but few things have tested my limits more, or proved more rewarding, than making the effort to discern clarity from the chaos and really listen to my students.
My first major challenge with City Year training involved bonding with my team and learning how to function together for the next ten months. After that, I had to earn the trust of my partner teacher (by proving myself capable of both following instructions and taking initiative) and establish routines until we clearly understood each other’s roles. These are all difficult things, but City Year makes sure to offer ample support at every step in the process, including guiding conversations, practicing how to introduce yourself to your teacher, and providing constant advice throughout the year.
3. Waking up
All my friends in college knew not to try waking me before at least nine, although ten was greatly preferred, and conversation was short before I had coffee. Those happy days, sadly, are now in the past since my team, fortunately, starts each morning outside the school giving high fives and powerfully greeting the students to another day of learning. I enjoy bringing the energy in the morning if it means being silly with students for a little while and making them smile, especially if they get off the bus looking tired. Now, not only can I get out of bed before sunrise, I can look happy about it (although coffee is still necessary).
4. Creative Problem Solving
Having passed not only elementary school, but also high school and college, I know many ways to solve math problems and analyze a text. The third graders I serve, however, are still learning the steps I now take for granted and so I often have to take a step back and very carefully think about how I derived an answer in order to explain it. This can involve breaking down the plot of a story or finding real-world examples (like money) to explain a mathematical concept. There are many resources readily available to use, but knowing what to apply in a given moment often takes some creativity.
5. What It Means to be a Mentor
It’s hard to be your best for every hour you’re in school, especially when long days turn into longer weeks and even longer months, but the students’ reaction to someone who greets them each morning, listens patiently, works well with the teacher, and knows the material more than makes up for the hard work. If you act like your genuine self, you will earn their respect and find the joy in service that comes from working with powerful young people.