You are never fully prepared for City Year and the work we do. Even after serving as a corps member for nearly an entire year I am still baffled by new challenges, perplexed by new problems, and constantly awed by my students. I am taught as much as I teach; I am mentored while being a mentor; and I find new role models everywhere even as I am unaware that I am being watched for guidance. In short, over the course of one unbelievably quick school year, I wear a lot of hats.

Being adaptable and flexible is a mantra in our culture, but it is never more critical than when you go from greeting your less-than-enthusiastic class, to de-escalating a fight about who gets the last breakfast, to consoling a student who suddenly bursts into tears, to consoling your teacher who just got an email regarding yet another curriculum change. All in the space of about twenty minutes. I wish I could say this is an exaggeration. The daily process of going from a not-morning-person, to power greeting, to tutoring and mentoring, to being tutored and mentored (usually by your students, nonetheless) is exhausting. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A City Year teaches you. It teaches you culture. It teaches you patience. It teaches you unconditional love. You learn how to teach, how to mentor, how to coach, enthuse, support, and communicate. You also learn how to learn, struggle, budget, value and listen. 

City Year challenges you. It humbles you. It chews you up and spits you out. It makes you wish you had done literally anything else with your year while simultaneously making  you hope it never has to end. It supports you and nurtures you. It teaches you what passion is, or what the absence of passion can create in less than a year. City Year makes you weak and then makes you strong. It takes everything that you have and then asks you for more. It creates a more complete you.

This year gives you friends. Good friends, best friends. The common struggle unites us, a large group of strangers, and forces us to find the best in what we have. It places us with a giant group of people who also understand what it means to spend ten or more hours a day on your feet with not so much as a single thank you after you bend over backwards to accommodate their every need after you, oh yeah, skipped lunch. Again. 

Best of all, this year gives you students. The marvelous little challenges that they can be. Nothing has ever made our time more valuable than seeing a struggling student finally understand systems of equations, especially since you had to scaffold it all the way back to re-teach multiplication. Or realizing that you have to capitalize the first word in every sentence. Yes, every time. Just do it. Someone failed our students at some point in their very short lives,probably several people. We have never been more important than when we wear any hat that involves helping make up for that. They will test you and try their hardest to break you, sometimes they will succeed. They will also bring you immeasurable joy and end up teaching you more than you will be able to teach them. Never forget that is what this whole crazy, chaotic year is all about.

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Written by Erica Rickey, proud AmeriCorps Member serving on the Jacksonville Jaguars Team at Gilbert Middle School

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