By Chloe Williamson, AmeriCorps Member '16-'17, City Year Sacramento, Oak Ridge Elementary School
After a long day of service, towards the end of the first semester, I arrived in my after school classroom frustrated and worn out. It had been a tiring day, and behavior management had been particularly difficult. Facing the last three hours of my day was daunting. Regardless, I started to circulate around the after school classroom, checking in with each of my students. When I asked one of my students how her day was going, she responded with more grumpiness than usual, but followed it up with a simple question: “Ms. Chloe, how is your day going?”
I answered honestly, and told her that I was having a hard day. I explained that more than a few students had treated me disrespectfully, and that it had really bothered me. Immediately, she softened: “First of all, I’m one of those students, and I want to apologize.” I was taken aback by her honesty, and told her how much her apology meant to me. I could see her beginning to understand the impact her actions had on the teachers and mentors in her life. This was the same student who had treated me with disdain and more than her fair share of attitude for the first few months that I spent in her class. Slowly, as we had built a relationship, her behavior had started to improve, but this was the most genuine apology I had ever received from her.
This moment was not an absolute turning point for my student’s behavior in and outside of the classroom, but over the following months I saw her continuing to practice empathy for me, and for her teacher. The amount of respect that she gives to adults on campus has skyrocketed. Now, when I remind her about a class rule, or ask her to get back on task, rather than rolling her eyes or making a rude comment, she often says a quick “I’m sorry” and does what she needs to do. I have more and more opportunities to tell her how proud I am of her work ethic and her focus in class.
As City Year AmeriCorps members, we are often in a unique position to model empathy for our students. I think that one of the most valuable things I provide for the students I serve is the consistent presence of a caring adult. Simply showing up every day, smiling, telling our students that it’s good to see them, and asking how they are doing makes a difference. For some of our students, it may be the only time during the day when an adult asks them about their feelings and takes the time to really listen to their answer. At the same time, we model what positive and empathetic relationships look like.