City Year: What I Learned

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I graduated from City Year two months ago, but I still haven't taken too much time to reflect on it. Approximately 99% of the people I talk to have no idea what City Year is.  Most people know what Americorps is, which gets us somewhere when I explain City Year, but confusion is still present in most of my conversations, which is understandable.
"City what?" (I feel like I always have to yell the name.)
"Why do you wear that jacket? Why do you wear a uniform?"
"oh, like Teach for America? My friend did TFA."
"I thought you do Americorps after you graduate college?"
"Do you teach?"
Those are the kind of comments I hear all the time. I'm not going to specifically answer those in this post, but if you would like to know what City Year is, check out their website here or go to my sidebar and click the label City Year. You'll find lots of past posts from over the course of this year.

Coming into this year-
I'm a fan of challenges and hard work, but I also like to see fruit at the end, but there honestly wasn't a ton of that, or at least the kind of "fruit" I expected. Pretty much all the views I had at the beginning of the year about education were shifted because of this experience. I saw first-hand how poisonous public education can be and I realized how complicated it is to bring change and reform. For the record, it's very complicated to bring reform. I definitely didn't realize that coming into it.  

Teamwork is hard work
Going into this year, I thought the team aspect of City Year would be the easiest... nope. I mean I've played on sports teams, I've gone on many team mission trips, I felt like I knew what to expect being on a team. City Year BOASTS about the fact they create the most diverse teams possible, and that's what they did. Yes, for a good portion of the day I worked exclusively with my 6th grade class and I didn't have to directly work with my team, but we ran an after school program together and that required us to be a well-oiled machine. A tight-knit one, too. Communication needed to be excellent, energy-levels needed to be high, and flexibility wasn't an option. More times than not those components were missing, and after school was a struggle. We still pushed through, but there were many disagreements, misunderstandings, and minor problems that would arise during the after school space. There's no doubt that I enjoyed my team. We were friends and we hung out together outside of work. However, just because you're friends with people, doesn't mean you work well with someone. I think we all know this. This year I learned it. And yet, if we didn't have problems as a team I would probably be concerned that the work we were doing was too easy. Conflict, to a degree, is natural and should be worked through. 

Below is a picture of my City Year team at the beginning of they year and then at the end of the year. If it looks like there are fewer people in the second picture, there is. There was a lot of "refining" that happened. 

Students aren't predictable!
I wasn't quite sure how to phrase this. I was thinking about saying, students will mess with your emotions, or students can make you laugh, cry, and smack the table all at the same time. Students aren't predictable definitely sums up what I'm trying to get across.
1. Staying Occupied: When kids are in class they need you to be at your best and have a bunch of exciting things planned for them to enjoy class time. I thought the same would be true in the outside space, but it's NOT. Kids want you to leave them alone when they're outside. They stay busy and they stay happy. They might not be doing the most productive thing, but they know how to entertain themselves. When after school started, we had a bunch of games planned because I was worried riots would start, but I guess they didn't need that. This is just one surprising thing I realized about kids' work habits. 
2. Fighting, arguing, and swearing are normal: It felt like those behaviors ran in their blood. Oh, this was the worst for me. Whenever there was class work time, there was bickering. Lunch time was hell.  It just felt like no matter what happened, students would have problems with one another. When do kids grow out of this?!? What's so hard about communicating in a civil manner?! 

The day to day stuff is still good stuff:
Working in the classroom can get tiring because of the everyday tasks that you have to do everyday: tutor, collect papers, check homework, etc. Yet, those are necessary things and kids and teachers still need that stuff for a successful classroom. Thus it's still good and makes a difference, even though it might sometimes be boring. 
I heart this. 

A career in teaching might not be for me
In high school I wrote many times in my journal that I plan to be a teacher. I was set on it, and it seemed like a career I would enjoy. I wanted to do City Year as a way to gain some classroom experience, beef up my resume, and hopefully absorb a few teaching skills. While I did gain some of those things I realized that teaching is much harder than I thought it would be and working with older students doesn't totally jive with my personality type. At the end of the year my boss told me she envisions me being an excellent kindergarten teacher in the future. At the surface this is a nice compliment, but if you look at it on a deeper level, it also means that I struggled working with the middle school crowd. And I did, but we all did. I know I had successful moments and I know I had challenging moments. 

OR ( a completely different thought on my future career)

A career in teaching might not be for me (yet)
I really want to experience diverse, challenging, exciting, etc. things in my lifetime. Going to college and then going straight into a teaching career seems so restricting to me.  I don't want to be forced to do the standard path that most people do, which is: go to college, get a job just because that's what you should do. With that said, I can tell people that I want to be a teacher when I "grow up," but I don't really want to be a teacher right away. I want to travel, work in the ministry field, try other ventures... there's so much out there to try. I'm not committed to really any long-term career plan at this point in my life. But hey, this could change as fast as my plan to do City Year came about. I'm just thankful that I don't feel the pressure to have life "figured" out. Life should be more of a journey. 

I am so thankful God allowed me to do City Year. It was the perfect thing for me.   

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