¡Vamos! I'm ready!

Today, I impacted a student in a way I never thought I could. I was told since the first day of City Year on August 13th, "You are going to have a great impact on all of your students, you will have difficult conversations, and you will build positive working relationships with students that will help you both achieve each of your individual goals, as well as your goals devised through student-corps member intervention."

I was always intimidated by the unceasingly inspirational pictures taken of City Year corps members in service. Many would be looking at some piece of material with writing on it or working on a service project displaying "big, cheesy smiles" on their faces and plenty of "can-do attitude" in spirit. All of the students would beam in such a way that suggested, "Hey, I'm getting this, and you are not only helping me achieve my goals, but you are also a positive role model and a great support system." If only smiles could convey a thousand words...

Would I be able to form those types of relationships? I wasn't sure.

However, I am pleased to say, that happened today. Today marked only the second day of our after-school program called, "After-School Heroes." I had been relatively distracted during the week prior since I am one of the afterschool coordinators for the team, responsible for developing and implementing the program. It is delivered to us with only two guidelines: one half must be homework help and the other half must contain enrichment or service-learning activities.

During the homework help portion of the program, students took out their materials and readied themselves to complete most of their homework during the next hour. The class clown of the sixth grade was performing his usual routine: dancing and traipsing all over the room, yelling some Spanish obscenities, and just plain being sassy. I approached him, asking about his homework situation to get his mind refocused on academics. "I don't have any homework," he lies. The students are assigned homework in every class, every day; it is required by the principal. Considering I had helped him with his math homework yesterday, I asked what he needed to complete for that class. "I don't have the paper; I can't do it."

I soon found out that the corps member stationed in his class had written down the homework for him because he refused to do it himself. After I had the possession of his work for math, I prompted him to complete it. Over the course of the next five minutes, he probably stated nearly twenty times, "I don't want to do it." When I asked, "Why?" or "Is there an issue outside of math you are upset about?" as well as some additional questions, he either replied with the same response or said nothing at all.

I was stumped. After all my years as a camp counselor and as a tutor, I had no idea what step I needed to take next. I did not want to give up on him like some adults had done in the past, therefore I couldn't give up the fight to finish this simple worksheet on reciprocals and dividing fractions. But then, I realized, it's not necessarily the material with which he has an issue.

"Do you like your teacher?"
He shakes his head.
"Is that the issue?"
He nods. After I ensured some mutual trust that I will not mention anything said to his teacher, he says, "I'm not going to do any more work for her, never."
"Why is that?"
"She always says mean things to me, never to anyone else."
"Can you give me some more detail?"
"Mr. C, I'm not going to do the homework!" He put his head in his arms and remained silent, something "unheard" of concerning this student.

However, I decided that I was going to talk about this, whether he liked it or not. He needed to complete this assignment, but more importantly, he needed a totally different mindset walking into that classroom.

Then, I started talking, talking, talking. "I have had many teachers who have not inspired me, teachers who I felt had disrespected me, and teachers who have tested me on material that they did not even teach. Yes, all of them made be very frustrated, but you have to realize that this is not your teacher's education, this is your education. I know you're trying to get back at her because you don't like her. I know you don't want to complete this assignment because you want her to get angry. But, why would that make her stop calling you out? Why would that make her stop coming up to you individually to discuss your behavior in her class? If anything, everything you hate about her will only get worse. So, she gets angry, that gives you short-term satisfaction, but like I said, this is your education. While she wants you to succeed, she can't make you stop making the choice to do your work. Yea, this might be one little assignment, but it will affect your grade, your understanding of the material, and your enjoyment of the class. The only issue it will add for your teacher is writing a lower score in her book versus a higher one. Your success in math this year, next year, and for the rest of your life is completely in your hands. If you want to join the Air Force, they need to see some great math scores (white lie, whatever) if you want to be accepted. High schools, colleges, and the armed forces alike will not like the answer to the question: 'What's up with these math scores? Why are they so low?' to be 'Oh, I just didn't like my teacher.' Don't let one person stand in between you and your biggest dreams; you are too smart and too mature to let that happen. You do not have to like any teacher you have, but you do need to treat them all with respect. I will always be here to help you, but I can't help you achieve your goals until you set them for yourself. As long as you do not give up on yourself, I will never give up on you. If that means I will have to sit here until 10pm waiting for you to complete this assignment, then that's what I am going to do."

I talked for twenty minutes, occasionally pausing, hoping he would chime in. He slowly went from having his head slumped down to looking right at me with epiphany in his eyes. "Alright, I'll do it!" he finally interjects. "¡Vamos! I'm ready!"

Clearly, he had not payed his teacher much attention that day because he did not understand any of the concepts. So, I needed to quickly reteach the lesson to him. He finished the worksheet after about 15 minutes. The smile on his face was worth all of the time spent; he even ran around to some of his friends bragging that he completed the assignment. While I'm no fan of gloating, it was great to see that he was proud of what he had accomplished.

I had never spoken to a brick wall for over a half hour before, but I slowly made it crumble. This is the greatest job in the world. While I am not making much money or earning any college credit, I am teaching many students valuable academic, social, and emotional skills they can use for the rest of their lives. I am making them happy, and I'm making myself happy doing it. That's all that really matters.