The first stone that I laid was when I saw one of my students struggling with their math assignment. The classroom was silent except for the student’s exasperated sighs, which went unnoticed. It took an hour but the student and I completed the assignment and worked together until she understood the concept. I left for five minutes, and when I returned I saw the same student showing her peers how to do it, too. It was early in the year and I was unsure if City Year was the right fit, but seeing a founding story in action truly inspired me to keep going.
The City Year founding story that pushed me through the year is called “Cathedral Building.” Its message is about how it takes several generations to complete a cathedral, how most workers never see the outcome of their hard work and the impact of their effort is lost on them. Even though they’ll never see the final product, the opportunity to be a part of something larger doesn’t go unappreciated.
We spend all year working with our students, pushing them to be better and at times it feels lost on them, and almost like the students resent us for believing that they can be better than they were today. Some days we don’t know if the students even like us. But we have no idea how much we affect them, even with small actions like smiling to everyone can cause a reaction. Minor things can build something great.
The service year is hard, and at times you can lose hope in what you’re doing until you get a glimpse of the cathedral. Last week one of my favorite students completely shut down; he was unresponsive to me and had his head laid down. I gave him a pencil and paper and told him to write out his feelings, and I told him that he didn’t even have to give it to me. An hour later I received a two page letter. Inside of it, he expressed that he felt no one cared about him, and how he wishes he had a relationship with his father. He also wrote about how he appreciated how hard I worked for him and that he loves me. To see a ten year old express such complex feelings, I can’t help but believe in his future: that he will be greater and that he’ll continue be great far after I’m gone.
Lucy Blair served at Celerity Dalton School during the 2016-2017 school year. Currently, she is traveling Europe.