By: Pat Mumford, Regional Instructional Coach, Western Region

Last week, I ordered a Disney puzzle thinking my granddaughter, who loves Disneyland, would love it. Well, life is like a box of chocolates, or a new jigsaw puzzle.  One never knows quite what to expect as we open the box.  The border is not even a rectangle but a series of curves, like Mickey Mouse’s ears.  The pieces are tiny with detail that only a master puzzle-maker could squeeze on a few centimeters of cardboard.  

As I spent hours piecing this puzzle together, I thought about my teaching experience and that of our AmeriCorps members who come into this service with an enthusiastic desire to make a difference in the world. I believe the young adults who come to make a difference in the lives of the students they tutor and mentor, leave knowing their own lives are forever enriched. While they come expecting to help students grow emotionally, socially, and academically and as they explore the intricate craft of teaching, they also deepen their own growth mindset and social emotional skills.

I was thinking back to standardized test time. A third grader, with more energy than a hummingbird, showed up in her frilly party dress, perfect hairdo, and patent leather dress shoes; obviously, she and her family got the message that testing time is a special occasion. Throughout the test she wiggled, scooted, and tapped those shoes disturbing every other circle-filling test taker in the room. 

I had a puzzle to solve.  

City Year in classroom

How do I honor the validity of standardized test taking, provide the best environment for all of my students, and empathize with my student’s need to wiggle?  “Boys and girls, how about we make this a bit more fun today?  How would you like to take the test with your shoes off?”  They screamed a bit too loud for the test takers next door.  All shoes came off, including the patent leather taps.  It turned out the active little girl was much more comfortable without those shoes and settled right into the task once we began testing again.  

That’s what I love about the teaching profession and that’s what serving with City Year is all about. It is seeing individuals through the lens of opportunity. Whether it is a student you tutor, a team you lead, a partner teacher with limited experience, a school with new hopes and a new vision, a mural to inspire, or a new roommate, every individual is there to enhance your own growth.  

Never a boring moment, challenges big and small, your year of service is truly a year of learning about your students, yourself, and the world around you. It’s intricate, it’s complicated, but the opportunity to grow is only limited by your own mindset.

Now, are there three railroads and one monorail at Disneyland? I’ve never seen so many tracks in my life. Must keep puzzling, must keep puzzling…must...


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