2015-11-10

By Danielle Doolittle, AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast NBCUniversal team with Jeremiah E. Burke High School

Some of the best moments as an AmeriCorps member happen when you get to sit down, observe the class, and listen to the thought-provoking discussions of the students.

I serve at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, MA. Recently, the sophomore English class I support began having structured class discussions to develop the students’ ability to appropriately voice their opinions while actively listening to the thoughts of their peers. Ms. Hernandez, my partner teacher in English, began the discussion with the question: “Is it good advice to tell young people to “follow your bliss?” This prompt stemmed from an article the students had read that week discussing how typical words of wisdom such as “follow your bliss” or “follow your passion” are not always the most realistic advice.

From my seat in the back of the classroom, I started seeing students’ hands raise, eagerly waiting to voice their response. Students discussed that it is important for mentors to tell them they should follow their passions in life because those tidbits of advice are motivating and uplifting. One student, however, began to drive the conversation in a different direction.

Sam* raised his hand and commented, “I believe that is good advice because you should be able to do what makes you happy. I turn 16 next year and I could drop out of school if that’s what makes me happy. This is my life and I should be allowed to choose how to live so if dropping out of school is me following what makes me happy, then I should be able to do that.”

Before I, or the teacher, could have any reaction, another student, Will* responded, “Hey, I agree with you 100% that you should do what makes you happy in life—but, think about what you said. Is dropping out of high school really a smart decision? Will that actually make you happy in the long run? What are you going to do without a high school diploma?”

I am beginning to learn the art of silence with students, recognizing how beneficial it can be to talk less and listen more to the students speak. As one of two adults in the room, I’ll often feel the urge to correct a student or explain to them why a statement such as “dropping out of school will make me happier” should be given a second thought. Although there are times when it is necessary to redirect the conversation or add in another perspective, these high school students are more than capable of conducting productive discussions amongst themselves.

The students at the Burke are intelligent, they are passionate, and they are curious. I am privileged to serve in classrooms filled with strong voices and creative minds. Every day students prove to me the power of young people and as I learn to listen more, I have the pleasure of hearing the thoughts and ideas of brilliant students.

*Name changed to protect student privacy

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