By Zach Davidson, AmeriCorps member serving on the Advent International team with Condon K-6 School
William* is the pencil-tapping, hip-shaking, fast-talking student that seems to set any classroom he goes into ablaze with energy. For the longest time, I tried to quell that energy by redirecting him towards his work. But, one day at recess, he showed me a new approach.
I was playing basketball with a group of students that included William when, of his own volition, he called over to another student that didn’t have a lot of friends in our class: “Hey Jordin!* Come on over here and I’ll show you how to shoot free throws!” William spent the rest of recess teaching me and Jordin his “patented” free throw technique. After seeing him in action, William’s different behaviors started to knit themselves into a pattern. He was always trying to talk to other students, offer suggestions about their schoolwork or their hair.
The next day in English Language Arts, the class was brainstorming for the essays that everyone would be writing as a final assignment after reading the novel Esperanza Rising. When William started up his usual chatter with the student next to him, instead of asking him to quiet down, I had him move to a seat next to another student who was struggling and help them finish the assignment. At the end of class they both showed me pages full of thoughtful insights about Esperanza’s character.
When we talk about student growth it is very easy to get caught up in a numbers’ game, focusing very intently on students’ scores rather than their learning. A phrase that is passed around City Year is "We must never lose the human aspect of what we are doing." It is a constant reminder of the importance of our positions as mentors and role models in addition to being tutors. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this past January, one of the members of City Year Boston’s Learning and Development team offered a poignant observation to tie this thought together: “We don’t need a training day to teach you all how to love your students.”
William’s gift is his capacity to reach out to his classmates and bring out the best in them. He succeeds when he is helping others do the same. However, this kind of innate desire to connect with others is not always represented on tests that so often determine a student’s progression through their academic career. In light of this, I think one of my most important roles is acting as an exclamation point to draw attention to the human aspects of our students that are not so easily quantified.
*Name changed to protect student privacy