This is Hard. Be Strong.
When people told me City Year would be hard, they talked a lot about long hours and paperwork and getting enough “minutes”. Yes, all those things are challenging. I won’t deny that there were days when I hit my 10th hour of service and thought to myself “how am I going to get through these last 20 minutes of tutoring?” But that isn’t the hard part.
The hard part is seeing the unlimited potential and brilliance of your students every day, but also knowing how hard the systems of oppression in this country will work to take that away from them. The hard part is becoming far too familiar with the smell of pepper spray in the hallways or it being aimed at crowds of parents and students at a basketball game. The hard part is having a student you’ve come to care for so deeply walk into the City Year room and break down over things that no teenager should ever be asked to handle.
The more you care, the harder it gets. I know that might sound strange, but I actually think this is the power of our service. This should be hard. We should be mad. We should be angry because our students are told that everything’s “fair and equal” now, but still grow up in oppressive systems that put them three steps behind from day one. The care and love and respect that we have for our students should be our driving force to push back harder against all the barriers that stand in their way. “Be strong” doesn’t just mean working 12-hour days or making sure you hit that intervention target each week. “Be strong” also means be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others, because we have a lot of work to do in our education systems, in our public policies, and in the hearts and minds of people in this country. “Be strong” to me means that when the hard moments make you want to detach or care a little less – care more. Take every day of service as an opportunity to find joy with your students, to build their confidence, to be their advocate and to amplify their voices as they advocate for themselves.
Aisling is from St. Louis, Missouri and is currently serving as the Team Leader at East High School. She studied psychology at Trinity College Dublin and plans to continue serving students after pursuing a Masters in Social Work.
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