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My Greatest Teachers

Nicole's jacket on a chair

Last May I graduated from college and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. A friend of mine recommended City Year and I thought, “Well, it’s just a year. I’ll try it and see what happens.”

A year later, I’m counting the days I have left in my classroom, not ready to say goodbye to my greatest teachers this year: the 22 ten- and eleven-year-olds in my 5th grade classroom.

On the first day of school, I was not expecting my students to teach me much this year. I mean, there was so much I had to teach them, like fractions and how a sentence works. Besides the different Fortnite dances and what the latest meme was, wasn’t I the one supposed to be teaching them?

I was wrong.

Nicole Nover chats with students in her Leadership Lunch group

Children may not yet know the important facts that we learn as we get older, but people often confuse lacking knowledge with lacking wisdom.

My student several grades behind academically has shown me that self-worth is not tied to our grades, a lesson I wish I had learned when I was her age. She takes it step by step on each math problem and sentence. It may take her longer to finish her work, but she is working harder than everyone else in class. She understands that her hard work is a strength that will help her become a veterinarian someday.

My English Language Learners taught me the joy of bilingualism and being proud of one’s past, present and future. Their stories and assignments are filled with love for where and who they’ve come from. Two languages spill out joyfully over an intense game of Jenga during lunch group or an intense game of basketball. They recognize themselves with pride in the book La Mariposa by Francisco Jiménez, a story about kindness and tolerance and perseverance. Most of all, they encourage each other to dream big.

My social-emotional learning focus list students have taught me that all we need sometimes is for someone to listen. These students, who have been labelled as “heavy hitters” because of their behavior, are often the ones who have the most going on outside of school. They do not have the tools to process their emotions, let alone the ones needed to figure out how to act on them, but they are some of my fastest learners. If you listen to them, they will surprise you.

A couple students taught me that a simple “you can do this!” is all that is needed to tackle a long division problem. Several students taught me that a walk can’t solve everything, but it can certainly help. All of them have taught me that a smile can be the most important thing to give a child.

Most of all they have taught me resiliency. No matter what is going on in their lives, my students keep going. They show up, remain enthusiastic about what they love and dream big. Their smiles have helped me get through the toughest days, because if they can do it, so can I.

One of City Year’s core values is Belief in the Power of Young People. When I started City Year, I applied this value to young adults, the City Year AmeriCorps members and the work they are doing. Now, I know this also applies to our students.

Service at City Year goes beyond teaching math facts or new vocabulary words. Service is about believing in our students with everything we have. Service is about helping them believe in themselves. Service is about knowing that they are going to do great things someday, that they are already doing great things.

I am going to soak up the last days I have with my students and see what other lessons I can learn from them.

And then they’re going to change the world, with me as their biggest cheerleader.

Nicole Nover spends time with her students during lunch

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