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Bittersweet endings

Preparing for the end of service

I’m bitter because it’s April. That means there are TWO months left of service. That means that NINE months have already gone by. Not bad for an English tutor, eh?

I bring up the passage of time with such astonishment because it really is a shock to realize how far we’ve come and how fast time has gone by. It feels like only yesterday our kids were carelessly dismissing our pleas for them to complete their work and referring to us as “Miss City Year” instead of our names on purpose. But no, today our kids are passing their classes, saying please and thank you to adults, getting in fights over who raised their hand first instead of over defending one’s pride, and telling us how much they’re going to miss us after the school year ends.

If you’re an AmeriCorps member, during this time of year you can probably relate to feeling like a five year old who woke up at five am for presents on Christmas morning only to find out that her beloved dog ran away. There’s no better comparison to use to describe the bittersweet feeling of our service coming to an end.

It’s sweet because of so many reasons, and it’s bitter because of the reasons below:

Reason #1: Losing touch with your students at the end of the year
Because of City Year and school policies, AmeriCorps members are not allowed to communicate with our students after our service year has ended. We can’t follow them on social media or exchange phone numbers or even mailing addresses. We won’t be able to know if they make it to high school graduation, or college, or the military, or the NFL. If they make varsity soccer. If they stay off the streets. If they pass next year’s STAAR. If they accomplish all the goals we talked about with them. Not being able to know these things cuts deeper than all of Taylor Swift’s heartbreaks combined.

Reason #2: Never fully knowing the impact that you have on a child’s life
One three-word sentence that you mindlessly murmured during class in passing one hectic day may make a lifelong impact on a child’s life. The truth that remains is that you may never know how deeply your words or actions sink into your students’ (very malleable) brains. You have to have faith that they picked up on some of the lessons you tried to teach them, and believe that they will make the right choices. For some, not being able to answer the question of, “What impact did you create for this individual student?” will prevent them from starting in the first place. But for us, the warriors who fought till the death (well to the end of service), we get an immense amount of satisfaction and gratification from simply knowing that we MIGHT have that impact on another human being that they may have never gotten with anyone else.

Reason #3: Feeling like you didn’t do enough
Even though some our students have made tremendous progress, it’s still difficult not to wonder if you could have done more, given more, or helped more. I wish I was a billionaire so that I could buy all my students new khakis. And maroon shirts. And healthy food. And move them to a bigger house where everyone has their own rooms. And drive them home when it’s raining. And provide them with the latest Jordans. Obviously these are things that I cannot and do not have a right to provide to my students, but there are a million and one ways that I wish I could have helped my students more. But the reality is that you can’t do everything. Whether there are financial constraints, policy guidelines, or personal barriers, one person cannot be the answer to every problem because our kids don’t need saving, and sometimes helping people means letting them figure it out for themselves. That’s why it’s so important to give 110% to our kids every single day, no matter what you’re going through. So that at the end of the day you can trust that you gave them everything you had.

Reason #4: Leaving your best friends
Earlier I mentioned that I loved working with my best friends every day. After this year, we’re all going to different places, working different jobs, meeting different people. I will be moving on to another profession with a new team, maybe in a different city. Who knows? However, I’m not concerned about losing my team as friends because I will still be all up in their grill via social media and texting and calling and Facetiming 24/7. But physically seeing them and making weird faces at them until they spit out their coffee from laughing so hard, is something I am going to miss dearly.

Reason #5: City Year culture runs through your veins.
Every single time someone asks you, “How ya feeling?” you’re going to have to bite your tongue so hard it bleeds to prevent from yelling, “FIRED UP!” Instead of answering with the basic, “I was born ready,” response to when someone asks you if you’re ready for something, you will want to respond, “City Year is always ready!” You’re going to try to do the Texas Break-’em-downs on the dance floor with your new coworkers, and they’re going to pretend they don’t know you. You’re going to use PITWs at your next job to get you through challenging tasks and you will get frustrated when you share them with others, but they don’t say, “Bing.” No one will understand your obsession with red. You will have no idea what to wear in professional settings because you just wore khakis and white shirts with black shoes tied tight for an entire year. You will never forget your name tag. YOU WILL NEVER DO A SPIRIT BREAK AGAIN. Only your cat will listen to your joys because you will become a crazy cat lady like twenty of us did over this year (myself included). Your coworkers will think you have a crush on them if you leave them a post-it with a motivational quote on their desk. No office or work room will EVER be colorful enough for you. You will find yourself correcting other’s grammar and also scolding for profane language (yes, even adults). You will miss the children. You will forget how to act your age since you spent a year with 13 year-olds. People will not understand the slang you picked up from them. People will be shocked when they find out how extensive your knowledge of professional sports is, because you had to do your research to hold up an argument with a child. You will be 10 times more creative and better at problem solving than the most creative person in the room because you were able to pull an interesting lesson plan out of the air on a daily basis. You cannot deny how deeply ingrained the culture is in you.

The things I am bitter about are not simply things I don’t like about my job (if I listed those then khakis would be the main focus of the list, but I survived), but they are the things I will miss about my job. By working with this team at this school, I’ve been introduced to a whole new world (insert Aladdin melody here). The relationships I have built with both my teammates and my students will be as everlasting as the impact City Year has made on my life.

Think about your current job or career. Would your list of things worth missing be this long? If not, re-evaluate whether who you are is aligned with what you do.

Julia Schmidt is an AmeriCorps member at Wheatley Middle School. She is from New Hampshire, and serves to support the students of our community in making a better tomorrow.

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