“Good morning, Mr. Aligada!” Dee shouted as he skipped towards me across the Meyer Elementary School courtyard. I responded back, “Good to see you Dee!” As we did our secret handshake, I encouraged him to have an awesome day and watched him make his way to his classroom. This quick moment between Dee and I is quite memorable to me because our relationship has not always been this harmonious.
At the start of the year, everyday felt like a battle. Going into my partner teacher classroom, I often thought to myself, "what would be today: inappropriate language, fighting, or the usual disrespect from Dee?" From early on, Dee was identified as the class clown. He sought every opportunity to crack jokes and make his classmates, and often himself, laugh. His combination of wit, energy, and boldness often led him to make poor behavior choices and ultimately, earning a frequent letter home to his parents. Incident after incident, I began to feel more defeated with my progress in building a trusting relationship with Dee.
While to his peers Dee was the class-clown, I saw him as an intelligent student with great potential. Based on his benchmark scores, he was the second most advanced reader in his class. One day, I had the idea to share a college level book with Dee that I had been reading. He showed interest right away and proceeded to read a page out loud with impressive fluency. I also noticed that, in addition to his exceptional reading skills, he was quite proud of his "drawing skills" as he called it. He was quick to flaunt his creative projects and clearly articulate the reasoning behind his artistic choices.
After spending more time together, I realized that Dee's joking behavior was his yearning to genuinely be seen and heard by others. Moreover, my original mentorship strategy of, "I'm the adult, therefore you must respect me," was unrealistic. As I showed more interest in his ideas and listened intently, Dee shared more about himself. It was in this time that I finally began to hear his jokes and appreciate his witty humor. In return, I felt that he too began to acknowledge and hear me as well.
When we enter our service year, we are motivated to change the lives of children for the better. We hope to teach them to be more equipped students and respectful classmates. Though noble and big-hearted, I believe our service year is much deeper than student success metrics. In the same way I am serving with City Year to teach students, our students have so much to offer and teach us. Perhaps, we simply need to be open enough to genuinely listen and share a laugh with them.
Written by City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley AmeriCorps Member, Paolo Aligada, who served on Donald J. Meyer Elementary School Team from 2017-2018. The work of Paolo and his team was made possible by Team Sponsor, The Werner Family Foundation.