2014-11-10

The past four weeks proved to be a tumultuous month. There are so many memories to sort out—the end of Basic Training Academy, my team's introduction to Webster High School, the construction of countless new relationships, a selfie with Michael Brown (City Year's CEO), and so on. While sometimes difficult and frustrating, these experiences have been indescribably meaningful, so I am grateful. The leadership at Webster is exactly what I was looking for: Elliott (our team leader) and Ivan (our program manager) set high expectations, but back off to allow us to create solutions to our own idiosyncratic challenges. The team overall is great: Temi (our External Affairs Coordinator) erodes a bit of my cynicism by the day with her relentless positivity. Maria (our Attendance Coordinator) is quiet, but has a quirky sense of humor. Chase (our Positive School Climate Coordinator) is the best teaching partner I could ever ask for.

With that said, I'll never forget how my nervous excitement shifted to sheer terror as I walked into the classroom for the first time. I had been assigned to a 9th grade algebra class, and as I examined the skeptical faces of the students I would be working with over the next 10 months, a revelation struck me: These kids are trapped in a system that is designed for them to fail. Most of my students are at least two grades behind in reading, and the overall picture can be fairly dismal at times. I've already grown to love my them, though, which I didn't see coming so quickly and so forcefully. Their circumstances are challenging, and they can sometimes be hormonal, erratic, and annoying, but they show beams of self-awareness and perseverance that make it all worth it. I came to Tulsa with the weight of disillusionment on my shoulders, but perhaps the Grinch's heart will indeed grow three sizes this year.

In a letter to his state representative, Will, one of my favorites, wrote about how he's concerned that young African American males are dying by the dozens in cities like Chicago and New Orleans. Sarah, a student in my first period class, once interrogated me on why girls aren't expected to do as well as boys in math—she has the highest grade in the course. Henry, another favorite, told me the he that he hates math with a fiery passion, but wants to go to college to repay his mother's love. His mother had to drop out of high school when he made his dramatic debut in her life. These kids are bursting at the seams with authentic insight, and it constantly reminds me that no matter how much life may attempt to extinguish our fires, we must endure. If nothing else, I want to teach these kids to endure. Sometimes that's enough.

Taking a year off from Harvard was hard—mostly due to FOMO (fear of missing out) and a penetrating fear that I would grow apart from my closest friends. And it's true, every time I think of them I feel the equivalent of a red-hot dagger running through my depths. I realize that I needed this solitude more than expected. Working in the classroom has encouraged me to actively contemplate the factors behind my successes and to investigate my failures. It has bolstered my conviction that education can affirm the humanity of the most disadvantaged student. And like many others around me, I hope it helps me build the moral courage to leave the world just a tiny bit better than I found it. At the very least, I think it safe to describe my experience as enlightening, encouraging, and heartbreaking. Such is the world of urban education. Such is the world of City Year.

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