Every experience is a learning experience

The original topic of this blog drastically changed over the course of me actually sitting down to put my thoughts together. I think it’s important for you to know this. Also, there is a piece of City Year “culture” that I would like to thank: PITW or “Putting Idealism to Work” (I’ll explain what this is a little later). It got me thinking in a really different way, and that was a really good thing.

This blog was originally about math. It’s a subject I’ve struggled with since elementary school; that battle continued through my college years. And, surprisingly, it’s also a subject I’ve taken a special interest in during my first few weeks in my fourth grade classroom at Henry Wilson Elementary School.

For the past three weeks, my class has been participating in a “Multiplication Marathon.” Each day during math class, the students take a 60-second quiz on a certain times table. Each time the students pass a quiz (every answer must be correct), they get a sticker that shows their progress on a chart in the classroom. Many of my students seemed to really embrace the activity and actually asked to take the quizzes each day. Their enthusiasm resulted in really impressive improvement. I thought this would be the first of many successes within the classroom.

On Monday, October 4th, I found out some of my students had been cheating on their quizzes; using a chart that was on their name tag or pulling already graded quizzes out of their desks. I was pretty upset and did everything in my power not to show it to the class.

So that’s when I sat down to re-write this blog. But before doing so, I decided to check out my Idealist Handbook (the handbook explains City Year’s ideas, values, programs and techniques) for some insight into how to handle a situation like this. My Handbook did not fail me.

Note: PITW (stands for “Putting Idealism to Work”) “is a collection of ideas written and edited by City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown, but contributed to by many people. It contains 182 pieces of collective City Year wisdom that guide our service and serve as a reference for ways to implement our mission in our daily work.” – The Idealist Handbook 2010-2011 (pg. 21)

PITW #159 This is hard. Be Strong.

Corps members were told repeatedly during Basic Training Academy that there would be days when we would want to throw in the towel; when it would seem like the work we were doing wasn’t making a difference. Monday was not one of those days by any means, but it was the toughest day of my City Year thus far. I think it’s important to remember that while the students we work with need love and encouragement, they also need someone who will hold them accountable with a firm yet gentle heart; and that we, as corps members, need to be held accountable for falling victim to what my teacher calls “the honeymoon phase.”

PITW#81 Seek to be a Coach, Rather than a Parent.

I will always give credit where credit is due. I will always look for the best in my students. I will always remind them that there is nothing they cannot accomplish. And I will also always hold them accountable for their actions. In order to provide my students with the service they deserve, I cannot just be a constant smiling face. I have to make them aware of the unacceptable choices they make and show them how smarter choices not only make their lives better but can have a similar impact on the people around them.

It’s so tempting – and easier – to just be a loving and forgiving element in my students lives, but that will not help them to grow as much as I know they can during the next eight months. I have to challenge them and in turn, challenge myself.

– Abbi

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