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Week three: Money doesn’t mean anything if you’re doing something you love

At the beginning of the week, one of my teammates Dylan told the Markham team in morning circle that he worked 68 hours the prior week at school and in the office editing his “why I serve” video montage (which is now up on the CYLA blog site!)

Although my week was not that long, it definitely gave me a reality check that the long 5 a.m.-6:30 p.m. days we’re reeling in don’t get tiring because we’re doing something we love. Sure, I have bags under my eyes every day. My kids have even told me that “Ms. Liz, you don’t get enough sleep” or “Ms. Liz, you need to wear make-up” (another reality check: kids speak their minds and are blunt. They don’t lie. When they tell me I look like I’m dying, they’re right). I think one of my roommates once calculated how much money we’re making by the hour based on our stipend and it was something like $2.00. But that doesn’t even come to mind when I think about my job. I could be doing something right now that would pay somewhat well and enough that I could start saving my money for when I’m actually an adult, but why would I want to do that if I don’t enjoy the work I’m doing and feel that it’s meaningful? That’s what I love about this program – people think and reason like me when it comes to issues such as no money but long, energy-sucking hours.

The hours at Markham are going by quickly, but getting more stressful day-by-day. My students have become a lot more comfortable with the teachers and I and have started acting up. Last week the teachers and I had to address bullying problems with some of our students. I forgot how cruel middle school was. One of the biggest challenges some corps members face at Markham is working on behavior with students (I could go into detail about how and what, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to write about other corps member’s classroom experiences without their permission).

My biggest challenge I’ve come to realize, on the other hand, is not behavior management, but simply teaching the rules of English. I have been keeping a list of words my kids mix up and spell wrong a lot – for example, “wut” for what, “sum” for some, “wus” for was, “kip” for keep, “pict” for picked and the ongoing issue of past vs. present tense like “we puted” instead of “we put.” Some of the words – as well as those words with i’s and e’s – will be teachable because of repetition. My teammates gave me a couple of ideas of how to tutor my students in English since they’re all at different levels and aren’t all having trouble with the same concepts. One idea is to make each student an individual notebook and write down the words and sentences that they are spelling wrong or writing wrong so they can keep the book as a reference and learn visually. I think it’s a great idea and I’m going to implement it soon. There’s one student that I have yet to figure out how I am going to teach him. Sometimes I can’t even understand what he is writing in his quick writes. I copied a paragraph he wrote: “We went to is grandpa or to is dog amd by frient was criayng because we de not so the dog amd we went go to sestpe is was ni her room amd my frient was help to se is dog.” This particular student can read very well and always participates in class, but his reading and conversational English skills do not translate to his written skills. He is basing his English writing off of probably rules of his native language – Tagalog- and I have no idea where to even start with him. I’m still brainstorming how to get through to him besides repetition and helping him spell. I know I’ll eventually find a solution because English is my strong point.

This week’s tally with the math v. Warden race is 5 to 1 (yes, 6th grade math is STILL winning). I started tutoring my kids in math by going over two problems they got wrong on their homework, which I think was somewhat successful (even though sometimes my kids had to correct me on my multiplication … oops). One of my students got so sad that he got most of his homework wrong and wouldn’t believe me when I told him he was simplifying exponents wrong (for 3 to the 4th power he was just multiplying 3×4 instead of 3x3x3x3). Quote on quote he said, “But I can’t get my problems wrong. I want to go to a good college. I should be getting these right.” I told him that getting math problems wrong isn’t going to keep him away from college and that I barely got through middle school math and still went to a good college. I’ve got to realize though that he’s only 11 and very stubborn; he would not look me in the eyes when he was working on his problems because he was so mad at himself. I just kept repeating over and over again, “I’m here to help you and work with you this year. Remember that. I want you to do well, so when I tell you you got a problem wrong it’s only for the best.” I hope he’s not as stubborn when I try to work with him again, but he’s such a confident kid that I know he’s ironically going to be one of the hardest to correct. Maybe next week I’ll gain some more points on 6th grade math. This isn’t a friendly competition.

This weekend two of my best friends from home, Jess and Kelsey, came to LA to just get out of the bay for a little bit. It was great to catch up and even recap middle school memories (especially about how many fights I got in with teachers, how many times I was in the principal’s office, what teachers I made cry, etc.) I told my English teacher that believe it or not I was a little brat in middle school and hopefully can use my experiences to share with my students and make them realize that they need to behave. I really didn’t start behaving until sophomore year in high school, which was almost too late to start caring about school and go to college. Looking back, if I had stayed on the same path I was in middle school and the beginning of high school (stubborn, big attitude), I probably wouldn’t have graduated from a good college. So students, listen up and shape up like I did.

Jess and Kelsey helped me pick out a backpack for school. We were picking between a bunch of different colors, but I decided on a light blue one to copy my light blue one from middle school. Everyone signed their names on my middle school backpack (which I still have at my mother’s house!) so I’m thinking to re-live that and get my team to sign my backpack. It’s middle school all over again!

This weekend I was also given the opportunity to represent CYLA on and write about my experiences as a corps member. Although I haven’t heard of the website until the communications brand manager told me about it, I looked through previous corps members posts and got really excited. People actually read this site (and retweet it!) and as much as I will be writing for the CYLA blog, it’s readership is definitely less than this site and now my experiences can go national. I can’t wait to tell my team about it on Monday because that means my team and Markham Middle School will be read about on a larger context, which will hopefully inspire others. My team is awesome and I see this as not just an opportunity for me to get another byline online, but as a team opportunity to let others really see the work we’re doing.

Our after-school program starts on Monday and I am working with my teammate Charlotte because my team leaders split up teams based on math-shy and math-friendly people (amen to that!)

I am submitting my Peace Corps application this week!! It’s finally done (thank you Kelly, Amy and Damien for being recommendations, thank you Jamey for editing/going over the application with me).

More to come in a week.

Our City Year room is almost decorated. This is my favorite part of the room, our status update wall:

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