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Week five: keeping my emotions separate from my work

I’ve spent a whole Sunday writing with extreme writer’s block. You’d think I’d be able to bust out two articles in two hours, considering the 13-person house I live in has been empty this weekend.

I only wish.

The peaceful environment at the Manor was much appreciated this weekend. Most of my roommates were out and about with their families exploring the city. I was able to reclaim my big blue couch, curl up in a ball with my laptop next to me and think of the perfect lede and ending for my stories. College weekend throwback!

All of my responsibilities at Markham have snuck up behind me and are now overcrowding over my shoulder. I have so much to get done this week, it’s hard to even grasp where to start. Our teacher appreciation breakfast is coming up at the end of October, which my roommate Daniel and I are responsible for funding through donations. I am part of the outreach team for Markham, meaning I cold-call businesses around Los Angeles asking for donations for our events. I did my first cold-call last Thursday – or the first one since j-school. Now I remember how much fun they were (partial sarcasm here). I’m getting a little nervous that we won’t get the donations we need in time, but I have to stay true to my pueblo name and “NEVER DOUBT!”

This week was a little more intense than usual because I learned a lot more on a personal level about some of the students I work with.

I read something I wasn’t expecting.

One of my students in my after school program – who is one of those students that immediately clicked to City Year even though she doesn’t have City Year in her classroom – wrote something on one of her assignments that I’ll never let go.

She asked me for help on her homework and together we brainstormed what made a “good writer.” We came up with a few things: using humor in writing and coming up with a catchy introduction to captivate the reader’s attention. After she made a little outline about that, she was supposed to write an autobiography about herself. She jotted down a paragraph and asked me to read over it. I thought I was just going to be reading over her grammar and spelling, but as soon as I read the first line I knew it was going to be hard to keep reading the rest.

The paragraph said something like this: “My name is ____ and I am 11-years-old. I am a foster child. I was taken away from my parents when I was 10 years old. I changed homes, but now I live with my aunt. I love my auntie. I love my family.”

She must have wanted me to read that. As soon as I finished the paragraph it was hard not to cry or not get apparently teary-eyed. Here I had in front of me just the most adorable and sweetest 11-year-old I know. She’s an 11-year-old who has high aspirations and wants to attend UCLA (she made me a paper flower the other day that said UCLA on it as a symbol of where she wants to go to college). An 11-year-old that does all of her homework. She’s an 11-year-old that is caring and loving. You would never guess in a thousand years that she’s gone through that hardship in her life.

At that point, I just wanted to take her under my wing. I started to think, “What’s she going to be doing in ten years? Will I know? In 20 years?” Although she knows what she needs to do to get to college, part of me wants to keep in touch with her until she makes it there. I know she lives with her aunt now, but with an unstable home life, she might not have someone always checking up on her.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that paragraph for the rest of the day and night. As I’ve said in earlier posts, the ESL students are a little different from the African-American population at Markham. None of my students in class are foster students and all come from families where at least they have an older sibling, parent or grandparent as their family.

I’ve heard about the high percentage of foster children in urban schools throughout LA, but this was the first time I’ve come face-to-face and heart-to-heart with one personally. It’s just heartbreaking.

The student made the Markham team this drawing and presented it to us during final circle after our after-school program. The Markham team’s reply? “AWWWWWWWWWW”

After this student told me she wanted to go to UCLA, I thought of an activity we could do at the end of the year. In my sorority during college we had “senior wills.” For example, last year I willed my favorite pair of pink sunglasses and sweatshirt to my little sister in my sorority because I graduated.

I thought it would be awesome to give students some of our old college gear. One of my teammates, Becky, went to UCLA. I told Becky that she should will this particular student one of her UCLA shirts or sweatshirts and tell her that she wore it during her time at UCLA and that student will do so as well. It’s just a small gesture that could mean a lot to these kids and motivate them even more to attend schools in LA like UCLA and USC.

On the other hand, my student that got suspended last week is back in class and had to make an apology to the whole class for cussing in class. My English teacher and I decided he will be my little project this year. However, having a substitute teacher on Thursday did not help that. My students were running around like they would in a zoo, hitting each other, yelling, sitting on top of desks, throwing paper balls, and the list goes on. I got them to listen to me enough to get their work done, so I’d say it was successful and wasn’t complete chaos.

Going into this next week I am vowing that I am going to take time off of focusing on one of my very needy students who is an emotional roller coaster. One moment he’s crying because he doesn’t want to do exponents and literally falls down to the ground at my feet in defiance and another moment he’s laughing and socializing with the City Year corps members. It really just depends on the time of the day with him. However, when he has his little tantrums, I often chase after him around the school to calm him down. As my team leader said, when he talks to me, it’s the only time he’ll really calm down. Although he needs a strong support system from City Year because he is the student that gets bullied all the time and called “gay” and “lady,” he’s sucking my time from tutoring other students after school. My team leaders and I are going to call his mother this week to work it out where he respects and responds to things we ask him to do without it taking 10 or so minutes to get him to agree to do something. As much as I love him, he’s a little boy with a BIG attitude. I feel like it’s my duty to keep track of him and help him through all the bullying he faces (I can’t count how many times he’s cried already). He reminds me so much of one of my best friends from home. Once again, however, I have to separate my emotions from my work and understand that he’s not the only student that needs my help, even if he reminds me of my friend.

Peace Corps update: my interview is this Friday! I’m so excited to talk with my recruiter and start this process. She was a secondary English teacher in the Ukraine for her service. I think she is the recruiter for all former USC students, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll spend all week nights this week prepping for the interview!

G’night!

Liz

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