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Looking Back

December 19, 2011

Photo by Laura Slotkoff

By Michael Cohn-Geltner, Service Team Leader

When I interviewed for my current position as a Service Team Leader, my current supervisor asked me, “Would you miss working with kids?”

I responded with, “I’ll be okay if I never have another 3rd grader call me retarded.”

She nodded knowingly and jotted down a note.

I joined City Year as a mid-year corps member.  My first day in the schools was January 1st, 2011.  By the time of the interview I had been working full-time in an elementary school for three months.   The amount of verbal abuse I received every day from children that barely came up to my waist wore me out.

And sometimes it became physical.  I had students kick me and throw books at me.

These acts of wild rage were the cusp of a bigger problem; fear of school.  Students would look at a work sheet and immediately ask for me help. When I would come over, I would ask “What do you need help with?” the answer often was, “the whole thing!”

At the time, I wanted to be a part of City Year but, I did not want to be a leader of a school team.

But, as March bled into April, the slings and arrows of outrageous children affected me less.  Instead, the positive moments stood out.  One student, who I’ll call Donovan, was taking a test and made a mistake.  Instead of correcting the test, he scribbled gibberish all over the page, bawled it up, and threw it on the ground. In the next period he diligently did his math work.

At least he did his math work.

These moments still shine on in my memory.

Even though students called me dirty names to the day I left the school, by the end of the year I began to regret my previous statement of, “I’ll be okay if I never have another 3rd grader call me retarded.”

I realized I could not make a difference without being called some dirty names.

Early in May I had been offered the position of service leader.  I asked if I could switch and become a Team Leader.  By that time the final Team Leader position had been filled.

Still, I have no regrets.  I plan Leadership Development Days, or LDDs, as a service leader. On LDDs, corps members corps members learn skills such as how to write a resume, or listen to a speaker present on the history of Thanksgiving.  I enjoy my jobs but, I do miss my students.  Even the one who called me retarded.

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