As an adult working in a middle school I often reflect upon my adolescence. Of course I think about the school I attended, the teachers I both liked and disliked but my focus usually shifts to the non-academic opportunities I experienced. Summer camp, dance classes, flute lessons, athletics. These character building activities shaped who I would become, a confident, enthusiastic young woman who dreams of being a leader in education reform.
I think about what I gained from these experiences and I try to instill these qualities in my students. How can I give kids with limited resources the opportunities we’ve come to think of as luxuries?
Last summer I saw a job posting for Citizen Schools and I immediately applied. The name said it all. A favorite professor of mine had once asked what we thought the role of schools is in society. “To produce good citizens,” I blurted without hesitation. This is essentially what we expect the younger generation to become; good people who contribute to their community in positive, meaningful ways.
One way I try to instill these values is by creating a strong sense of team in my classroom. We are known as Team Naismith, after James Naismith, a pioneer in the field of recreation and the man who created the sport of basketball. During our weekly circle, students enter the circle, introduce themselves, and say their team name. Their teammates respond with our callback, “Where amazing happens!” It’s inspirational, it’s joyous and it’s true. Our classroom is where amazing happens. In two and a half quarters of a school year I’ve seen such incredible growth as academic students and as members of a community. They are respectful, they take pride in their work, they persevere through challenges and they try their best to never let their team down.
I cannot erase the realities of my students’ home lives, prevent every school fight, or shelter them from gang activity and substance abuse but I can expose my students to new opportunities, help build strong characters and teach them to dream of brighter futures. And as long as I have a team, I’ll do just that.