By Jared Burris – Student Conservation Association’s NH AmeriCorps Member
While it would be easy for me to say how much impact we have had in schools the past couple months, and how we have jump-started growth and positive change in the students, I would be sugar-coating things to say that it has been a walk in the park. Sure, we have made many positive connections with students, and we feel as though we have taught them many things. But let me tell you, especially pertaining with after-school, we have been tested.
Don’t get me wrong, I see this as a good thing. I for one didn’t join this program to necessarily teach the students who already love what we have to tell them, and who have the resources and environment to explore them more thoroughly. Those are the ones who are easy to teach and easy to love.
No, I am here for the “problem kids.” The students who don’t care about the lesson because they didn’t choose to join the club. They would rather be somewhere else, and they certainly don’t want to do any “learning” after the final bell has rung. They complain about every single activity we do, even before we’ve finished explaining them. They’re apathetic when we do begin, no matter how much fun their schoolmates are having.
They beat down your ego every single week because you feel as though you have crafted the perfect lesson; the kind where there’s no way they won’t have a blast and they will learn some things without even realizing it. But they hate it. They insult the product that you put so much hard work into and they insult you. You do your best not to take it personally, but you rack your brain all week trying to figure out how to reach them. You know there’s a way to do it, you just have to work harder. But it happens again and again. You have an activity that those who participate absolutely love, and those who refuse to even try have a terrible time.
The club as a whole suffers because of the few who can’t meet behavioral expectations. Despite all your beliefs about education and working with children, and no matter how many times you’ve told yourself you won’t give up on them, you manage to let just a bit of doubt creep in. “Why do you do this? Is this really your calling? Why even try to teach them? You might as well just let them run around and play. Just play basketball with them for an hour. Who cares if the club is called Nature Explorers? The kids just want to have fun.”
It hangs out for a bit, but then you get back to work on the next lesson and stamp it out. “This is the one,” you tell yourself. There’s not a chance that they don’t love this one! So the day comes and you go into the school. All day long you and your teammates have been positive, telling each other that this is going to be a good day. You really believe, as you have every time, but this time you have no doubt. This time, when the day ends and you walk back to the van, you were so right. One of the toughest students, who refused to participate the week before and who had tears of defiance in his eyes most of the time a couple weeks before that, was glowing today.
The smile he had on his face almost made you tear up yourself. He even tried leaving his second program in order to participate with your next group. He gave you a high-five on the way out, when the week before he said “don’t touch me” when you put your hand on his shoulder. You even overhear him telling a student that is complaining that the club is fun. It may sound ridiculous to some, but that smile and that high-five mean more to me than a perfect class of well-behaved students who understood every concept you introduced to them. So yeah, I’m not going to lie, this particular student didn’t learn too much about nature with us in the hour that he spent with us each week. But I would call his time spent with us far from a failure or waste of time.