My service experience this year has taken many unexpected turns because of the pandemic. I had originally planned to focus on after-school care at my service site, a K-8 Catholic school in West Philadelphia, but my primary role is now as the long-term substitute teacher for the first grade class. While I happily accepted this change, the new role did require me to spend quite a bit of time focusing on curriculum, the logistics of teaching, and managing a classroom that is both virtual and in-person.
While these changes have been challenging, there have been moments that have helped me reorient my focus to caring for each individual student. Last week, one of my first graders was having problems at home that we were unaware of until one morning when asked how she was doing, she began crying and telling me all about it. I had to put my lesson plans aside and make sure that I was present to support her and get in contact with our counselor so they could reach out to her family to check on them. After this experience, I have continued to learn more about the other students in my class and the other families that we serve. It has surprised me to learn about all the roles that a school plays in its students’ lives beyond simply educating them in academic subjects. Learning about the challenges that the students face at home has also been a reminder of my own privilege which sheltered me from many of these hardships.
These experiences at school, while challenging, have reinvigorated my desire to be of service to my school and students. I am working towards finding a balance between ensuring my students are prepared academically and supporting them socially and emotionally as they grow up each in their own circumstances. I have made an effort to check in with each of my students individually and am more aware of when one might be having a bad day. I am also working to figure out the ways in which each of them prefers to be supported and encouraged; so, I find myself spontaneously dancing with some while squatting quietly next to the desks of others. While I am by no means the perfect teacher or support system, my recent experiences have reinforced that personal encounters are at the heart of service.
Philadelphia, PA 2020-2021