This fall is the first time in four years that I will not be starting out the school year by spending my Tuesday afternoons with a group of inner city middle school students. During the previous three academic years, I have volunteered as a Citizen Teacher in the Citizen Schools expanded learning time program. I have taught the basics of Commercial Real Estate and real estate development through a program called City Building; Real Estate Math, which was all math all the time based on the premise that Math + Fun = Better Math Grades; and The Race to the Presidency, an apprenticeship about the process of electing an American President.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the Citizen Schools’ mission of leveling the playing field for inner city students attending public schools. Through programs like Citizen Schools, inner city students are exposed to opportunities that are commonplace for their peers in wealthier suburbs, private and charter schools. I often joke that if there is a cab driver in the city of Boston who doesn’t know about Citizen Schools then I haven’t been in his cab. If I’ve been in a cabbie’s car over the last three years, particularly on a Tuesday afternoon leaving my financial district office tower to head to one of Boston’s middle schools schlepping an array of supplies for my apprenticeship, then he has heard about Citizen Schools, how great I think the program is, the importance of the college to career connection, and how anyone can make a difference in a young person’s life.
Which brings me to my point, just because I can’t teach this year doesn’t mean you can’t? If you live or work in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, or Texas you can volunteer as a Citizen Teacher. Here are my 15 Reasons to Volunteer as a Citizen Teacher with Citizen Schools:
- The fifteen bright, amazing and energetic middle school students enrolled in your apprenticeship. On the worst day, it is hard not to have your mood changed by this cute, energetic and rambunctious group of 11 – 13 year olds. Most days, their energy is a positive force in your life that brings an instant smile to your face, but, I am not going to lie and pretend that there aren’t days when that same cute, energetic and rambunctious group of 11 – 13 year olds will wear on your last nerve. Those days, truly are few and far between and forgotten before the following week rolls around.
- Teaching an apprenticeship forces you out of your comfort zone. Whatever that comfort zone is, whatever you do for a living it is an entirely different world than that of a middle school classroom. My 9 – 5 world is quiet and full of legal documents and financial models. Nothing in it prepared me for the daily life in a middle school.
- The random yet meaningful conversations you have with students. Where else but Citizen Schools do you get to have a conversation with a 12 year old about how she wants to get into entertainment and be a lawyer, but she doesn’t know what kind of law she wants to practice. You get to witness her aha moment as she realizes she can pursue a career in entertainment law.
- The young children in your life will think you are a superhero. My nieces think I walk on water because I’m a teacher. I’ve brought them into my classrooms and they think it’s incredible that their aunt is a teacher – they don’t differentiate between classroom teacher and volunteer teacher. It is even more amazing to them that I have two jobs; one in real estate and one as a teacher. Somehow that ups my cool aunt factor.
- The unexpected moments; one of my favorite moments was when one of my apprentices snuck back into the classroom when he was supposed to be lining up for dismissal to tell me he loved me and couldn’t wait for our apprenticeship the following week. Ah, makes me melt even thinking about it. There is a good possibility that he knew I had leftover cookies and was looking for extra snacks.
- You will improve your public speaking skills. A certain part of each class (no matter how hands on the material is) involves you talking at the front of a classroom. No joke, at first the very thought frightened and bewildered me. Eventually, I mastered it and feel very comfortable in front of a class of middle school students. I am pretty soft spoken and one of my fears was that my students wouldn’t be able to hear me. Along the way, I developed a teacher’s voice that loudly projects across the classroom.
- You get to go on field trips. And, since you are the teacher you get to decide how many. Who doesn’t like field trips? I’ve seen the amazing views from the roof of the fifth tallest building in the City of Boston on a Citizen Schools’ field trip.
- You get to be part of something bigger than yourself. When you become a Citizen Teacher you become part of a powerful, dynamic group of second shift educators who are changing the face of public school education across our nation. Talk about WOW.
- You get to go to WOWs, the signature showcase event held on Citizen Schools’ campuses and cities across the nation in the Fall and Spring. At these events students show off to audiences of community members, school personnel, family and friends what they’ve learned over the course of a semester in your apprenticeship. I attend lots of WOWs not just the ones I am part of, but since my students each take two apprenticeships per semester, I attend as many of their other WOWs as possible. One of my favorite WOWs is the mock trial WOWs held at local courthouses (in Boston it is held at the Moakley Courthouse); it is amazing to watch these junior litigators in action.
- You get to witness amazing moments in a child’s life (and be a part of that moment). One moment in particular that stands out for me was with one of the boys in my first real estate apprenticeships, whom I will call David. David had severe literacy issues and often was unable to write one sentence on a piece of paper. David had difficulty spelling and that inability paralyzed his writing. One afternoon as the semester was nearing the end, the students were working on their statements for WOW, and David sat staring at a blank paper; with lots of encouragement and help sounding out words, David was able to write six complete sentences for his WOW statement.
- Both your personal and professional network will expand. I have met leaders within my industry that I would not have had the opportunity to meet had it not been for my involvement in Citizen Schools. There are also people I consider friends who I would not have met had we not been involved in Citizen Schools.
- You get to observe the progress a child can make in their development in one academic year, even one semester. Jean-Claude and his family were originally from Haiti and when he spoke it was with a deep Haitian accent that some of his classmates had difficulty understanding. He was a very reticent child. His shyness was painful not only for him but for me to watch. At the start of the semester, he barely spoke a word and it took much cajoling to get him to participate. By week 8 of the semester, he had blossomed into an eager, always willing to participate, vibrant student. An amazing metamorphous.
- If you work for an organization that truly values community involvement as part of their organizational culture; your work within the community with Citizen Schools will be valued. And, you will be deemed a more valuable employee for embracing your organization’s values and embodying them through your community service work.
- You will make a lasting impact on the lives of your students. I have students, who I taught four years ago when they were in middle school, who still text me to check in even though they are now sophomores in high school.
- Without a doubt, I have found that teaching an apprenticeship is the best 90 minutes of my work week. Spending time with a group of energetic middle school students is unlike anything else I do. It is rewarding and fun. It is often said that Citizen Schools changes lives; it is not only the students’ lives that are changed. Citizen Schools will change your life too if you volunteer to be a Citizen Teacher.
If you are ready to find out more information about volunteering with Citizen Schools check out their FAQ for volunteers. The only question is “What Will You Teach?” Still not convinced or need more information, leave your questions, comments and favorable criticisms in the comment section and I will respond.