I come from a small school in a big city. I spent most of my time studying, I never had a job and I sold cookies for pocket change. I was one of a few gifted students who worked hard to get noticed for being good in school. Starting co-op as a Miller Fellow at Yellow Springs High School, I realized I never knew how students who were completely opposite from me were treated.
Starting off, I had a two week delay due to paperwork issues. I didn’t spend that time sulking and lounging, I organized my life. I started doing my artwork. I created a health care routine. I even got to spend more time with my cat. Of course, towards the end of the two weeks, I was afraid I’d have to find another job, but then I got the email that I could start the next day.
During high school, I always found myself being a teacher’s assistant and I feel like I’ve always been able to interact with students in a productive and inspiring way. This skill came in handy when I found myself working with students who were left behind. I had four young men in the 9th grade that I worked with. All of the them were sweet, active and unmotivated. I spent the majority of my time encouraging them to work and making sure that they would do well. Yellow Springs High School is a project-based learning school, so I was assigned to help them with their final project illustrating the Hero’s Journey.
Outside of this assignment, I spent a lot of time helping gather materials and making banners for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. As a gender-fluid bisexual who never had this type of safe space in my school, I felt like it was a great opportunity to inspire younger queer students. They actually liked me a lot and wanted to know what I thought about current LGBTQ events.
Yellow Springs High School does not normally require students to do work outside of school and also works on an A and B day schedule. Due to the schedule, I would only see one group every other day. I made sure to get a firm understanding of their schedule, using detentions, after school time and study halls to our advantage to help them complete their project. Both groups decided on a simple board game with cards and spaces that illustrate the story. One group made their project about basketball. The other group, against my advice, made a game about the video game Fortnite.
Every day, I found myself either battling with their attention or telling them that they knew what they were doing. These are students who were just allowed to fall behind when they didn’t want to do work, but with me, they were putting in the work. The week before their exhibition night, they began to come in with a plan—exactly what they were going to do and exactly what they needed my help on. I was honestly proud.
Exhibition night arrives, and I find that my boys were surrounded by other students eager to play their games. Their projects were incredible and I was so proud. They all received A’s and, I’ll say it again, I was so proud. The next time I saw them, though, I wasn’t working with them as directly. They were excited to see me and tell me how they were, even expressing a small bit of worry when they didn’t see me for a day.
I’ve never been really interested in teaching or being a teacher. I took this job in order to be an artistic helper, but over my time with the students, I realized I love being a good and honest influence on younger people. I’m not much older than these students but I feel like I impacted them in a positive way. Once again, I am proud of them and myself. There are students that get swept under the rug because teachers don’t have time to check in with every student at all times. However, when students get the small amount of extra attention, they can do amazing things that they didn’t even know they could do.
I most likely won’t work in a school again, but I still appreciate this opportunity to make a difference and seek out the diamonds in the rough.