A Young Teacher Reflects

One of my former student at Wheaton College recently sent an email updating me on her life since graduation. With an abundance of options, Laura Peters, my student, decided after long reflection to join City Year and teach middle school in San Jose California.  Here’s some of her email to me:

“It has been an interesting three months already!  I am on a team of

twelve Corps Members serving Lee Mathson Middle School on the east

side of San Jose.  My team is the only team serving at a middle

school, the other four teams serve at elementary schools.  I tutor 8th graders at 2nd and 3rd grade

reading levels who never learned how to read correctly when they moved

from Mexico; students who at age 13 think it’s safer to join a gang

than excel at school.  My iPhone was stolen from my unlocked cubby

during 7th/8th grade lunch, and buying a new one on my Corps Member

salary certainly wasn’t a fun experience. But the work is so necessary, especially at the middle

school level, and I wake up every morning tired but ready to work.

Already I know that my classroom experience is shaping my views on public education, and I can’t wait to figure out my next move.

One of the most upsetting parts of watching “Waiting for Superman” was

realizing that the 5 kids profiled in the film had such a hard time

succeeding, and the students I am working with sometimes have less

than those 5 students.  The kids in the movie had parents who were engaged,

informed about their options, and could speak the language in which

their childern were learning.”

And yet, here is Laura’s inspiring message about dedicating her City Year bomber jacket, from a recent blog post

Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation… It is from numberless diverse acts of courage… [and]… belief that this human history is shaped.  Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

– Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation Address, University of Cape Town, South Africa

While most City Year sites wear the red jacket, the sites in LA and San Jose wear yellow because in this region of the country, red is a charged color.


On Friday, October 1, 2010, the entire City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley site will come together for our Bomber Dedication Ceremony.  It is a City Year tradition in which each Corps Member dedicates his/her bomber jacket to a person, idea, or cause that inspires them to serve.

When I found out about this event, I was bewildered.  I was completely at a loss for words or inspiration on whom or what to dedicate my jacket.  I was told that in the past, many Corps Members have dedicated their jackets to relatives, mentors, specific students, even ideas as large as the fight for social justice or the imbalanced education system.

For me, finding a specific person to dedicate something as powerful as a representation of my City Year service year is difficult.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my family and friends.

High school English teachers, dance teachers and college professors inspired me to follow my dreams, no matter how lofty they were.  Students from all over the country – a small New Hampshire dance studio, a charter school for at-risk students in Massachusetts, and every single student I serve at Lee Mathson Middle School in San Jose – have fueled my passion for social justice.

I came across the founding story, Ripples, in my Idealist Handbook and my bomber dedication began to form.  Each corps member is allotted up to two minutes to speak, and all of the sudden this seemed impossibly short.

The past few weeks at my school have been tough.  I have officially begun to feel the strain of this year of service.  At the same time, I am starting to notice what I like to call “small miracles” happening on a daily basis.

One of my “tough guy” tutoring students ran up to me before school started to make sure that I would be tutoring him today, and a student with exceptionally difficult behavior issues had two good days in a row.  What I have realized this week is that no matter how insignificant or isolated these “ripples” may seem, they are the reason I’m here.

I’ve decided to dedicate my bomber jacket to all of the “ripples” that got me to where I am today: my family, friends, mentors, teachers, professors, school districts and college.  I am also dedicating my jacket to every “ripple” I hope to cultivate and inspire.  To the idealistic leaders of the past, present, and future, I dedicate my jacket and year of service to each and every “ripple” you create.

Laura Peters, Corps Member CYSJ

What I remember most about Laura was how passionately engaged she was as a learner, how self-questioning she was, and her insistence on a relationship between her instructors and herself.  Anonymity was NOT an option with Laura.

And probably not now, for her, with her own students.

Does anyone have advice for Laura?  Recollections of their first teaching experiences and this kind of work?


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