It seems unfair to try to sum up my experience with Great Oaks in a paragraph. It was a year filled with laughter, love, and plenty of tears. The 8th graders I worked with were some of the wittiest, smartest and most charismatic humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. They made each day hilarious, but also challenging. My biggest challenge was growing accustomed to being questioned at every single turn. I learned quickly that if I did not question my own motivations, goals and biases before each decision I made, the students would do it for me. I had to reevaluate each situation to make sure my plan was best for the student, not best for Elena. Prior to my time with Great Oaks, I misunderstood the cliché “my students teach me more than I teach them.” I didn’t know there was still so much to learn about myself, and I did not expect to be taught by an 8th grader with an attitude.
My second major challenge was overcoming exhaustion. Serving with Great Oaks means early mornings. It means long days of high energy and being on your feet. It means holding yourself accountable for your own responsibilities, even when you are tired. It means checking yourself before responding to a student. I don’t think there was a day that I left school without being both physically and emotionally exhausted. It is a very hard position and it will not always be fair. But these kids deserve tutors and teachers who are willing to work that hard for them. Drink some coffee, stay hydrated and go to bed early. Looking back now, I think personal accountability in the face of exhaustion may have been one of the most important lessons I took away from Great Oaks. Spending time in a professional setting, I have learned that people don’t always notice when you aren’t there, but they do notice when you are there every single time. By far the best way to overcome whatever challenge I faced during my time serving, big or small, was to go sit with a group of kids. First, within seconds, they made me laugh- probably really, really hard- and then they did something small and insignificant that reminded me of why I loved my job.
Ms. Yarmy is on the right