Great Oaks Fellows are constantly inspired throughout their day by their children and plenty of experiences where our students grow, mentally and socially. In New York City, one part of my day that is indispensable is the sunrise over the Williamsburg Bridge. The sunrise I am caught in awe of during my morning daily commute can be an indicator of how the day could go. Big sunrise; great day ahead.
Morning DutyMy first job of the day is to welcome our students into the building. Scholars are required to sign in every day using their student ID’s, and this is often the first interaction most of our students have with an adult at the school for that day; maybe the first with any adult at all. Even on tough mornings when the sunrise does not live up to my expectations, seeing students who are excited and eager to start their day lifts me up more than any sunrise could.
Each day I remind our students that climbing our seemingly treacherous staircase may be the first part of their day which they find a challenge, but the obstacle they just completed is by far their hardest. With the staircase already behind them, they are officially ready to start the day.
Each school day begins with our alternative to the traditional homeroom experience. During this 20-minute block, I gather my five students who I directly mentor for goal-setting. The goals that my students create for themselves can be as long-term as what college or career they would like to pursue, or as short-term as the grade they would like to earn on their fourth period math quiz. Despite the orient or time-constraint, our students are recognizing how important setting and achieving goals are because the sooner our students learn how to set clear goals, the sooner we can work hard with them so they have everything they need to set and attain these goals.
Mentoring is really where I am able to see my students shine to their fullest potential. Throughout four class periods each day, I am able to mentor four different small groups of students in math through curriculum-aligned activities. Some mentor sessions can be more demanding once we approach report card season, but most mentor periods are relaxed opportunities for our students to reinforce the skills learned in the classroom. Unlike a large classroom setting, I am able to foster closer relationships with my students. Through mentoring, I am able to develop everything from an understanding of each child’s unique learning style to elaborate inside jokes. The intimacy of the mentoring experience is not only incredibly rare, but it allows Great Oaks Fellows to embody the individualized learning experience we pride ourselves on.
Outside of the Dreamchasers program and mentoring experience, I support my students by being an avid fan of the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. Seeing these students display grit and excel both in the mentoring space and on the court is an extraordinary experience. The student-athletes are consistently excited to see a crowd filled with mentor at each game, cheering whenever a player gets a basket or makes a good play. The basketball games give me the chance to engage with parents and affirm their child for their progress made as a student and as a growing young person.
As I travel back to my apartment via subway (well after the sun sets), I am thinking about the special moments I had with my students that day. I hardly recollect the struggles that might be an obstacle for someone teaching middle school math in an urban setting because I’m able to offset those challenges with positive experiences I had that day, and how essential my students’ happiness were to those experiences. As I hear over the speaker that the train has arrived at my stop, I hear through my headphones a group of kids also on the subway shout my name and exclaim “See you tomorrow, Mr. Burke!!” I shout back at the kids proudly wearing Great Oaks logos, “See you tomorrow!”