Variations In Service Experience and How This Impacts Career Interests
by Joey Killian, City Year Boston Team Leader
When speaking to City Year corps members about their service, it is justifiable to assume that each corps member has their own unique service year experience. Every City Year site, district, school, and partner teacher is different. Every City Year corps member brings in their own experiences, skills, and preconceptions to service. Even with this multitude of different factors, more corps members each year commit to staying in the field of education, with a growing percentage of corps members becoming teachers. This article will examine a specific part of the City Year service, that can be broken up into two main buckets; the teacher service model and cohort service model of day to day service.
In the teacher model, corps members are paired with a teacher throughout the entire school day. Personally, I am most familiar with this model. Last year, I was paired with a partner teacher in an 8th grade math classroom. In the cohort service model, corps members actually travel throughout the day with a specific group (homeroom) of students to each of their classes. This year at the school where I am currently a team leader, our middle school grades follow the cohort model while our elementary corps members are paired with a single teacher.
While I believe partnering with a single teacher contributed significantly to my desire to eventually become an educator, both models contain valuable (and perhaps mutually exclusive) experiences that can empower corps members to pursue careers in education. Contained in this article is perspective about two corps members’ service years thus far, as they relate to each specific model. Both the teacher service model and the cohort service model are represented.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Allie (teacher model): I am currently a 5th grade corps member serving alongside of a teacher. I am applying to stay with City Year as a senior corps member next year, and will look to stay in the non-profit sector either working in either urban education or urban housing in the future.
Thea (cohort model): I am currently a 7th grade corps member at the Curley school. I plan on staying in the non-profit industry, ideally with a focus on community organizing after hopefully also completing a senior corps year with City Year.
What do you like about serving alongside a teacher/traveling with a cohort of students?
Allie (teacher model): Serving alongside one teacher for the entire day provides a sense of stability that I really appreciate. I don’t have to worry about different behavior management systems and we have been able to take the time to know each other personally. Because I don’t have to juggle multiple teacher relationships, I believe this has allowed us to become close personally and professionally which I think helps create a stable dynamic that the students in our class can grow accustomed to and anticipate.
Thea (cohort model): Traveling with a cohort of students gives me the opportunity to compare how students are more (or less) receptive to different teaching styles so that I can better support them in the future. I also like it because it helps with communication. Here’s an example of that occurring: Let’s say something happens in class A. I am able to support that student by going into their next period class and inform the teacher that the student might be on edge or upset about a previous incident, while also being able to support that student more effectively by it being easier for me to meet them where they are at.
What do you think are the advantages of your respective model?
Allie (teacher model): I have been able to reflect on the teaching style of my partner teacher very deeply because I spend every day with her. Everyone has a different teaching style, and I feel like I’ve been exposed deeply to one type of teaching style. I have learned things that I believe I would definitely try to implement if I were myself a teacher as well as see things that I might try to do differently. To me, it seems easiest in the teacher model to highlight strategies that I would implement in my own classroom because I am able to consistently see the same things each day and reflect how students respond to these strategies.
Thea (cohort model): I find the opportunity to be in different learning environments throughout the day really interesting. I have been able to learn how different teachers teach, and use this knowledge to foster my own development and tutoring style. I also think that the cohort model makes us really rely on our grade level corps member teams. I am always talking and collaborating with the other CMs in my grade level so that we can stay on the same page about what is going on in school. I think it is probably more of a ‘team’ feeling in the cohort model.
What do you think is particularly challenging about your service model?
Allie (teacher model): I was considering being a teacher at the beginning of the year, and its definitely still on the plate when considering my longer-term plans. But, I have gotten to see first-hand how exhausting it is to be in a classroom, with the same group of students in elementary school, for an entire day. It has been challenging at times to not get too comfortable and stagnate since our routine is so consistent day in and out.
Another challenging aspect of my service this year is that there really isn’t any assigned class time so you can spend 3 hours accidentally working on the same assignment because of the self-managed schedule.
Thea (cohort model): Because I’m a relationship person, I feel like I have to work 3 or 4 times harder to foster positive, balanced relationships with all of the teachers/specialists I work with throughout the day. So while I’m only balancing between 20 and 30 student relationships a day (unlike a teacher-model corps member that might be managing 70-90 student relationships) I am constantly code-switching back and forth between speaking with students and teachers.
Another challenging aspect of my service experience is also tied to the cohort model. Because I travel with students to every class, I play a big role in transitions which is usually a very difficult part of our day. Students want to chat with their friends in between classes, so I am constantly balancing fostering their positive relationships, while also trying to lead them to their next class.
Has a year of City Year service changed or affirmed your career aspirations?
Allie (teacher model): City Year has absolutely cemented my passion for working with urban communities. Going into this year, I saw teaching as my primary career path. While that will continue to be an option, I really just want to keep working and helping empower the amazing people in these underserved communities. That might be in education or it might be in urban development (or something completely different in 5 years!), but I hope to continue working and serving in low income communities.
Thea (cohort model): This year, I’ve been able to watch my partner teachers do incredible work and be very successful in their classrooms. Because of this, I am able to reflect about how, if I were going to be a teacher in the near future, I would want to internalize the excellence of my partner teachers. The ability to reflect on my future like this has been really inspirational so even though teaching isn’t in my short term plans, I think I will always have teaching as a career in the back of my mind because of the awesome opportunity to serve in a classroom setting with different teachers.
Speaking about this with my fellow corps members made it clear that both service models provide a unique look into classroom dynamics and teaching styles. It would also be dangerous to argue that any one model is better; the schools that we serve in have a diverse range of needs and expectations, just like the students we serve! Regardless of the service model, bright, motivated, and altruistic people like Allie and Thea will continue to work towards positive change in the realm of education. Finding innovative ways to support corps members that want to become full-time educators is an important next step in continuing the fight to solve the dropout crisis. Whether traveling with a group of students throughout the day or working exclusively with one teacher, life changing lessons in the classroom will continue to inspire more young people to make better happen.
Joey Killian is serving as an AmeriCorps Member as a Team Leader for City Year Boston after previously serving in 2013-2014. He graduated from Furman University with a degree in Chemistry. Though he was not interested in teaching when he began his service, his experience helped him realize how much he enjoyed building relationships with students as a result of his consistent presence and he learned that the right inspiration and motivation can mean a world of difference to young adults struggling to find the meaning and importance of school in their lives. Following his service, Joey will be teaching at Uncommon Schools with Teach For America.