" My service with City Year has done more than confirm that I want to teach.
It has proven that I can teach."
City Year as a Teacher Pipeline
By: Michael Greer, City Year Washington, DC
For a long time I have known that I wanted to teach. Knowledge of this goal has come in many forms and through various avenues. In high school I informally tutored friends and enjoyed sharing in their success when they did well on an essay or aced a test. During college, I started to become apathetic toward my studies and considered dropping out until I started taking courses in education; this reignited my passion for learning and reaffirmed my desire to become a teacher. I began working for an education non-profit called Sprout Up!, teaching environmental science to first and second graders in Santa Cruz, California. The joy of working with students and seeing them excited to learn was inspiring. This experience was crucial to my path toward teaching in many ways, including that it was something I could speak about when I interviewed with City Year. As you may have guessed, I got the job, and began my service with City Year Washington, DC.
City Year appealed to me because it was a way to enter a school with a large network of support, on a diverse team of young, idealistic people. I knew I wasn’t ready to lead a classroom of my own yet. However, I had a feeling City Year could help me get there. That proved to be quite the understatement.
My service as a first year AmeriCorps Member serving at Thomas Elementary School in Northeast DC was life changing. I cannot begin to quantify how much I learned about education, about my peers, about my students, and about myself. It was an amazing year, a challenging year, and an inspiring year. While it solidified my passion to enter teaching, I knew I was not ready to leave City Year right away; I decided to return for a second service year. This past year, I have served as a Learning and Development Project Leader helping provide support and professional development to our first year AmeriCorps Members. Similarly to my first year, I could not have anticipated exactly how much I would grow, personally and professionally, throughout this service year. My desire to become a teacher has also continued to grow.
My service with City Year has done more than confirm that I want to teach. It has proven that I can teach. Again, the experiences are too many to list here (including the opportunity to become a member of the Future Educators Task Force). One simple indication of this that is fresh in my mind are the three interviews for teaching programs in which I have participated in recent weeks. While I feel confident in my performance in the interviews, a true joy from these experiences was interviewing alongside first year AmeriCorps Members from Washington, DC. In each of my interview groups, I got to watch a fellow City Year AmeriCorps Member deliver their mini-lesson and participate in the group discussion. Though there were many talented applicants, seeing how well members of City Year performed in these situations thoroughly proved what I had suspected for a while: City Year prepares you to teach.
Varied Pathways To Teaching
There are various pathways to teaching following one’s service with City Year. Some AmeriCorps Members enter with certification and can go straight into the classroom; others may enroll in graduate school or a credential program; many join Teach for America or the growing number of teacher residency programs across the country. As I prepared to make a decision about which pathway would be correct for me, I had the opportunity to connect with former City Year DC AmeriCorps Members whom I served with in my first year. While these four people have entered education in different ways with a diversity of experiences, their time with City Year seems to have been vital to their success in their respective programs. Below I will highlight some of the differences and similarities that I noticed in our conversations. These sections contain exact quotes and paraphrased responses to the questions I posed to these four educators.
The first and most readily apparent difference between these four is the path they chose. Sarah was certified before City Year and is now a full time teacher in New Jersey. Alisha joined Teach For America and is teaching in Baltimore, Maryland. Gabriela accepted a position with the Capital Teaching Residency in Washington, DC. Megan is currently a resident in Washington, DC with the Urban Teacher Center.
An additional distinction was their experience in education prior to joining City Year. This ranged from full teacher certification with lots of student teaching and observing to very minimal experience in the field. Similarly, these four had a range of career choices coming into City Year. Though she was interested in working in education, Megan hadn’t really wanted to teach. Alisha thought Education Policy was the field she would enter, while Sarah and Gabriela had known for some time that they would become teachers.
City Year Service Experience's Role in Influencing Teaching
Despite this range of attitudes toward becoming a teacher when they entered City Year, it is clear that their experience as City Year AmeriCorps Members influenced their decision to pursue teaching as a career. For those who had previous interest in teaching, their service with City Year inspired them “to commit to education” and to “continue on the path to being an educator.” For those who had been less certain about their career path, their service year helped them realize they “loved being in the classroom.”
Another major difference is the range of experiences each of these four had as City Year AmeriCorps Members. Alisha served in a high school supporting students in Biology, Environmental Science, and Physics. Megan worked in an English Language Arts classroom with middle school students. Gabriela supported her 5th graders in Reading, Writing, and Science, while Sarah served a 4th grade elementary class , working with English Language Arts and Math. Along with these differences in subject and grade level came a diversity of school environments. Some schools had stronger partnerships with City Year than others; some had more resources available. Each school had its own combination of struggles and strengths. Each made these future educators’ City Year experience unique.
However, while these differences became clear in my conversations with Alisha, Gabriela, Megan, and Sarah, what I found most interesting were the similarities that they shared. Each of them articulated their time with City Year as crucial to their path to teaching. They each gained skills and experience in the classroom as City Year AmeriCorps Members that they will need as teachers. They learned how to persevere through long hours and tough days. They learned to be creative and resourceful. They learned how to work on a diverse team and how to best collaborate with others. They learned not to take it personally when a lesson didn’t go as planned or a student acted out. They learned the importance of building relationships with their students and the power of empathy. Most importantly, they learned that they really wanted to teach.
Service with City Year is certainly a learning experience. No matter how "good" or "bad" that experience is, or what you plan to do following your service year, I think it is impossible to not grow, to gain some insight into who you are and what you are passionate about. For many, myself included, City Year has a way of confirming people’s passion for education, for teaching.
I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to serve with City Year Washington, DC, and all the opportunities that have arisen throughout my service. I greatly appreciate all the people I have met through this organization, including the four profiled in this article. These conversations and this article about them have come at an interesting point in my life. I have just been accepted into a residency program with the Urban Teacher Center here in Washington DC. I am within reach of actualizing a dream I have had for most of my life. As my service with City Year comes to a close and I begin to contemplate my future as an educator, I cannot help but recognize and reflect on how important these two years have been to me. As an educator, as a learner, as a person, City Year has truly changed my life.
Michael Greer is serving as a Learning and Development Project Leader for City Year Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Literature and a minor in Education. Michael's undergraduate coursework and experience in education during college helped develop his drive to become a teacher. In his two years as an City Year AmeriCorps Member, Michael's passion for teaching and his desire to serve Washington, DC have been thoroughly solidified. At the conclusion of his service with City Year, Michael will begin a teacher residency program with the Urban Teacher Center in Washington, DC.