Capturing the Citizen Teacher Experience: Part 3

Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment in a series by Citizen Teacher and Fidelity Risk Manager Albert Terc. Albert recently completed a semester of teaching a documentary film-making apprenticeship in Newark, New Jersey. This past fall I took on a role that was brand new to me; Citizen Teacher. Upon reflecting on the ten weeks in which I led a group of middle school students on a path to discovery I am proud, fulfilled and overjoyed.

Albert Terc with Citizen Schools staff members

Honestly, I had a few reservations going into the semester. The first few classes with my students were difficult. I had never taken on this type of volunteer commitment and I really didn't know what to expect. The students seemed timid at first. Their attitude was one of “having to be there” rather than “wanting to be there.” I envied the teachers who seemed to know what they were doing.

Everything changed when the students held a camera in their hands. What surprised me most about my time with the students was the way they came to life when they began actually working on their film. I figured they would start off really engaged and trail off towards the end of the sessions. The total opposite happened. When the students broke out into groups, taking on the roles of cameraman, director, and interviewer, they took complete ownership of the project. They had been listening those first few weeks, even when I thought they weren't. They took the knowledge I had given them and truly ran with it.

Framing the shot

My favorite moment of the semester happened when the students interviewed their peers as part of the filming. As I mentioned in my previous story, the students chose school lunch nutrition as the topic for their film. During the interviews I overheard some of the students go off script.

They wanted to start a petition to actually change the lunches at their school. They explained the issue to their peers and inspired them to join the cause. Seeing the students willing to go that extra step is what this is all about. They saw how the issue directly affected their lives, and saw how documentary film can play a role in making change happen. They saw how they could actually make a difference because of the apprenticeship. That was the moment I saw the true impact I had on them.

I witnessed the students grow over the ten weeks I spent with them. I truly believe that whenever they come across something that they feel is unjust they will be able to make a difference and find ways to solve the problem whether with film or not. They developed very adults skills in the class-- teamwork, social skills, problem solving -- and I saw those skills at work in the film they created.

I was transformed during the experience as well. I gained communication skills and definitely learned how to play to my audience. They’re not adults, but they’re not just kids either, and I had to learn to speak to them so that they would have the light bulb moment where they would say, “Oh, I get it.”

At the WOW! event at the end of the semester when the students had the chance to show their film and teach back what they learned, the kids knocked it out of the park. I was proud to have my colleagues from Fidelity attend, along with the students’ families and teachers. Several of the parents actually asked for a copy of the film so they could send it to the school district to get the ball rolling on improving school lunches. The kids were able to enact change and inspire the audience. It was an incredible moment.

If there is anything that teaching an apprenticeship with Citizen Schools has taught me, it is to expect the unexpected. I didn't expect the students to become so invested and enthusiastic about the topic, but they continued to amaze me throughout the semester. Things didn't always go as planned and there were several extra Sunday afternoon planning sessions with my Teaching Fellow staff partner, but we worked with what we had and the end result was great.

I definitely recommend this experience to anyone considering it. It beyond exceeded my expectations and I am a better person because of it. Seeing the kids come to life and become so invested in a topic they previously knew little about was truly remarkable.

You can experience the same transformation as Albert by signing up teach what you know and love today.