Elijah Heckstall is a 6th Grade Science Teacher at the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury, MA and a Former Teaching Fellow.
On the very first day of the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship, the founder, Eric Schwarz, asked every single one of the new recruits, “Who was influential to you?” He had us share one individual that affected us when we were in middle school. And everyone said, “Oh, my coach.” “My teacher.” “My parent.” “My mentor.” His goal was to make us think about that caring adult that we could potentially be.
I started thinking about what middle school was like for me, when it felt good. I think that a lot of people in Citizen Schools, and in education in general, ask themselves, “What can I do to make these kids feel how I felt in middle school when it felt good?”
And honestly, I think there's a big problem with that.
Schools are very different now. Our kids don't need good teachers—they need great teachers. They don't need good schools—they need amazing schools. And a part of education reform is changing the perception not only of what they think school is, but what we think school is.
Don’t think about what middle school was like for you. Be transformational. Be a new school. A new school is what our kids need. And Citizen Schools is a large part of that.
In my classroom every day, I use things like investment and culture that I learned at Citizen Schools. But it isn't just about what I do in my classroom. Citizen Schools wouldn't exist if everything could happen in the classroom. One of the biggest things that I've taken away from my time at Citizen Schools is thinking about how I can utilize every single partner who comes into my school.
As a Teaching Fellow, there are teachers who think you're incompetent and think you can't do anything and think you just sit there with the kids, and it's not true. But now that I’m coming from the other side, I see City Year Corps Members, and I say, “Oh, you're coming? I need five of you.” I'll take 20 people in my classroom if you like, and I'll utilize them up here. We'll figure out how to make it work.
And it goes the other way. It really bothered me during the fellowship when I would hear other Fellows complaining about the schools they worked in. “I can't do anything—my school did bla-bla-bla.” “It is my school's fault that bla-bla-bla.”
You are the school. You are a part of the school. You need to drastically transform the school.
At Citizen Schools and as a teacher, I think that I've seen that. And I've seen people who have envisioned that. And those are the people who are going to be the adults kids need in their lives.
What are you doing to be transformational for students?