In continuation of the "TF Spotlight" posts highlighting Citizen Schools AmeriCorps National Teaching Fellows' service our next contribution comes by way of a second year fellow from Citizen Schools Illinois, Patrick Lannen! We hope you take a moment to read Patrick's thoughtful reflections on his Teaching Fellow experience.
Why did you decide to become an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow?
My decision to become an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow was driven by a desire to serve in a tangible way. As a student at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, I was an observer, and indeed, a participant in the segregation between the predominantly white and affluent suburb I resided in, and the economically disadvantaged and minority communities within Chicago. As a student of Theology and Biblical studies, I had originally planned on attending seminary, but was confronted with an incongruity between the Biblical ideal of justice I affirm in my studies and faith, and the undeniable injustice I witnessed as I would ride the train into Chicago or back out to the suburbs. Additionally, I recognized that if I were to make any impact on issues related to inequality, I needed to gain exposure and experience working with an organization that was offering a solution. This recognition of injustice and a personal desire to be apart of something that was affecting change was the impetus for my work with Citizen Schools, and has continued to drive my motivation for service.
What has been one of the most transformative moments of your service?
There have been many small wins and transformative moments that have sustained and motivated my work as a Teaching Fellow. I absolutely love when students get invested in our program and become driven to succeed at the WOW! Ironically though, my most transformative moment came this past summer. As a TF1 I worked closely with our 8th grade students throughout the year and led on our 8th-9th grade transition over the summer. As such, I reached out to all of the 8th grade students over the phone, or caught-up with them at summer school in order to see if any of their plans had changed since school ended. I was shocked to find that for various reasons, three of my students either did not have plans for high school, or were planning to attend chronically under performing schools. Thankfully, I was able to use the relationships that I developed with my students and their families, and a connection at a local high school, to get the students into a college prep school that would offer them the additional resources and support they needed to succeed.
How has service changed you and/or your perspective of the world?
My time in the classroom with Citizen Schools has truly been reciprocal; I have taught and been taught, and in the process discovered a new sense of the demands of service, particularly within an educational context. With that said, there are two main ways that service has been formative in my life. First, it has allowed me to move from an abstract and academic understanding of the issues surrounding various inequalities, to a more concrete realization of the problems relating to education. This move has allowed me to be a practitioner of sorts, working with the tools and resources available to make a difference for my students. Secondly, I have changed from being naive optimistic to a more realistic optimism. That is to say the issues our schools and students face are far greater the the tools or resources I have at my disposal, yet the resilience and fortitude that my students have demonstrated provides me with hope and reinforces my belief that service not only matters, but makes a difference.