At Citizen Schools, no role is more essential to the success of our students than that of the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow. Citizen Schools National Teaching Fellows create extraordinary enrichment and academic support experiences for underserved students across our nation. On a daily basis, Fellows deepen connections between schools and parents, help to develop social-emotional skills through mentoring and coaching students, and facilitate hands-on learning opportunities through our apprenticeships.
Diego is a Teaching Fellow at Sugar Grove Academy in Houston, Texas.
Why did you decide to become an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow?
I decided to become an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow in order to gain teaching experience and also be exposed to underprivileged education in order to be a catalyst for change in the community. After graduating college, I knew that I wanted to do teaching for a while. Being raised by my mom, who has been a teacher for 33 years, taught me the value of education. I wanted to be able to help students gain knowledge in places where they struggle to get it. I knew taking up a job as a Teaching Fellow for AmeriCorps, in partnership with Citizen Schools, would expose me to an environment that would help me learn about education, students, and myself.
What has been one of the most transformative moments of your service?
I've had a couple of transformative moments during my two months as a Fellow. First week of school was an eye-opener for me. The couple of students I had interacted with during that week taught me more about myself and about the world than I could possibly know. I saw things that I only saw in movies about struggling kids. You begin to realize your own privilege and become humbled by it. I think what's been incredibly life changing is being able to help children who are not picked up by other teachers' radars. Children who need a lending hand because they deal with abuse, negligence, etc., are the children that make me proud of my job. Being able to develop a relationship with a student who needs someone to confide in and be able to talk things out is the most rewarding thing. I get a sense of gratification and happiness when children who had behavior issues, or personal issues, begin to smile and say hi in the hallway. They go from being robotic, stoic humans, to becoming children who understand that there are adults out in the world to help them and genuinely care for them. Being able to further a child's education has also been absolutely transformative. I don't think there can be an eloquent sentence that could possibly explain the utter joy I get when a student grasps a concept, or when a student who is usually disrespectful and uncooperative begins to enjoy learning and becomes a beacon of hope and pent up potential energy waiting to be transformed into this plethora of educative kinetic energy.
How has service changed you and your perspective of the world?
In this short time of my fellowship, I have been exposed to the harsh realities of the world. I have seen abuse cases, negligence cases, drug and gang involvement, troubled kids, and more. I have seen the behind-the-scenes look at children's lives. You learn that every kid has a story and, sometimes, it is not a pretty or happy one. As said before, I became incredibly aware of my privilege and upbringing. Service made me thankful of my mother and my upbringing. It took so long to realize that I was just like these kids who think they know how the world works. At their age, I thought I knew everything there was to know about life. I now understand the frustration my mom went through during this phase in my life. As an adult, you self-reflect on such things and begin to be thankful for the constant motherly scoldings and recurring life talks. Because now I'm the one giving those talks. I'm the one wanting to see the best in children and wanting them to succeed in life. Not only has my service helped me see the realities of students' worlds, but also the reality of the education system. As a Teaching Fellow, I'm exposed to everyday educational protocols. You see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I learned the reality of some areas where the education system needs work. My service made me want to change the education world one child at a time. It sounds like such an ineffable task. Like something that you would hear at some badly scripted education seminar, but that's the reality I wish to live. Correction: that's the reality I'm living.