Every year I have one or two students from a program at a local college do a practicum in my classroom. Possibly they will do a social work degree in the future but for now, they are interested in pursuing social service work of some kind.
They may or may not end up in a school setting and are not even sure if they will do work with children.
But, they know they want to work with people. Do important work that matters.
They are not will-be-teachers. They are in the room to absorb, to observe, to connect and to be involved.
Early on, we need to sit together and decide on their goals for the practicum.
What is their personal learning going to be? What are they hoping it might be? They need to choose and record three goals.
Personal learning. Which means they should tell me and I should just sit back, listen and encourage. Which I do, mostly. Mostly. But, there are a few things I want them to consider and so I try and influence one of those goals. I want them to think ahead years from now about what they need to learn to still be doing this work. I want them to look for answers while they are with us. I ask: “Have you thought about longevity with this work? One day you will be as old as me, will you still be here? How?” And then when they look all worried and overwhelmed, I quickly add, “It’s okay if you’re not! But let’s talk about how you might be.”
These college students are in my classroom for a reason. There are just a few elementary schools where they would experience relevant learning for their program. They are not watching the intricacies of how we teach math or asking questions about my literacy program. They are here to think about and learn about interacting with people.
I teach in a high needs school where the majority of our students are living in poverty. Poverty means increased stressors. It means all the things you think it means: food insecurity, lack of appropriate housing, poor health, fewer opportunities. Without going into more details, I can say that these college students will learn a lot by spending time in my classroom and interacting with my students. Sometimes, there are moments that are really hard. You hear some words more than you should inside our school walls: heartbreaking, overwhelmed, challenging, sad, need, need, need.
This is hardly only what it is about. Not at all. But this aspect is there.
The work these students choose to do is vital work. Being able to do it for the long haul is about some careful thinking. It is not just about self care and work/life balance, although those things matter. It is also about perspective. Choices. Self-awareness.
There are certain take aways I hope they will leave with. Not that they should have it all figured out but that the beginning of their learning has started.
I have worked in this community for 21 years and I can articulate some of what I know I need to know. It’s not about figuring things out about others – the students, their families, the community, it’s about looking inward and knowing yourself. Finding ways to keep learning, to be present, to love almost all of it.
Here we go:
Everything is about relationships. Relationships do not exist without respect. Period.
This relationship you will have with people you work with is not one sided. You will give and receive. Be open and ready for both.
You have access and opportunity to help people. Our society has all kinds of inequity and injustice. You chose to be in the role you are in. Not everyone has the opportunity to choose. Certainly, nobody chooses poverty.
Judgement has no place.
Place matters. The most relevant work happens where people live. Where strength comes from and goes back to the community. Where community has a chance to grow. Be a part of that.
Luck is real. You don’t come from poverty? You are lucky. You no longer live in poverty? You are lucky. Lucky is not better than. Lucky is simply lucky.
Needing help and vulnerability are intricately connected. Be kind. Be gentle. Be aware.
Don’t take things personally. It is not about you. You might be present for anger and rage and upset. Don’t take it all on. Bear witness. Be patient.
Be brave. Be wrong. Be humble. You will never know it all. Not even close.
Celebrate. Laugh. Learn. Multiple times a day.
Sometimes, you will cry. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You are overwhelmed. You are human. It gets easier even though some things will always be hard.
Find ways to hold up something beautiful every day. Every day. This is nonnegotiable. Take this with you on your way home. Leave the hard and the challenging and the ugly at work. It will be waiting for you to return with new eyes and new energy tomorrow.
Realize that you will learn the most when it is hardest.
Have simple ways to give to yourself. Make sure you have them everyday. Mine include: good strong coffee, a daily walk to work, the world of amazing books, time with wise friends, a wonderful family.
Too tired happens. Sleep fixes it. Rest, recover, refuel. It’s okay.
Know that you have chosen to do work that matters. Remember that thing about luck? You are the luckiest. Let this feed your soul and shine it back out on the world.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.