I woke up at 7:30AM this Saturday morning because I was moved with passion. My name is Brooke Yokoyama, I am a Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian American female. I am a City Year corps member and today I woke up thinking about ways to help my middle school students at Mathson Middle School School.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this inspired. I’ve accomplished many milestones this year that I could have blogged about; I graduated cum laude from the University of Puget Sound with a double major in Psychology and Politics & Government in May. But that pales in comparison to the transformation that has happened in the past two months while serving with City Year.
After about a month of training, I started my service at Mathson in late August with the mindset that I needed to be hard on students to establish my authority and be treated with respect. So I walked around the school with a stern look on my face, standing straight, hand behind my back, and always watching. Misbehavior got a stern reprimand and constant misbehavior meant that they were sent to my program manager, the principal, or the vice principal.
I did a pretty good job of commanding my classrooms, but I came across students that reacted negatively to my laying down the law. One boy in my Literacy class was constantly off-task and he was the first person I ever sent to the Step-Up Room, which is something like an after school detention and reflection room for misbehaving students. When I sent him to the Step-Up room for the rest of the day, he stomped out of my class saying he’s never coming to City Year again. I was worried about this student, so I sought advice from my program manager who urged me to try encouragement instead of punishment with this student. So I changed my tactics. Instead of looking solely for his misbehavior, I started looking for the good things he did in class and acknowledging that in front of the rest of the classroom. I also started saying hi to him in the halls and asking him about his interests.
On my birthday last Wednesday, I learned from one of my teammates that this student whom I thought disliked me actually stood up for me to another student. He told the student not to judge me and that I give people chances;that news was the best birthday gift I received that day.
Now when I walk through the halls, I walk with a smile and talk in a loving voice. I still expect respect and compliance, but the main message I try to send to the students is that my number one concerns are their safety and learning. I only started implementing this strategy last week, and I already see the difference it has made. Last week I had students I don’t even know greeting me, complimenting me, and joking with me. Two students who chronically came to class late because they were talking to friends are often the first ones in my classroom. Two other students that never used to participate and always looked disinterested in class are now constantly raising their hands.
This week has taught me that sometimes students need to feel cared for and respected before they will care and respect you. Expressing my love, passion, and commitment is bringing out the best in my students and bringing out the best in me. My passion for my students is what keeps me up late at night and what gets me up early in the morning. And I have my City Year team and my students at Mathson to thank for that.
-Brooke Yokoyama, Corps Member CYSJ