By: Cassidy Kakin, Corps Member at Clyde L. Fischer Middle School
In my position as the behavior coordinator at my site’s after school program, the kids I come to know best act like they want to know me least. There is one student I have had several behavioral interventions with who three weeks ago, when we first met, wouldn’t look me in the eye, and wouldn’t say a word to me that wasn’t a curse or a challenge. So I asked him to write. “My goal is to walk in the 8th grade graduation,” he wrote. “Last year, Ms. R. told me and my friends that if we walked in the graduation, she would come back and see us.” This child, who walked around campus like he didn’t care about City Year or any authority figure, was working towards something meaningful. And he was doing so because, whether or not he would ever admit it to me, someone had treated him like a human being who could succeed. I had to speak to this infamous R.
She returned my email quickly, with two pieces of advice that have stuck. “Remember,” she wrote, “all behavior serves a function. A student never just does something.” Every time I talk to a child that has made bad behavior choices, these words echo in my conscience like an optimist’s manifesto. I will not and cannot ever understand completely the challenges these kids face, but I can do my best to keep my lack of perspective in sight, and ask “why” with a genuine curiosity to students who make bad choices. If it worked for Ms. R. it could work for me.
“Remember,” R. Continues, “City year is good for them. They may not be doing homework or listening but at least they are off the streets.” And she is of course correct. I know I may never be to these children what a giant like Ms. R. was. There are students here who will never be happy to look me in the eye, or who won’t have the conversations with me that I would like to have. But those same children are capable of doing great things. When they walk the stage, I’ll be there.