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Corps Member Monday: Returning for a Second City Year

April 14, 2014

by Phillip Spotswood, corps member proudly serving on the JPMorgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

When our staff first mentioned the idea of Senior Corps way back in September, I don’t think there was a single person in the room who took them seriously. We were too inundated with deadlines and data to even lace our boots up all the way. Staying on for a second year was the last thing we wanted to think about. Even so, the idea was like shrapnel from an explosion that had lodged in my back. Too violent. Re-do. Think a patch of new growth in the garden that you know must be tended, eventually. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I had to face the decision, but I pushed it aside nonetheless, filled my time instead with building myself, my team, and my students. What it has taken me until right now (literally, this moment) to realize is that the growth has been creeping more and more near, all year—has, in fact, pushed me deeper into my sense of self.

All of the opportunities that I’ve had this year—designing lesson plans, organizing CY events, attending professional trainings—has prepared me for a second year with City Year. A better year. A year in which I can apply every mistake and triumph I’ve experienced this time around and create something new. I’m a sucker for logic, and the simple beauty of this process is, well, very exciting.

I’ve found myself writing a lot of poetry about disassembling things lately—hearts, rage, atomic bombs—and I questioned my mental integrity. Was I unraveling at the seams? Then I realized that it is part of my process in thinking about what I’m supposed to do next year. By picking apart various aspects of my life, turning them over in my head, I’m able to organize my thoughts and actions by components.

So. What have I disassembled this year, and what creation has emerged from the wreckage?


Item 1: I’ve become more attached to my students and school. While I realize I might not be near them next year, the idea of serving in the same community satisfies my desire. By acknowledging this deep level of care that is often painful, I have allowed this care to propel my actions towards another year of service.

Item 2: I appreciate the usefulness of data. Re-do. I have grown to appreciate the usefulness of data. This year, City Year Baton Rouge has made a large shift towards quantitative data collection, using it to inform our interactions with students. At the beginning of the year, I and my fellow corps members outwardly complained about its effectiveness and necessity—seeing it as just another bureaucratic barrier to separate us from our students. By reflecting on the pros of data, I have come to experience it as a vital tool for moving students forward, and I am eager, as a Senior Corps member, to ease the new members’ doubts, to encourage and support them.

Item 3: I have so much to learn about being a sympathetic being. To excel as a Senior Corps member, I have realized I must embody: perseverance, humility, honesty, and compassion. Working daily with students as a corps member has been a practice in perseverance. My perseverance and patience have been tried this year as only an educator’s can, but the trials have only made me stronger. As a second year, I must embody patience and flexibility—the ability to lean with the turns of both the corps members’ needs and the requirements from staff. It is necessary that I embody these values, for if I cannot show flexibility or honesty, I cannot expect my team to uphold the same values. During my time with Senior Corps, I hope to enhance my sense of compassion. This has been something I have struggled with this year, for often it seems that in order to truly push students forward, one must find a balance between the compassionate and the honest heart. I am searching for this balance, and am eager to continue in the capacity of a team leader.

March 28, 2014, I received my call from admissions, accepting my application for Senior Corps as a team leader. I have already accepted the position, and I can’t tell you how eager I am to start enacting these changes in myself that will affect others.

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