A few months ago I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was a recent college graduate on the verge of unemployment, and spent most of my free time obsessively browsing Idealist.org for socially-conscious job opportunities. Sound familiar? Now, I am in a classroom, looking up at the group of five students that I am working with today. I see four students smiling up at me, thumbs raised to show me they understood the lesson our lead teacher just taught. I glance over at my fifth student, who is bashfully looking down into his lap. His thumb is pointed down, and is barely visible underneath his other hand that is trying to hide his difficult admission: I’m lost.As I was rushing back and forth from the one side of the table to the other, trying to keep both the students who were ready to move on with the lesson and the student who needed some remedial work intellectually engaged, I realized something. If this learning disparity is keeping me this busy with just five kids, how could a teacher with a classroom of 30 possibly do this on his or her own?
It’s simple. She couldn’t. This is how students fall through the cracks. They have learned to just smile and nod and pretend that everything is fine, when in reality they might be completely confused. When a teacher has behavioral issues to deal with, and students are calling for help in ten different directions, the student with his head down who appears to be working diligently is left alone. No one checks to see if he has done the work correctly and no one notices anything is wrong until an alarming test or quiz score shows up. But by then, it is too late.
This is where Blue Engine comes in. Blue Engine is a new education non-profit based in New York City. Eleven other recent graduates and I are engaging in a year of service as Blue Engine Fellows, working as full-time teaching assistants in a public school. We conduct small group tutorials alongside experienced classroom teachers, helping entire grade levels of students, from those who need extra help to those who can be pushed to excel, make dramatic progress in core coursework and become prepared for college.
I joined Blue Engine to help students, students just like the ones I was working with today, succeed. Even though life as a Blue Engine Fellow can be crazy at times, I have the amazing opportunity to see my students growing in both their academic and personal endeavors each and every day. It is that daily feeling of impact, that wonderful realization that our students are steadily increasing their academic achievement that for me makes all of the effort completely worth it.
It is the end of class, and again I ask the students in my group how they feel about the material we learned today. I glance at the student sitting farthest away from me, and I smile when I see his thumb proudly pointing up for everyone to see. A few months ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Now, it is moments like this that make me realize I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Alison Fedyna was an inaugural BETA in the 2010-2011 school year. She is now a team coordinator and conducts small group instruction in Integrated Algebra as part of the 8th grade team at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School.