If you had asked me last August, to speak about different challenges or struggles I had faced throughout my life, I most likely would have listed off a variety of instances. I’m sure I would have gone on and on about the ups and downs of my adolescence, in a dramatic way, making anyone who would listen, feel like it was a miraculous thing that I was still standing on my own two feet. You see, before my AV year, I truly did believe that I had experienced a number of challenging situations. I honestly felt like I had overcome a wide range of obstacles and I was proud of how I handled these situations. Then, I got to St. Margaret’s of Scotland School on the South Side of Chicago--that is when the word “challenge” was truly defined for me.
Trained in elementary education, I was confident that my placement as the computer teacher for grades 1-8 was the perfect fit. I was excited to have my own classroom, and although I didn’t know much about computer technology, I was eager to learn.
I will never forget my first day of “teaching”; I walked into my classroom at St. Margaret’s to find my desk covered in technology. An assortment of laptops, power cords, mouses, projectors, and printers greeted me ever so warmly in one large tangled mess. My heart sank, my spirit with it, as my principal told me to sort through everything and set up the computer lab. With a smile on his face, my principal then left me to fulfill my task--he had faith in me, but unfortunately, for the first time in quite a while, I had very little faith in myself. How was it, that as a simple volunteer, I suddenly held the fate of St. Margaret’s computer lab in the palm of my hand? I was terrified. It didn’t matter though, this was my job for the next ten months and I had to figure out a way to be successful. So, with that, I dug my hands into the great mess and had at it. By the end of what will most likely, forever be remembered, as one of the longest days of my life, I did indeed have a pretty little makeshift computer lab to call my own. I was extremely proud.
Day one was not the only day at St. Margaret’s which challenged me. I struggled with teaching typing to young children on computer keyboards which were missing keys. I was forced to get extremely creative when 5 minutes before welcoming in a class of students, who I intended to have complete an online assignment, the Internet decided not to work. I managed to entertain and teach children who I could not provide with their own computer due to a lack of resources. For the first time in my life, as a white woman, working in a predominantly black school, I learned the meaning of feeling different. I mastered the art of managing a computer lab without a working printer. I learned to reach out to my staff members when I needed help, embrace the simplicity of a low-income school, and rely on my roommates and my personal faith for the support I needed after long, hard days.
My AV year at St. Margaret of Scotland School has taught me that I am capable of achieving anything I set my mind to. The word “challenge” may also come with heartache, tears and discouragement, but ultimately, it leads to smiles, success and pure happiness. I wouldn’t trade this year for anything. The look on the faces of my students, as I walk in to pick them up for class, confirms for me that every tear, every bad day, every “challenge” at my worksite was completely worth it. I am now a changed person and a better teacher. I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the Augustinian Volunteer program, the South Side of Chicago, and St. Margaret’s of Scotland School; broken laptops and computer keyboards with missing keys will forever bring a large grin to my face and a tear of joy to my eye.
Chicago, IL 2010-2011