2017 Week Four: Education


I haven’t seen my dad cry that many times in my life (sorry to bring up crying again this week). One of the few times I did, though, was when he was explaining the impact my mom was having on the lives of her students as an elementary school Special Education teacher. It was kind of unexpected honestly, I remember it happening in the middle of a car ride, actually, but I guess the wave of emotion just really hit him hard in the moment. It’s true, too—she really has a gift and has worked hard against an education system that is not always (almost never) fairly judging or rewarding students or teachers, especially students in Special Education programs.
This was weighing heavily on my mind this week in a room of people who told me that none of their teachers ever cared about them. All of them had multiple experiences with teachers who said that they didn’t care if they learned or not, they would be getting their paycheck regardless.
That sucks.
It’s a shame how much a bad teacher—or maybe more likely, a good but very frustrated teacher—can give the occupation such a bad reputation.
It happens so often—an unethical doctor, an aggressive police officer, which really diminishes the good things other people in their field are doing.
My mom is the most caring person I know. The teachers at YO, Mrs. Eubanks and Mr. Z have an obvious and contagious passion for what they do, putting in outside and weekend hours to accommodate people’s needs.
Especially in Baltimore, I’ve met so many people doing amazing things and trying to promote real change throughout the city. When these numbers grow large enough and the good people shine bright enough big things are going to happen.


One of the things I’ve struggled with the most this summer shouldn’t really be all that difficult, but it’s answering the question: “So, what do you do?”

I’ve gotten to the point where I usually just shrug and respond with, “Pretty much everything.” Which I wish wasn’t basically true. I’ve gone from being on my hands and knees cleaning mouse excrement from the bottom shelves of bookcases to presenting on financial literacy to my Youth Workers to organizing weekly events for over a hundred students. Every time I talk to my mom about work, she goes, “But I thought you were doing [insert some other task here].” And she’s not wrong, it’s just that day happened to be different. So while I constantly feel like I’m running around, barely with a grasp on anything, I certainly can’t say that my job is boring—and I definitely don’t feel alone.

A conversation I keep having over and over with Mr. Manko, usually at the end of the day while he drives me home, revolves around the nagging feeling that you did not get enough done that day. No matter what goals you set out the day with, and how organized they may be, by 8:32 AM they are typically derailed one way or another.

Sadly, I don’t think this is a barrier that Liberty alone shares. I think this is a tell-tale mark of any kind of nonprofit or government organization, struggling with their own kind of red tape. Even still, I think it’s one that particularly impedes the school system — arguably the most important aspect of a functional society. Why should the principal of any school be the one covered in dirt and dust organizing storage and throwing garbage in the dumpster instead of writing grants, sitting in on classes regularly, and scheduling field trips around the state? Mr. Manko is a superhero in that he still somehow manages to accomplish all of these things, but it’s impossible not to argue that there has to be an easier, more efficient way of accomplishing it. How much falls through the cracks because he’s spread too thin? Even beyond that, he is an anomaly in how much energy and love he puts into this school. He has not allowed Liberty to drown under the weight of how much work is associated with running a school in the same way that many institutions have — many times for reasons not of their own making. The turnover rate of administrators in the city is staggering, and I can’t help but wonder when being a teacher or principal or a (public) educator of any kind won’t be seen as such a death sentence to one’s career. Tell anybody you’re a teacher and you’ll get a response that’s usually some variation of “God bless you,” because they know it’s backbreaking work. And that’s the thing, everyone loves teachers, but no one wants to be one. And when they have the jobs they do, for the salaries they do, it’s hard not to understand where that sentiment is comes from.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and my admiration grows every day for those who wake up every morning and put their students first. And for that I hope we get to see the day when a teacher doesn’t have to choose between being a teacher, and being financially, physically, and mentally secure. That’s not fair for anyone involved, and there is also just no good reason why that has to be the reality of education in America.

picture of Tena Spencer CIIPTENA SPENCER | THREAD

1. Be confident in your communication.
2. See a future for yourself in the organization.
3. Self care.
I was able to reflect on all of my goals that I had made for myself during orientation during this week. Fortunately, I was able to begin with my third goal. This summer, I wanted “me time” to be more than just sleeping. Often, when I would come back home after work, I would have just enough energy to get dinner then crash. So, when my supervisor gave me Monday off too, I had the entire weekend plus TWO EXTRA DAYS to do the absolute most. Granted, I did sleep for most of Monday but I did deserve it. But I also tried a charcoal face mask. And a bath bomb. I brought out my art supplies. I cleaned my room. I cooked. I painted my nails. I saw my friends who don’t live the 9-5 life. And on Tuesday, I went hiking at Gunpowder.
When I returned to work, Wednesday and Thursday were site visits. These sites were specifically YouthWorks site visits that potentially did not have an affiliation to Thread besides the fact that they just happen to have one of our students there. Though we had contacted every places beforehand in some manner, some of the worksites were not too familiar with Thread. Or, while Angad and I were rushing through buildings trying to find our kids, random people in elevators would see us wearing our Thread shirts and quite literally ask for a elevator pitch on what Thread is. I wanted to say how much I love this organization, and how much it helps, yet “help” is a word we steer away from. I’m always nervous that I will say the wrong thing, but I believe in Thread so much that I didn’t want to give off an impression that would make one think otherwise. In the (about) twenty sites visited in 2 days, I had to find my voice. The Tena voice, but also the representative voice of Thread.
Since my job at Thread is communications, that voice is extremely important in the short term future of my summer internship here. However, as I’ve probably said an annoying amount of times, I want to be here after I graduate college so finding that voice is all the more important and at this half-way point, I’m glad I see where it is now, and where is needs to go.

picture of Angad Uppal CIIPANGAD UPPAL | THREAD

Since July 4th landed on a Tuesday, our boss, Neekta Khorsand the greatest boss ever, gave us Monday off. This gave us a four day weekend after three weeks of long, hard work. Even though this week was only 3 days, it felt like 5. On Wednesday and Thursday we visited 23 different employers throughout the city where our students are placed this summer. We went to check in with our students and ask them how they are doing in the workplace and how, if at all, their experience can be better. Across these 25 different employers, we have 101 students placed at YouthWorks sites. These site visits really made me appreciate the YouthWorks program and all that it does for our youth here in Baltimore city. YouthWorks employing 8,000 students through Baltimore city is really amazing because for a lot of students this is their first ever job. I think that this program does a good job of instilling the values of hard work in youth. Students also earn their own money and are taught the importance and value of a paycheck in our society.
On Friday, we had to help run a Professional Development day for our students who have summer jobs at the JHMI campus and for students who have Non-YouthWorks summer jobs. After the session, we made sure that all students’ time sheets were filled out properly and accurately so they could get paid. We then drove to our ESS member and dropped off all of our time sheets.

picture of Eileen Yu CIIPEILEEN YU | MERIT

One of my goals for this summer was to help the MERIT scholars in whatever capacity possible—whether that was helping them cope through stress or introducing new academic topics (mainly, public health issues and perspectives). Last week after grading their first homework, I decided to teach a short grammar class for students that were clearly behind and writing at a low grade level. Students will have the option of staying behind for about half an hour to go over grammar basics, such as “when to use your/you’re” or “how to write complete sentences.” In addition to grammar, I will also have the opportunity to help some students out with SAT prep. I am actually so excited to be able to help the students in these areas, as grammar and SAT were two things I spent a lot of time on in high school.
I remember feeling so demoralized as I was grading the homework. The majority of students received scores below 60. The aspect of teaching I find that I have the hardest time with is giving students bad news, especially in a room full of scholars who are accustomed to receiving A’s and often the highest scores in their classes. I was expecting to receive a number of negative reactions—students asking for points back or possibly ones who feel so paralyzed by a bad score that they would not want to try on the next homework. However, their reaction blew me away and gives me hope that every one of these students can achieve something amazing. Many of the students have approached me asking how they can do better. Every single one seems to be resolved to improve and eventually earn A’s on every single assignment. I certainly do not remember being so resilient in high school.

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