Seven months ago I uprooted my life in Boston, MA to move to Arkansas to teach full-time in a rural school district through a national public service program.  I’ve known for years that dedicating myself to a public service program after college was the meaningful and challenging path I wanted to pave for myself.  Throughout college, I was determined to make a positive mark on my school and city community through my passion for promoting and furthering efforts of social justice, volunteerism, and community change.  What I found to be most empowering in the advocacy and activist opportunities I was a part of was how the ability to be educated or educate others on an issue ignited such collective motivation.  

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The more I learned about social justice issues and the complexities of the problems our world faces today, the more invigorated I was to try and spark change.  Through many of my internship, volunteer, and community involvement experiences, I started to realize how much mobility and progress can come when provided with a quality education.  After being inspired by the ambition of my community members and fellow activists, I knew I wanted to play a role in the fight for equal education and opportunity in our country. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone.  There’s something inspiring about working alongside others and being a part of a group that strives towards a common goal - especially if that common goal is for the betterment of our society.

The more I learned about social justice issues and the complexities of the problems our world faces today, the more invigorated I was to try and spark change.

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My Educational Experience

The goal I wanted to strive for was educational equity.  Despite not going down a secondary education route in college, I was determined to use my unique skill-sets and specified passions as someone who self-designed her own major in the role of a teacher.  In college, I felt so empowered knowing that I created an academic outlet for myself that perfectly combined my passions in life and the interests that define who I am.

My educational experience allowed me to express myself and my passions and taught me to be unafraid in my future endeavors.  I realized what a powerful force customizing and taking control of my education played in informing the rest of my life.  Even in high school, I tried to cater my education to my passions and idealistic career aspirations.  The more I personalized the content I was taught, the more empowered and self-assured I felt.  I knew I wanted to try and provide a similar educational opportunity to young people.  I thought the most effective way to do that would be to join a public service organization to become a teacher.  So I did and it has been the most life-changing experience.

I knew I wanted to play a role in the fight for equal education and opportunity in our country.

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My Experience in Arkansas

Teaching in Arkansas has been an experience that has challenged and emboldened my passions, outlook on life, work ethic, and sense of self.  After just six months of teaching, I have never admired teachers more than I do now.  The energy and attitude teachers bring to the classroom every morning sets the tone for the day for your kids.  The words we say have weight and our students are influenced by us everyday, in small and large ways.  My students remember my personal anecdotes, remind me of jokes I told them weeks ago, and can even recite my friends’ and family’s names whom they’ve never met.  Through these small gestures I’ve realized how much my students care and how much I care about them.  When I take a sick day they are quick to ask me if I’m okay, where I was, and if I’m feeling better.  

Aside from the content I teach, the relationships I have built with my students are what I value most.  Despite only knowing them for a few months, my students have reminded me of how caring, genuine, and giving people can be.  And that goes for my co-workers as well.  Although I’m from a different region of the country and am new to this southern lifestyle, my Arkansan co-workers have shown me such genuine acceptance and support and I am constantly grateful for how kindly they’ve welcomed me into their school family.  Despite the stumbling blocks I may face as a first-year 22 year-old teacher, the people I’m surrounded by everyday remind me of why I moved to Arkansas in the first place.

 

The Impact of my Students on my Life

As cliché as it may sound, my students have had an enormously positive and memorable impact on my life.  All of the anxieties, doubts, and fears I had as a first-year teacher and new resident of the south quickly dissipated once I met and fostered relationships with my students.  I joined this public service organization to work towards educational equity and equal opportunity for all kids, but my students are what reenergize and fuel my commitment to education everyday.  For the first time in my life, I understand what it feels like to be devoted to and impassioned by something bigger than myself.  I’ve realized that being an educator is not just about promoting and creating pathways to a pursuit of equal and quality education for my students, but a pursuit of happiness as well.  

Many of my students have experienced a lot of hardship, tragedies, and challenges and it is truly inspiring to see the level of resilience they have at such a young age.  Even when circumstances get stressful and difficult at home, my students push through, walk through my classroom door, and get down to work.  Their capacity to recover and persevere despite the roadblocks that come their way pushes me to be a better teacher for them, a better role model, and to be someone they can count on.  Both the challenging and positive moments I’ve had with my students have taught me to not ignore my day-to-day growth and little victories.  My students have provided me with an abundance of life lessons that I will unquestionably never forget.  Because of them, I have become a more self-aware, ambitious, and happier person.  Their stories make me laugh until I cry, their curiosity motivates me to constantly learn and seek to understand the unfamiliar, their resilience makes me want to be a better person, and their young imaginations re-instill my faith in our nation’s youth.

For the first time in my life, I understand what it feels like to be devoted to and impassioned by something bigger than myself.

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On Teaching as a Recent Post-Grad

As I pursued my Bachelor's degree in Boston, I constantly searched for purposeful and productive opportunities and experiences that reinstated and strengthened my passions and career goals.  I interned with five different nonprofits, volunteered regularly, designed my own curriculum, and took on leadership roles in college organizations that related to my interests and ambitions.  The rigor, productivity, and purposefulness of teaching have enabled me to fine-tune my passions and future goals.  With my 20-something energy and zest, I dove right into the teaching profession and immersed myself as best I could - of course while making mistakes along the way.  

Teaching gives me a greater sense of purpose and tenacity and I'm grateful to be in a profession where feeling this way everyday is even possible.  As a teacher, it's rewarding to assist and guide my students’ educational pursuits but still be in the passenger's seat of their education.  It's truly inspiring to see how empowered they feel when they’re in the driver’s seat and controlling their own educational trajectory and future.  It reminds me of how empowered I felt when I took the reigns on my own educational experience in high school and college and how I entered this public service program to provide and foster a similar experience for my students.  As a recent post-grad, I feel like I’ve learned three years worth of life lessons in one semester alone and that is something I will always be thankful for.  I have learned more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

It's truly inspiring to see how empowered they feel when they’re in the driver’s seat and controlling their own educational trajectory and future.

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On Recommending a Public Service Program

No matter your age, I strongly urge people to give back to their community and society-at-large through positive leadership, mentorship, advocacy, and volunteering.  It is remarkable to see the difference one person can make in the lives of others.  It’s also remarkable to see how impacted you feel when giving back and serving the greater good of society as well.  Service is a two-way exchange and teaching has been a clear illustration of that.  My students and I learn from each other everyday, share stories from our personal lives, and teach each other meaningful lessons based on our differing life experiences.  Our geographical and cultural differences weave an extraordinary and personalized narrative that will hopefully stay with us for years to come.  Even when my students graduate, I will always remember the positive influence they have had on my life and the enhanced perspective I’ve gained.  This is why I recommend committing to a public service program - whether it’s right after college or not.  

My public service experience has informed my future career aspirations of furthering efforts of social change, educational equity, equal opportunity, and social impact. I want to continue to dedicate myself to causes that improve the quality of life for all people and pave the way for other people to find empowering opportunities to better their futures.  Spending a year or more working alongside others to achieve a goal for the betterment of a community is undoubtedly worth it.  Although living in a rural community has presented its challenges, I wouldn’t trade the experience of contributing to something greater than myself for the world.  I feel like a better person everyday I step into my classroom and I encourage you to take a leap and experience that too.

My public service experience has informed my future career aspirations of furthering efforts of social change, educational equity, equal opportunity, and social impact.

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Read more of Dylan’s blogs and online contributions by visiting her personal blog or follow her on Twitter at @DylanManderlink. 

 

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