“So, what do you do?”

By: Chris Yarrell

Chris (second from the front on the right) and a group of fellow Corps Members welcoming guests to City Year Denver's Red Jacket Gala

Chris (second from the front on the right) and a group of fellow Corps Members welcoming guests to City Year Denver’s Red Jacket Gala

When people approach me asking me what I do, I often find myself unable to answer this question concisely. I know what I do. I think that all of my students would be at an extreme disservice if I were not fully aware of what I did. What I mean is that I do not quite know how to frame a response to this question that is accurate, succinct, and relatively all encompassing. Due to my well-documented struggles with brevity, I could give the oft-used answer, “I work for an education non-profit as a mentor and tutor to kids in turnaround schools!” Firstly, I do not like the designation “turnaround” school. Something about this title strikes me as far too broad and limiting a categorization. Secondly, I feel as though this rebuttal cannot fully shed light on what I do on a daily basis. So even into month seven of my service, I still hesitate when responding to the question, “So, what do you do?”

Like many of my City Year colleagues,

  • I wake up each day within the five o’clock hour to get ready for my day at school.
  • I pack my lunch, which is composed of the oh-so-exciting smoked turkey and honey ham, cheese and spicy mustard, all between two whole-wheat buns (excuse my sounding like an advertisement for Subway, but you must visualize the gloriousness that is my daily sandwich selection), chips, mixed veggies, a few cookies, a Gatorade, and maybe some fruit if I’m feeling daring. Overall, I pack a very bland, yet balanced, diet.
  • I make a hearty breakfast composed of eggs and Honey Nut Cheerios with a glass of Simply Orange, pulp-free orange juice (yes, the specificity was needed. Quite frankly, there should be no other orange juice in production other than the aforementioned).
  • Lastly, I brush my teeth, wash my face, and get dressed. By 6:15ish, I’m off to school.
  • I usually arrive a Lake International Middle School around 6:45 AM, 15 minutes before we all must meet as a team to “morning circle.”
  • Morning circle at 7:00 AM involves my entire team of nine (sometimes 10 when my beloved and busy program manager, Tony, joins us) gathers to discuss the day’s agenda. This usually lasts about five minutes, and then we break and go to greet our kids as they enter the school to begin their day.
  • After a 20 to 25 minute display of group cheers, personal greetings, and overall positivity – I can say confidently that every person entering the school is fully prepared to shed the stubborn “eye boogers” from the corner of our sleepy eyes, and pumped to tackle the day that lies before us.
  • Around 7:30 AM my entire team then heads inside to their respective classes to being their day of service.

I can continue to layout the details of my day, highlighting even the most minute of details. Ultimately, my doing so would not only exceed the word-limit of this blog, but also fail to provide an answer to the perpetually recurring question, “So, what do you do?” The remainder of my day, however, essentially revolves around interacting with my students. I talk with my kids, both superficially and personally. My most recent discussions ranged from why the Raiders will not be a viable playoff contender next year, to why punctuality is important not just in school, but in life. We discuss our families, our struggles and successes, and what our respective futures may hold. We read and write together, we argue with each other, and we play four-on-four basketball together. Our 9-hour daily involvement together spans the gamut. So, what do I do – you ask? I’m still not quite sure how to answer this question succinctly. If I were to try and do so now, however, the only valid and responsible answer that I could present is that I significantly change our world through love and education.

As this academic year comes quickly to a close, I have the privilege of continuing this journey in education next year as a Teach for America corps member at STRIVE Prepatory School here in Denver. If my next chapter even vaguely resembles the current one, which I think it will, my answer to the proposed question will undoubtedly be more informative.


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