Two years ago if someone would have told me I would be helping teach at a small Catholic school in Saint Louis right now, I would have laughed in their face—I could not even have told you what state Saint Louis is in. I was a California Boy at heart, and as Katy Perry once eloquently sang, “Fine, fresh fierce, we’ve got it on lock”, and I was locked in my California State of Mind. I loved the beach, In-N-Out burger, and snow as a concept was terrifying; however, I knew that in signing up to be a Lasallian Volunteer, I would be leaving the safety bubble of my home state of California.
When told my site location was Saint Cecilia’s School and Academy in Saint Louis, I was caught off guard. Saint Louis was not even on my radar of locations; I was supposed to be in Chicago or New York living the fast paced city life I thought I wanted. However, in the truest sense of the phrase “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”, and God LAUGHED at me. And I am glad He did. This past year has been one of the most transformative of my life so far.
Besides the initial culture shock of moving from the Bay Area to Saint Louis, there was the culture shock of shifting from the college atmosphere to the education world. The staff of my school has been incredibly supportive of my transition, but there were still growing pains.
I did not have an education background; so, I had to learn through trial and error. Disciplining kindergarteners and disciplining seventh graders was not the same thing; raising your voice at a five year old will make them listen to you, and raising your voice at a thirteen year old will make them laugh at you. Asking a junior high school student to meditate in order to calm down is ineffective. Not every student who asks to use the restroom actually needs to use it, and no matter how many times you tell a kindergartener about “side hugs”, cluster hugs are common. Cluster hugs being when every student in the class hugs you at once without warning. I was, in every way, thoroughly unprepared for Saint Cecilia’s, and I LOVED it.
Every day has been a learning adventure—trial and error at its finest. If one sight word exercise fizzled out, reevaluate and try it a different way tomorrow. I struggled with the Junior High level Academy students with dividing fractions and helping them find books that inspire them to read. Seven months into my volunteer year, I am proud to say that I have seen academic growth in every student I have worked with, and I would like to think I played a part in that growth.
While educating students has been challenging, the most profoundly difficult and rewarding experience I have had as a volunteer, is in connecting and learning about my student’s lives. A community member once said about students, “You can never un-know something about a student”. How can one prepare for a five year old saying “I like being in your group Mr. Zach, you’re the only person who loves me”, or finding out that the reason your student is yelling and acting out, is not because he’s a hormonal teenager, but that his father has been deported. How can one prepare for learning that a student has not doing his homework because he spent the previous nights taking care of his younger siblings, while his parents were unable to do so? I was not prepared that’s for sure, but I had to be there for my students. Many students have told me they feel safe around me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Even if I wanted to give up on my students, I couldn’t—not even when winter hit Saint Louis and my California self was the least prepared person in the city.
I’m now here in Saint Louis proudly serving my students, because they weaseled their way into my heart. I show up everyday because I am Mr. Farley, and I promised myself that if nothing else, I would be there for them everyday. Will I be prepared for their curveballs? Hopefully I will be more prepared as time goes by, but I will be no less present for them. And by the way Saint Louis is in Missouri: I had to look it up, but now I know.
Zach Farley is a 1st year LV serving at Saint Cecilia’s School and Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri. Zach is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.