A day in the life of an 826 Valencia intern

By Marc Huerta Osborn, Educational Programming Intern

Every afternoon, around 2:15 p.m., I shuffle down the steps at 24th Street BART and slide into the Dublin/Pleasanton-bound train. I grab a seat in the corner, tuck in my headphones, and shut my eyes. The 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. workday doesn’t sound all that taxing on paper, but I’ve learned during the first month of my 826 Valencia internship that the standard rules of energy and exhaustion don’t apply when it comes to working with fourth graders. I am for real tired. The train rumbles underneath the San Francisco Bay, and I try to keep my drowsy head from slumping onto the person sitting next to me.
 
Overpowering the tiredness, though, is a profound sense of wonder, a sort of humming warmth. Every day, without fail, I am surprised, humbled, amazed by the students I tutor. No lie, the feeling is like magic. It comes from the little things: convincing a frustrated student to write just one more sentence at the end of a long day, or watching the glee spread across the kids’ faces when they eliminate you in four-square. Each student has particular needs, goals, and brilliance; you learn to tailor your teaching methods to each individual, and you figure out which jokes, questions, and conversation starters will grab the attention of each student. You find victories in smiles, pencil strokes, wide eyes. You almost want to cry out with triumph when you see students leaning forward with brows furrowed, mouthing the words as they write odes to the color red, heart-wrenching poems about faraway places and loved ones, or electrifying stories about heroes, betrayal, dinosaurs, or friends.
 
There are hard days, too. You are surprised by how much it affects you to see one of your students crying after a dispute at recess. Frustration can become contagious: when one of the students exhales quickly, drops her pencil, and says, “What’s this? I can’t do this, I’m too stupid,” you worry that you’re not doing enough to support her. When another student lays his head on the table and ignores you, you scold yourself for not knowing what to say.
 
But these are mighty fourth graders. They bounce back. They match your energy. They can tell when you’re on their side. At the end of the day, it’s fist bumps all around, and you feel full—exhausted, absolutely, but complete.
 
One day, I worked with a student who was totally convinced that writing was just “not his thing.” “It just makes me so tired,” he groaned. I nodded, wrote down the first two words of a sentence on his worksheet, and said, “Okay. You take it from here.”
 
Half an hour later, when I returned to the student to check on his progress, he had his head in his hands, looking shocked. I glanced at his paper — every single blank space was filled to the brim with pencil strokes. “Oh. My. God,” he muttered in disbelief, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I finished. I’m supposed to be a troublemaker!”.
 
It’s the magic of moments like this that make the tiredness a good, glowing tiredness. On my way home, my head droops inevitably against the glass window of the BART train, and I fall asleep thinking about all of the magic I’ve seen today.