By Renee Irwin
I graduated from IUP with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Writing. I had huge plans. I was going to make a name for myself at a local newspaper and write for online magazines. I started applying for jobs right away, only to discover that nobody wanted to hire me. I had no experience, and to my surprise, nobody wanted to give me any experience to put onto a resume. I was stuck. I landed a job as a transcriptionist, which became my own personal hell. I lost myself; I lost my happiness, my spirit, and my perseverance.
Fast-forward: I worked in my job of nightmares for eight months, only then to get a job working at a local gas station. This was not how I saw my life going! How many post-graduate students don’t think that, though?
In August of 2016 I heard of AmeriCorps for the first time. It sounded too good to be true. Could such a great experience even exist? It included so many opportunities, so many benefits, so much experience.
Orientation was an exciting day for me. I was going to start a new chapter in my life. I was going to be working at the elementary school helping children learn. I was finally going to be doing something important. However, I was terrified of this new experience that was coming. I started at the school the very next day. Portage is my alma mater! One can only imagine how excited I was to be back in my old stomping grounds. I was going to be working with Kindergarten through Second Grade. Sounds fun! Well… maybe. At that point in my life, I thought that I hated little kids. (Crazy, right?) I went to college for English Writing, and I purposely avoided the education track. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I didn’t want to work with kids; they kind of scared me, to be honest.
Today is my sixth month working at the Portage Area Elementary School as an AmeriCorps worker. For the first time since I graduated college, I don’t dread my alarm going off early in the morning. I love this job so much that I wake up excited to get ready and head to the school. I am greeted daily by tiny smiling faces yelling, “Miss Renee!!” running at me for hugs. I am watching these children grow up right in front of my eyes. I get to see improvement in their grades, watch them make new friends, and enjoy seeing their excitement when learning new things. Most importantly, I’m a major part of all of this.
What have I learned so far while doing AmeriCorps? I love little kids. I love their energy, their passion, and their personalities. I love teaching. With the help of the amazing staff at the Portage School District, I am figuring out the system and the do’s and don’ts of the teaching world. (It is so much more work, and so much more complicated than I ever imagined!) I never pictured myself as a teacher, but now I can’t imagine not being Miss Renee. I can’t imagine taking all of the hand drawn pictures from students off of my wall and packing up my classroom.
What have I learned? I have the heart of a teacher. I have the determination, the patience, and the drive to encourage children to succeed and learn important skills such as math and reading. AmeriCorps is the best thing that I have ever committed to. Of course AmeriCorps offers the education award, the biweekly stipend, and the amazing volunteering opportunities. However, that is not why I am in love with this program. AmeriCorps put the sparkle back into my eyes. I finally found myself again. Actually, I finally figured out who I really am. I have surrounded myself with amazing coworkers, wonderful children, and incredible experiences each and every day. I am finally happy again, and I FINALLY found something that I love doing.
Never in a million years would I have expected to love working in an elementary school as much as I do. I am forever grateful to AmeriCorps for giving me, a graduate without an education degree, a chance to experience the school system. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am truly making a difference. A child’s education is the most important thing to help shape them into successful adults, and I adore being a part of this process.
Renee Irwin – PMSC AmeriCorps Tutor, Portage Elementary, Portage PA