Most people I meet have a hard time understanding why I would leave my teaching job and move all the way across the country to become a VISTA. And while I have just as hard a time explaining it, it’s definitely not because I disliked my job or career choice. After four years of teaching, I think I just needed a break. There’s a charter school in New York that requires teachers to take “sabbaticals” after five consecutive years of teaching. They find the required leave crucial in their efforts to combat the very real phenomenon of teacher burnout. It also provides teachers with the opportunity to explore a part of themselves outside of teaching, develop new views and skillsets, and re-energize; that’s exactly what I hope to get out of my year of service. And so far the first eight weeks have not disappointed.
My primary role at College Unbound requires me to be out in the community meeting people, attending events, making connections and building partnerships. As an introvert, these are definitely skillsets I lack or utilize very seldom. I am energized when alone and my energy is drained being around other people. The short time I’ve spent at College Unbound has really required me to step outside my comfort zone, but that’s what developing and growing is all about. In education this is referred to as the zone of proximal development. It refers to the tasks that a learner can complete only with the proper guidance and support; a concept developed by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky. At College Unbound we call it the “ouch zone”.
The work I do at College Unbound is essential to the development of the program, and beneficial to my own development. I’m grateful that my VISTA service allows for such great reciprocity. I find it very rewarding to be able to provide a service for others, while gaining so much for myself.
The service College Unbound provides for students is unlike any other. In order for students to really grow as learners, they require the proper guidance and assistance. They need to be met at their own zone of proximal development; a concept not traditionally practiced in higher education. The unique structure of College Unbound allows for a truly personalized learning plan where every student’s individual needs are addressed and met. Working with such a great organization, and others alike, reassures that I have made the right choice in moving all the way across the country. The best part about being a VISTA is helping people discover their lives while rediscovering mine.