By Evan Soken
A recent graduate of Macalester College, Evan Soken is currently working at a charter school in Boston, MA as a full-time tutor and teaching assistant. Moving forward, he is hoping to work with a college access organization to assist first-generation college students and their families with the admissions process.
I’m up at 5AM. Bleary-eyed, I check my work email and find out that because of a last-minute scheduling change I will need to rewrite my lesson plans for the day. During one of my tutorials, a student is having a bad day—they publicly challenge every instruction and get angry when they struggle to master the material. As my 20-minute lunch break is about to begin, another student flips a chair as they storm out of a classroom and into the hallway, cursing loudly. I track him down, talk him down, and then stuff a granola bar in my mouth as I run to the copier because we are short on math materials.
When I took a full-time tutoring position at a charter school in Boston, MA last spring I thought I was totally prepared. After four years of a rigorous curriculum and packed schedule at Macalester College, I was ready to take on the world. Fast-forward four months and I was drowning as I worked 12-hour days tutoring a subject I was totally unfamiliar with while struggling to implement a discipline system I didn’t understand. Several months in and I still have days when I feel like I’m on the brink of panic but I am choosing to be happy.
I am choosing to be happy.
During summer training one of my amazing supervisors told the crowd of eager and idealistic young people that the year would be hard; the year would push us to our limits. “You need to learn how to say, ‘you make me better,” she said. “Look at your most challenging student and think, ‘you make me better’ or think about the co-worker that pushes all your buttons and think, ‘you make me better.’ You need to learn to believe it.”
The ‘you make me better’ mentality has been a game changer for me, as a professional and as a human. By saying ‘you make me better’ I am choosing to be present in a difficult moment and consciously think about how this person or situation pushes me to grow. How does this make me stronger, wiser, humbler, or more patient? For so much of life I’ve griped about people, situations, and institutions that have wounded me, oppressed me, or angered me. I’ve rehearsed that hurt over and over again, embellishing and deepening it with each futile repetition. Hurt is real. Scars are real. But when we focus on them exclusively, the pain becomes our master.
As a Christian, I’ve heard all my life that ‘God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.’ My natural instinct has been to sit and wait for the work to be done—to suddenly wake up one morning and have all the pain make sense. I’m starting to realize that I can’t do that any more. Sure, God works everything together for good but Scripture describes us as partners in God’s work too. This year I’m going to be more deliberate about reflecting on my experience and choosing to say, ‘You made me better; you are making me better now.’
I am choosing growth.