The Learning Curve

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 11 2011

Breathing room.

This week was… kind of a nightmare. It was the boot camp week, the first week of Institute where TFA has to make sure you know what’s running the show and that you can adapt as necessary. It was a bit rough, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the overload of information in 5 short days. My day usually consists of waking up at 5, leaving my apartment on campus at 6 to go to the cafeteria, packing my lunch for the day (I ate the same salad every day this week. Not because I was obsessed, but because I refuse to accept a “hummus bagel” as a proper entree for non-meat eaters and the sandwiches are old.), and eating breakfast, then grabbing my bag to make it to the bus on time (mine leaves at 6:40). We’re at our school by 7 and in sessions until the end of the day at 4:30.

After that, we get back to campus shortly before 5, I go back to my room to change, then head to the dining hall for more salad and the occasional soft serve dessert. Then I go back to my room – or the resource room, or our “school” room in another apartment building – to work on what’s due the next morning at 5. I usually work until anywhere from 9:30 – 11:30. If I’m not done with whatever it is by midnight, I turn it in like it is and go to bed. TFA can get a lot of things out of me but they most certainly won’t get less than 5 hours of sleep, period.

In any event, though all of the above sounds hellish (and at times, it was), I learned a lot in a short period of time and can see why most of it will be useful. This week we start teaching. On Monday, we are having our first day of instruction at our summer schools. I can’t wait – cannot. wait. – to be back in front of 5th graders. I love that age so much. During the school year I will be teaching 3rd grade math and science, and I’ve squared myself with that, but I am glad that I have a month of summer school in front of 5th graders. I know it was the right thing to do to leave my job, for a lot of reasons, for TFA, and I feel that I am where I am supposed to be, but it was unbelievably difficult to walk away from those kids. They were amazing! I loved bearing witness to their “aha!” moments and their growth as people. There’s nothing like that in the world.

There were a couple times this week when I wondered why the hell I’d wanted to join TFA or wanted to be a full-time teacher rather than keep my old job. But every time I saw one of the students at the summer school, it hit me all over again. There’s a reason I am here, and for that reason, I wake up at 5 and go to sleep at midnight and work harder on anything than I ever have before because it’s worth it, and it’s necessary.

Nevertheless, Saturdays are my “NO TFA days.” There is to be minimal to zero mention of the organization which shall not be named, the achievement gap, or anything associated with it. It is, of course, impossible to put all of it out of my head. I grew up in it, some of my family and friends were victims to it, and I’ve uprooted my life for it, and I am driven towards it every single conscious second of my life.

But after this week, and the weeks to come, sometimes you just gotta say enough is enough. So today, I will have a margarita, go on the hunt for some good salsa, maybe read for fun (gasp!), and then I’ll wake up tomorrow and get back to it.*

I miss Texas.

*Look for a future post about the TFA kool-aid and how being ‘an old’ (my term) sometimes makes being here more difficult than it should be.

2 Responses

  1. Adam

    From a 2010 CM who is just finishing his first year teaching 8th grade math, I’d like to stress the importance of working on your classroom management. Institute will certainly teach you to backwards plan the shit out of a lesson, but the best lesson is useless if the kids don’t behave. Tell them what they should be doing at all times–most want to meet your expectations. Helpful hint, rather than calling a kid out, go over and have a whisper-level conversation restating the expectation (don’t talk while I’m talking, stay in your seat, etc.) and thank them for their cooperation. Good luck!

    • thelearningcurve

      Thank you, Adam, for your great advice! I should mention that I have taught in classrooms prior to this for two years, so I have a little bit of a grasp on classroom management and learning more and more each day. I’m definitely interested to see the melding of my previous classroom management skills with TFA’s version of it. They have heavily emphasized classroom management so far into Institute, so I’m supposing that they have heard previous criticism and tried to better prepare teachers. That being said, having been there, there’s only so much you can be taught beforehand; much of it you need to experience.

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