Hey, so, remember this post? The title of which was, ‘Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And you’ll be fine.”? How true it is!
As I sat down tonight trying to consider what to write – what would aptly sum up my first year as a TFA corps member and my mindset going into next year – I was drawn back to that entry, which was such a short time ago but certainly doesn’t seem so. In that entry, I wrote about teaching a poor lesson to a handful of students, a pair of whom broke into an impromptu slap fight during instruction that escalated so quickly and eventually devolved into me crying in a hallway. Part of it – the crying part – was caused by much more than a simple adolescent slap fight. It was the stress of Institute weighing down on me, the feeling that I was just “fine” but not good enough as a teacher, and the idea that I wasn’t improving as rapidly as I should’ve been.
Well, these days, I look at that entry and laugh. First of all, what a mild situation I’d found myself in, especially juxtaposed with how I reacted to it. Second of all, like many a CM’s Institute experience, I quickly realized that my summer school students were behaviorally a cakewalk compared to what I faced in the first year at my placement school.
Yet, that entry is still very apropos. The title says it all, and if I had to sum up my experiences so far as a corps member in platitudes and quotables, that’s probably what I’d say. My first year at my placement school was, in so many ways, disastrous. I was nowhere near as good as I should have or could have been. My school was something out of the wild west – the culture was one of “anything goes” and let’s just say anything went. So many days of the year, I didn’t feel as if I were going to work to be effective, or even okay. I felt as if I were doggy paddling on a daily basis. There were victories, and I certainly wasn’t depressed all 170 days of the school year but, overall, my school year was typical of many first year teachers’ in urban school environments.
There were some overwhelming positives there, too. When times are tough, you learn what you’re made of. Faced with challenges every day, I discovered how resilient and independent I could be. I also learned how to ask for help (something I was truly TERRIBLE at before) and integrate feedback and constructive criticism without taking it personally (something I was even worse at before). It was just a necessity for the job.
On the last day of school, I couldn’t even enjoy it. My co-teacher and I made little take-home signs for each student with notes inside. I definitely got a little teary writing those notes and saying goodbye to my challenging but amazing little thinkers. I still miss them and think about them and reflect on the lessons I learned from them, and all of the lessons I had and hadn’t successfully taught. But on the last day, I was just so exhausted and out of steam from a year of violence, turnover and struggle that I could think of nothing but leaving (and very tall drinks). I was making plans for my summer and trying to be positive about how things had ended (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t altogether very impressive, data-wise). I was not truly reflecting on my year or thinking of the next. I just wanted a break.
And, boy, did I get one. Shortly after, my school’s administrative district sent out dismissal letters to almost everyone at the school. All of us TFA corps members there thought it had just been us, but it was more than that. The staff, we had all given so much of ourselves to the school, often to the detriment of our own lives, and the school sent us letters essentially telling us that it didn’t matter. It was hard, after the year we’d had, to justify why we’d been let go, when our results were there. Just like that, this job I’d been bitter about having was gone. As the saying goes, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.
I had a few weeks where I felt dizzy, as if the rug had been pulled from under me, but my M,TLD(/PD) came through and put out feelers for me that led to a phone interview (and eventually a job) with a successful national charter network.
I’m excited for the next year, but I also have an evenness about where I go from here. Many of my students are going to be back at that school, with nowhere else to go. I have moved forward, and I’m excited about it, but it doesn’t come without a little sadness about what I’m leaving behind. That’s the real push of TFA and my own personal mission – that I am able to succeed and move on to bigger and better things because of the opportunities I was given that so many others – my brother, my best friends, my students – were not. That once again I am leaving behind those who don’t have a choice. It’s not a guilt, just a motivation. It entrenches me even more in what I am doing and why. I’m not going to forget those students just because I will be at a far less violent, far more successful school next year. I can’t. That’s just not what this is about.
I hope that next year’s posts will be generally more positive, more hopeful. I hope that I reach a little perspective in year 2 of my teaching career that will go a long way to keeping it going. But, no way to know just yet; only time will tell. I hope you’ll join me, no matter what is waiting.