Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 13 2011


I really can’t believe this is my first real entry since I began teaching in September. I had such good intentions when I began this blog. Like so many other 1st year teachers, I spent the first few months experiencing lots of lows and very few highs- and quite frankly I didn’t know if I wanted to share that.

As you might know, I teach at a high school that offers adults the opportunity to finish their high school diploma. I was assigned secondary mathematics- never in a million years did I think I’d be teaching high school math to students between the ages of 17 and 60. I felt so disconnected with Teach For America, and frankly judged by fellow corps members. Every time I heard the word “kid”, I’d cringe. I have students- not kids. My students have kids. I was pretty much miserable until mid February when I went to the 20th Anniversary Summit. And it wasn’t really at the summit that things changed- in fact there were moments at the summit that made me feel even more ostracized. It was really when I got back and started taking the time to reflect on the experience that my whole mindset changed.

I think at some point in this pity party, I lost sight of what an incredible opportunity I have. I lost all the joy in what I do every day. I am working with students who have failed over and over again, and have been faced with every challenge imaginable. Somehow they have managed to not give up on the hope of one day earning their high school diploma, and making a better life for themselves and/or kids. My students WANT to be there. I don’t experience some of the daily disrespect many of other corps members face from their students. But, it’s really more than that. I expected to be experiencing that. I had a certain expectation of what this experience would be like and it has been nothing at all like what I thought it would be. And I had a hard time being okay with that.

I have the opportunity to see my student’s life trajectory changed while I’m still their teacher. Where as many other corps members may not see the “product” of their work for years. I need to spend more time cherishing that and being optimistic about that. Not only that, but my student’s children’s lives will change. Several of my students have kids that attend schools where there are other Indy corps members- one even has a good friend of mine. I can’t take that impact for granted. I have the opportunity to help close the achievement gap in a different way.

As I mentioned, my “funk” kind of changed after the summit. The question posed throughout the weekend was “What role will you play?”. Until that point, I had lost sight of the bigger picture- after the 2 years. I don’t see myself staying in the classroom beyond this point. So spending time feeling upset that I’m not teaching kids and having a “traditional” TFA experience is a waste of precious time. It’s taking time away from experiencing the joy in giving a student a second chance at an education and a better life. And that is not worth sacrificing. This experience has changed everything I think, feel, and believe… it’s making me reconsider what I want to do long term (go to law school).

My students are really incredible. One of my students drives an hour and half (one way) to school. He moved to the United States from Africa about 10 years ago. He was never able to graduate high school in Africa because his country was constantly in war, and every time they rebuilt his school it would be destroyed again. I have a student who wasn’t able to graduate high school because he failed his math courses over and over again, so he was short credits. He never learned to multiply because he was constantly given a calculator (per his IEP). He just took his graduation qualifying exam this week, and told me he felt confident he passed the math part(he’s failed several times before). I have a student who went from a 5th grade math level to a 10th grade math level in 3 short months. I have my first “former” student. After a few months of going to my school, she took her GED test {my school only offers a CORE 40 diploma} on a whim, and she passed. She had failed the math portion several times. She is going to be attending college in the fall.  I have a student who is 60 years old. He got involved in the street life, and didn’t see the importance of an education. Decades later, he is determined to make his life better and become a high school graduate. He is the kindest and most hard working individual. I could go on for days about each of my students and their unique stories. What they all share in common is that they want a better life- and each and everyone deserve that. I often take for granted the amount of hope that is in our school- in every one of our students. My mom once told me, “You may not love what you do, but you need to do it with love.” The past few weeks, I’ve been really truly embracing that. I really do love them, and their kids. I would do anything to help them. I am working on being more explicit about that with them- I think they know I care about them. But, I don’t say it enough. So, I’m working really hard to find more ways of recognizing the hard work and effort they’re putting forth in a way that’s meaningful for them.

I feel like this entry is bit all over the place, but I wanted to put up an update. :) Hopefully I’ll get better about updating this!

7 Responses

  1. 2010 Corps Member

    WOW! Great post. THANK YOU for sharing.

  2. Wess

    I love hearing about your less “traditional” placement! Keep writing!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! It sounds like your students are making great progress. They are really lucky to have you.

  4. Your mother!

    I think this is one of the proudest moments I have had as a parent and as an educator. Remember you may not change lives, but you can change moments in a life.

  5. Sandy

    I love that advice your mom gave! I will pass this on to my daughter. You are really making a difference in what you are doing. Keep up the good work!

  6. HeAtHeR

    Miss B you are an amazing teacher. I knew from the first moment you told me of your placement that you would make a difference. I am glad you finally saw the light. You are a special person who has so much to give to her students. Age does not matter and it is just a word to describe. We are here to bridge the gap and you are on the front lines making an instant impact. I am proud to walk along side you. Thank you for this honest account. You are truly amazing.

  7. 2009 CM

    Before I started with TFA, I taught adult ESL as a volunteer, and I was just telling someone that I wished I could switch my placement to do that again for the parents of my students. You are making such a deep impact that is not only visible now but will, as you said, be life changing for their children. I believe that educating parents can go a much further way and be more impactful to the achievement gap. You are doing incredible work. Thank you for sharing.

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A first year math teacher in Indianapolis

Middle School

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