I’ll be honest. I’m currently writing this blog because I need an excuse to procrastinate on lesson plans. I’ve also never kept a blog, but I feel like this might be good for me. However, be warned that this might go the way of all my journals: begun enthusiastically and then slowly pushed to the wayside as I think of more “important” things to do with my time. I’m going to try, though. Really, I am.
Teach for America is all about reflection. I’m pretty sure I’ve reflected more on discussions and classroom lessons in the past few weeks than I have in the past four years of college. I’ve “think-pair-shared” and independently and group reflected until I’ve felt like I have nothing left to give. So, naturally, I’m writing a blog where I can reflect on my first year as a Teach for America corps member. Makes sense.
It’s hard to believe I’ve already completed my first week of teaching. (I almost had a typo with “year” instead of “week”. Maybe that says something about how time goes by at institute.) It was challenging, inspiring, shocking, and exhilarating. My students are, beyond any shadow of a doubt, incredible. I’m in awe of their insights into texts, their willingness to work diligently despite it being a beautiful summer, their camaraderie with each other and myself. They already seem to trust me, and I’m not sure if I’ve done anything to deserve that, but I feel honored nonetheless.
Still, it’s impossible to miss that ever-looming achievement gap that we here at TFA talk so much about and dedicate our time to, one day, solving. Most of my students have difficulty writing a complete sentence; others’ grammar is so jumbled that it’s difficult to decipher what they’re trying to say; still others already feel so behind that they’ve given up trying. I gave them a long, extremely difficult assessment last week to measure their reading and writing level. It had questions on an excerpt from Heart of Darkness, a text I didn’t read until second semester senior year of college. These students are ninth graders. I could see them growing increasingly frustrated as they tried to answer the questions, many eventually writing down cursory responses and then gazing distractedly around the room for the remainder of the time. Even as I tried to engage them with the test, telling them how important it is that we know where they are academically so we can set proper goals for them this summer, I could see them thinking, “Why? What’s the point? I can’t win at this test.”
One of my favorite students, Mario, asked me on the first day of class if I thought he was a distraction. It broke my heart to know that he must have heard this frequently from teachers in the past, that he was so concerned about being a “problem kid”. I told him no, of course not. In fact, he had some of the most insightful comments in class that day.
He said, “If you were my teacher last year, maybe I would have passed. Maybe I would like English.”
I’m so humbled by these kids’ trust. I am by no means a great teacher yet. I have so much still to learn. But their confidence in me makes me want to work all the harder. If they’re willing to try, even after all the messages of failure they’ve received over the years, messages that I see when they hesitate to offer their opinion or get stuck on an assessment, I am more than willing to give them my hardest work despite exhaustion and busyness and all of the other stuff I’m trying to wrap my head around. These kids have already stolen my heart, and it’s only week two. What an honor, what a joy to work with such incredible people!