Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Letter to the 2010 Newark TFA Members From a 2006 Alum

I am thinking on the first days I spent in the classroom as an El Paso transplant in Newark.  I came through Teach For America...after the grueling time spent over the summer teaching in Philly making do with somewhere around 20-30 minutes of sleep a night and a degree in teaching-I thought I was prepared.

Nothing can prepare you.  That first year for me would have made the most weathered teacher retire or resign.  Most of my students came from a kindergarten teacher in his last year before retirement.  Aside from the fact that they were extreme behavior problems, he let them enjoy perennial recess rather than trying to teach them something.  They came to me and were bereft at the thought of working.  No matter, I worked, cried, and met them where they were.  Nearly all of them made progress beyond the one year average.  Of course, sometimes you have the couple that you make some progress with but the perfect storm happens to be taking place in their lives and it prevents you from building up much over the foundation you've laid-I just thought of the ways I was able to teach them how to function so much better in a classroom and get along with others.

After that year, I came to know myself and my style.  I began believing in myself.  I have always been the type to question authority...my respect has to be earned.  Of course, administrators either respected my work ethic and the ideals to which I clung (most stringently was the refusal to waste my students' time) or hated the way they always had to come up with a good reason for me to jump through whatever hoop they decided to put up for me that particular week.  They also would have been a lot more comfortable had I been a lot less intelligent...or at least just lied and smiled about it all.

Anyhow....2010 Newark TFA members getting ready for your first day tomorrow...
You won't get much sleep.  You will be perplexed at how you were able to ace everything put in front of you throughout your entire life, yet you can't help that one student learn to read/write/do fractions/younameit, your heart will break, you will think about your students when you're not with them-imagining them in the various dangerous situations they live through daily and wishing you could cover them with an umbrella of safety, you will say it's all about the kids but it will suck beyond all levels of suckage when you work until 7 or 8 at night before going home and it goes unappreciated when your observation is negative because that one kid decided today was the day she was not going to open her math book when you asked her to or another student messed up and got up without raising a hand (even though you didn't let it disrupt the lesson for the other kids), you will wonder how they will survive without you-but when you see them the next year you'll see that they're ok (although they miss you and randomly show up in your classroom before school starts or after school), you will never, ever forget these children.  The look of wonder they have while hearing a story, the amazing expression that takes place when the light bulb goes off, the sweetness of making a new friend or forgiving an old one...these things will stay in your mind and in  your heart forever.

You are doing something valuable, brave, and life-changing.  Never forget that.

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