Week one is over and done with and it was, of course, an interesting one. Say what you want about TFA, this much is always true: it’s not a dull line of work. In addition to all of the craziness in the classroom and on the field (I’m coaching softball as well), I had something of a social media adventure. First, Teach For America tweeted my last blog post for all the world to see, which was both flattering and awesome at the same time. During the grind of teaching, it was really great to receive so many positive vibes from people. People from Institute as well as others that I have never met all sent encouragment my way.
Then, to really turn the whole thing into a whirlwind, prominent Teach For Us blogger Gary Rubinstein picked up the post and critiqued it on his blog under the heading “How many things wrong with this first day”. In it, Mr. Rubinstein examined several statements that I made and different things about my first day teaching. In all, I think that Mr. Rubinstein was extremely gracious and professional in his post. Over the weekend I have pondered the advice that he dispensed and I never felt as though Mr. Rubinstein was trying to do anything other than make me and others better teachers.
Of course, both of our posts sparked some debate among other readers. As someone who values critical thinking and using a variety of sources to come to conclusions, I feel like I learned a lot from reading comments and feedback from others. The debates centered on two things that I addressed: my propensity to be very friendly and enthusiastic from the get-go and my claim to my students that they would be the best writers in the state at the end of the year. For the most part, I enjoyed it and learned quite a bit. I will say, however, that a couple of comments upset me.
I can understand why and how one might disagree with me or my statements. But one commenter stated, “I hope your students are failing or struggling to keep up, you yuppie.” Call me a yuppie, but DO NOT wish failure upon my students. Comments like that do not advance the debate. It also damages the credibility of sites like Teach For Us as legitimate meeting grounds where different ideas can be shared.
Anyways, Mr. Rubinstein has put up a new post and so I think that my one weekend of fame is coming to an end. At the tail end of a wildly eventful first week of teaching, it was quite the experience. I learned from it and enjoyed the opportunity to engage in the dialogue. For those curious, I have posted below my response to Mr. Rubinstein, to whom I wish the very best:
First off, I would like to think you for the way you handled my blog post. Not once in reading your response did I feel belittled or disrespected and for that I appreciate you. I’m a big fan of the work that you do- sometimes I agree with you and sometimes I don’t, but I feel like we are both passionate about the same thing, which is helping students achieve, both in our classrooms and in the larger context of the American educational system.
For myself as well as many (all?) other teachers, I’m in the classroom because of my own particular experiences and strengths. I grew up playing competitive soccer and I’ve always been someone who creates and develops strong relationships. For better and for worse, these two ideas have definitely been on display in my classroom thus far.
At the beginning of every year, my soccer team gathered together and declared our goal. It didn’t matter if we were loaded or if we were rebuilding; we were going to win state. Every lap, every practice, every game was approached with one thing in mind: moving towards the state tournament (SWBAT win state?). Did we get better every year? Absolutely. Did we win the state championship? Not always. But every year felt like a success because we worked every single day towards a goal that we cared deeply about.
I understand what you mean when you reference the pitfalls of making education into a competition. That isn’t the bottom line of my intention. I also understand the dangers of setting kids up for failure. But in my experience, having such a high goal has been a powerful factor, even if that goal isn’t ultimately reached. Shoot for the moon and land among the stars, right?
In terms of being perceived as too friendly, I appreciate your feedback. I’ve never before heard someone say that shaking hands at the door might not be a great idea but I can definitely understand your reasons for doing so. I was not encouraged or discouraged by TFA to enact this practice but personally thought that it would be a good way to show my students that I am there, present, and that I care for them.
Building relationships is a huge strength of mine, but it is also something that I know can be a downfall for me. I’m a naturally gregarious person and so I struggle with finding the balance between being an authoritarian in the classroom and gaining investment because I genuinely care about my students.
As I wrap up my first week of “real” teaching, I look back and see that I made many mistakes. There were planning errors, management errors, administrative errors… woah. But never once did I waver in my commitment to my students. I think that first year CMs get a lot of flak from educators, especially from those who disagree with TFA’s policies. And while my peers and I have huge strides still to make in both our execution and, oftentimes, our mindsets, we care deeply about our cause and our students.
Again, I thank you for your feedback and for all that you do to advance the dialogue surrounding education in this country. While TFA and myself are not always perfect, we, like yourself and countless others, are deeply committed to our students and want more than anything to see them succeed.