Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 04 2013

Peaks and valleys

There are two main times that I blog:

Either right after school or during my planning period in the afternoon. During the rest of the day, I’m preoccupied with sprinting marathons in an effort to do right by my kids and at night I’m too busy alternately trying to plan the next day while at the same time retaining a shred of my personal life.

That means that if I’m going to update this, it’s going to happen in the early afternoon, either right at the end of the day or pretty close to it. What’s funny about this time is that I spend all day having these crazy, intense, life-altering experiences, and then I get something akin to writer’s blog when I sit down to write.

The reason for this is actually pretty simple: There is simply too much going on for me to capture it.

Never in my life has my mood or my experience changed so often, so quickly. Never in my life has the paradigm through which I view my life been altered so consistently. In the course of a single day, I’ll  go from exhausted to frustrated to overjoyed and back to exhausted again.

An example: last Friday was a writing day for us. We’d been doing research and were prepared to write final copies of our essay and so all we were going to do in class was write. My first four classes struggled greatly with the process. They had slacked off during our planning time and so they weren’t prepared to write. Their essays were subpar and they didn’t try hard at all because they didn’t feel invested in the outcome of their work.
For the first four hours of the day I was frustrated and upset with my kids. I had spent the requisite time preparing them and making my expectations clear but to no avail. Therefore, I spent most of the first half of my day taking away privledges, lecturing students,  making mental notes to call parents, and giving off my “dissapointed” look. If I’d have written a blog post at any one of those points, it would have been very down. I would’ve complained about the culture that my kids grow up in that enables them to slack off and I would’ve been very self-critical.

And then 7th hour happened. During my last class of the day, the kids got right to work. They used the writing methods that I’d taught them and their writing was, by leaps and bounds, the best it’s ever been. Everyone worked hard the entire time and raised their hands to ask brilliant questions. They did so well! At several points, a student would wave me over, show me their paper, and ask if they were doing it right. Most of the time when this happens, I find something good to comment upon and something (usually glaring) that could use correction. Oftentimes, I have to unfortunately tell a student that they’ve been doing it completely wrong and need to redo big portions of their work. This time, though, I lost count of the amount of times I broke out into a huge, almost creepy grin and told the student that they were doing everything perfectly.

If I had written a blog post right after that class, it would’ve been effusive, optimistic, and full of love for the 120 souls who have somehow become my kids.

And that’s the thing about TFA. I understand the need to debate the large-scale ramifications of the corps. I know that we need to talk about effective teaching and administrating practices. I read every single Gary Rubinstein post. I personally know that sometimes TFA corps members do more harm than good.

But beyond the numbers and data, there’s a 23-year-old sitting at a computer, being changed day by day, minute by minute by this process. He loves his kids in a way that he’s never loved anything before. He makes mistakes but he tries his hardest. He isn’t a master teacher but his kids know he cares. He might not be up for any awards but he knows that he is so much stronger and wiser because of what he’s been doing. He doesn’t know if he’ll be here for 18 more months or 18 more years, but he is far more invested than any “educational tourist” could be.

He’s also about to be late for soccer practice, so he’ll leave you with this thought:
Transformational change isn’t limited to just our children.

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Chronicling teaching middle school English in OKC

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