Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 09 2013


All the little things have been creeping up and it almost caused me to lose my cool today. We’re two days away from Fall Break the kids are ready for some time off. They haven’t had a long weekend since Labor Day and it shows.

It’s nothing big- office referrals around the school are still way down and there hasn’t been nearly the same magnitude of gang activity or drug use that I saw last year. Instead, it’s all the little things: students coming in tardy, trying to get away with the bare minimum in class, or responding agonizingly slowly to correction.

I feel two ways about this.

First, I know that I need to step back and maintain a sense of perspective. Right around this time last year was the toughest time of the year. October is notoriously tough on teachers and I was no exception. At this point last year, I’d been teaching without a real break since early June when Institute began. It had been nearly five months and even though right now I’ve only been at it for three months, it is still a drain. If this is the lowest I feel all year, then I’m actually in a really great position. Miles ahead of where I was last year.

On the other hand…

What’s happening to me? I’ve grown complacent and things are starting to slip. I’m a good teacher, yes, but nowhere near the transformational person I committed myself to being when I accepted my position with TFA. My calls home have slowed down, I don’t put as much effort into my planning, and I’m not throwing myself into every single class session with the desperate zeal that it takes.

I’m a good teacher and I’m doing my part, but I’m not changing any lives.

Every day, I see kids who need someone. Who need to be hugged or driven home or fed. I see kids who need homes and families. And I want to provide for them, but I don’t. Every day by 6:30 I’m on my way home. I work hard, but not relentlessly. I do my part, but I not exceptionally above and beyond. I coach and teach Saturday School, but I still see these kids needing more.

And I’m not giving it to them.

I’m going through an identity shift right now as I start to look beyond TFA. I don’t know if I’ve become jaded or just more realistic. I don’t know if I’m taking care of myself better or if I’m doing a worse job helping my students succeed.

I don’t know if I’ve found the balance my life needed so desperately or if I’ve merely become complacent.

3 Responses

  1. I think this is when you do a gut check. Are you a teacher because it’s inescapable? Because it’s within you to educate, “to cause someone to learn” and can’t be denied? Maybe you got started for another reason…. something external, something you thought it might provide you? IDK…but i know when I’ve done things for a sort of hollow reason, my motivation vaporized when I wasn’t getting what I thought I’d get out of it. But the thing I can’t stop doing, paid, not paid, hard sometimes, no tangible reward per se….I can’t help myself but keep doing…
    I hope it’s teaching. You will change a life. Even one is worth it. You won’t be able to help yourself!

  2. Greg

    There is a “reality wall” that we hit when we’re doing this. There truly is a limit to what we can do. The demands of your own life, family, sanity, etc. are real and can’t be ignored. You can’t lift up another person unless you’re standing on higher ground. It’s natural, then, to have to ensure your own survival and peace-of-mind if you’re going to help others. Don’t sweat it. And you’ve never yet lost your “cool” factor!

  3. Jim Richardson

    The realism of the job has set in. You are not a savior. You’re a teacher, and you will not change the world. However, you will touch a few lives. And one day a former student or parent will come up to you in a store or in the mall and say thank you. Yeah, the struggle is worth it.

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Chronicling teaching middle school English in OKC

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