Today, July 1, I officially don’t work as a school teacher or with my district anymore. As such, this will be my last post onto this blog. That is a really weird statement to write for those that know me personally, as I have a certain fondness for the TeachFor.Us site. And then there’s probably the thought, “But there haven’t been many posts to the blog this year anyway.” You’re right, but there’s a reason. This past year, the projects that I have been working on for my school and my district are so public and well-known that mentioning them here would have very quickly made my identity more public than I desire. Those projects consumed me, so to have written about teaching but to have not written about what was really going on would have stifled my writing. In retrospect, I wish I had written posts and made them private, but that’s in the past.
So many great things have happened to me as a result of my experience the past three years. My life is completely changed. I am now very steadfastly working on Education (yes, big E). My next role will be with an education nonprofit focusing on some of the issues that I believe lie central to moving forward with reform.
Funny enough, just the other day, while riding in the car with a new friend, he asked if I ever planned on returning to teaching. I joked that some day I probably would because it was so much fun and that I probably should because I think I was good at it. He laughed at appeared to be immodesty. What I explained, though, is that despite the honors I have received, leadership roles I have had, innovations I have made, and specific examples of impacting my students lives I will cherish for the rest of my life, it’s only within the past few weeks that I’ve been able to verbalize that I believe I was a good teacher.
I once wrote about this dillema by saying “I’m so teacher-action focused about what is wrong that I’m not necessarily able to step back and take a glimpse of what is going right.” I bring it up here and end this blog with it in hopes that other teachers and especially new CMs don’t travel the same path as me. There were, for sure, several very real things that I should have been doing better in my classroom in my role as teacher, but on the whole, I spent a lot of energy feeling that I was failing my students, feeling that I was somehow not giving them every fiber of my being. Especially teaching 8th grade, I felt the stakes were ultimately high for putting the students on paths in high school that would make them competitive for college versus just being college ready versus ready for productive work versus not ready at all. I feared nothing more than, for the student who wanted me to help, missing the moment of opportunity for them. But, now that I’m leaving the actual act of teaching, I have the benefit of perspective on the situation because I no longer have the emotional burden of being in it. Here are my two take-aways to share:
- Don’t waste your precious and limited amount of energy on battles you can not win. With 100+ students in the secondary level, it’s just not realistic to “save them all.” As such, it is a poor allocation of resources to try to save the student that is doing anything and everything to be a failure. This is a very non-TFA idea… to abandon a child. But I know that this past year I poured myself into trying to help a student who was very smart. I told him this within the first week of school. I told him he couldn’t be playing the game if he wanted to make a better life for him. But ultimately, he chose to join the gang. Ultimately, he chose to bring a knife to school and then physically assault me when I found it and kept him at bay for security. Ultimately, he is the one that, even though we allowed him to sign hardship transfer paperword and we spent money on a cab each morning to pick him up at his house on the wrong side of the city that decided to play around the neighborhood instead of coming to school. Ultimately, he was the one who started multiple major fights. Ultimately… he had made a choice. I should have accepted this sooner than I did so that other students could have benefitted from my attention.
- Your students “get you,” don’t worry. I wanted to join Teach For America to make a difference. I didn’t expect to change the world, but apparently the two-year vision was so idyllic to someone that my grandmother that she openly challenged me at a family breakfast during my first few months. I remember during my first year feeling the need to “set the record straight” with my students that, just because I was white and from a different place and went to college and … a whole list of things that made me different, it didn’t negate the fact that I was choosing to do what I do in order to make a difference for them because I believed that everyone deserved a good teacher.
This year, I had one of those girls that you could have pulled from my school and plopped into any school in the country and she would have done just as well. She exudes “college bound” despite her personal story that would lead many to believe that she would not be able to achieve. She is mature and self-aware. I tell you this because I had to ask her to write a recommendation letter for me this year. When I read it, it just floored me. She got why I was teaching the way I was teaching. It was the first time someone was describing me in their own words like I was teaching like my hair was on fire. I had made a huge difference in her life, the kind of difference that makes her remember that crazy science teacher she had in middle school for the rest of her life. The kind of difference that makes me remember certain teachers from my secondary education, the same ones with whom I’ve had contact since starting three years ago.
I have never really liked science until now. From my elementary science teachers to my 6th and 7th science teachers would just pass the textbooks out and say “Read pages 13 to 21, and answer the thinking questions”. Mr. G is the first science teacher I actually learned a whole lot of science from, got it stuck in my head, and had some fun with it.
I know this doesn’t quite move you in the way it makes me tear up a little, but remember, this is an 8th grade student, and this is only the end of the letter.
So, I’m about to hit the publish button, which is essentially the end button. It’s really strange. But this is a good, more-than-symbollic gesture. And for those that continue to find my blog because of the science notebooking, don’t worry… I’ll still send you the files.
Thank you to everyone who supported me during the past three years. Thank you.