The MEGnitude of Change

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 25 2012

The Wisdom of Others

I need help. From many sources. The obvious ones — TFA, John Marshall staff, veteran teachers, & other TFA teachers. But also the external ones — friends & family. After writing my post from last Sunday, I called out for more perspectives, to challenge my thinking & help propel me forward. Thankfully, my friends heard my call & responded with infinite wisdom.

Here are some excerpts from the responses I heard:

“Now that it’s been a few months, why are you there? Are you there with the intent to change the American education system…are you there to try to change these students’ futures (or at least their outlook on their future)…what is it that drives you?” — ES

I needed to be asked this question. Why am I starting a job with TFA? Before I drove out to Oklahoma, I asked myself this question — and quite frankly, I couldn’t think of a compelling answer. I hadn’t had much experience with the “brokenness” of the American education system. I had little to hold onto — I didn’t know what the schools were like, and I had no clue what my students would be like. I questioned my choice for this very reason.

Now? My motivation is concrete. I am here for my individual students. I am here so that they can be prepared for the world ahead of them — to pass a test that leads them to graduation, but more importantly, to learn how to use their brains in a way that exposes their brilliance. I am here to help them achieve the goals that they can see & articulate (going to college & specific career aspirations), as well as the goals they have yet to formulate (solving problems in interesting ways & broadening their intellectual capabilities). My “pass rate” on the EOI doesn’t matter to me as a number; it matters to me because that number represents individual students. I’m here for the people I serve.

“The best teachers that I can remember never really had one ‘snap’ moment when I bought in; they just earned my trust and my respect over time, and I feel like that might be what you have to do for these kids.” — MK

I needed to hear this message. Every day in my classroom, I am contributing to a culture. I am showing my students I care. Even if I don’t have the biggest & boldest ideas, I am telling my kids something simply by the way I speak to them, or even the fact that I show up each day. I am doing something good every day.

“…have some of your students prepare to ‘teach’ part of a class… That experience may better inform whatever suggestions they have about improving your teaching.” — AD

I needed to hear this idea — to remind myself that my students are my ultimate resource. Their feedback matters most; if they’re not learning, then I’m not teaching as effectively as I could be. Furthermore, the standards can’t get in the way of learning. If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right the first time. My students are ultimately learning life skills; geometry is just the avenue through which I’m teaching them these skills. I need to take the time to plan lessons that will engage them beyond the math.

“You seem to have some decently well formed goals, and a good method to continue to develop them. I know that’s your strong suit.  Take that, and make a timeline to get there. …Put that timeline next to your personal life one.  See how they interact.  How can one build off of the other? Which parts are going to be harder than others? Why are those parts more daunting?” — BT

I needed to hear this solution. My personal & professional lives are closely intertwined, and when I started to take on this step, I saw that many of my goals for the classroom and for myself are aligned. For example, service learning has been the bread-and-butter of my high school & college careers, but I haven’t pursued a service activity since I’ve come to Oklahoma. Not only can I benefit from pursuing service, but I can begin to engage my students in service opportunities.

*I’ll come back to this idea in another post…the concept of engaging low-income students in local service is a powerful one.*

“…teaching is an immensely difficult job. You have to somehow bring your kids to that edge, and show them new frontiers, without them realizing you’re doing it. You have to do the ultimate service without them knowing it’s a service. You have to be continually aware of their thoughts, needs, desires, and actions and give in to them, in a sense. No one wants to feel like they are cogs in the machine, some infinitesimal part of ‘the movement’. For them, it’s not ‘the movement’, it’s their movement.” — NF

I needed to hear this passion. What drives me? Here’s an answer. Teaching is a beautiful profession, and while I can get bogged down in the daily grind, I can never forget how powerful & poetic the nature of this job is. Staying grounded in the broadest understanding of education, and recognizing that my actions are all contributing toward an overall love of learning, can always be a source of motivation.

“Lastly, let yourself be impressed with yourself and your progress.” — BT

I needed to hear this inspiration. I needed to remind myself that I’m trying to do something good, and that’s always admirable.

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