SO. i was originally going to sign into my tumblr and spill out all my thoughts and frustrations and complaints about today, about how student T came back after ten days of suspension (for threatening to shoot and kill someone) and how he was completely insane, about how girls D and A were being ridiculous in class, about….yeah. a lot.
but it’s snowing outside—the first hard snow of cleveland this year. we’ve had a few brisk frostings—biting little pellets of white that dust the grass so that the ugly green brown lawns still peek through. we’ve had cold days. but this is the first real snow. think thick white flakes, think smothered wonderland.
and because it’s so beautiful outside, i figured instead, let’s talk about the benefits of this job.
it has been nothing if not humbling.
up until this point i was so overly confident in myself and my ability to do anything i wanted. academically, professionally, socially, mentally, spiritually—i was pretty happy with where i was. and now i’m really unhappy with where i am.
let’s just say it.
i suck a lot.
i wake up every morning to go do a job that i suck at. if i could grade myself, i’d give me an F. teachers are supposed to teach—and i’m struggling with that. teachers are supposed to control their kids—and that’s a hit or miss, with a 50% successs rate. teachers should be organized and passionate and caring and patient, teachers should instill a love of learning in their students, a passion to push themselves towards success. from all those criteria, i can only make one conclusion: i’m a failure. i’m ineffective.
it’s pretty miserable.
but it’s also like…a good experience? and a good learning process to go through? because if nothing else, this is new to me. sucking and not being able to get better isn’t a familiar feeling.
and damn, do new experiences broaden your horizons.
tomorrow’s another day. i can do another day. i just need to push through until winter break, to recuperate and try again.
here’s one thing i’d like to brag about tonight after a very self-deprecating post:
the kids just got back from thanksgiving break, which means a five day hiatus from rules/expectations/a learning environment, plus they were welcomed back with more standardized tests from CMSD (claaaaaaassic), which of course made everyone antsy and chatty once the two and a half hours of silence were over…
but all excuses aside, it was just an awful day. lots of repeated nagging for them to sit down. lots of telling them to be quiet. lots of…yelling, which i’m not proud of.
and not a lot of learning.
this is what i struggle with most in my job: failing, over and over and over again, and not knowing how to stop sucking.
it’s the most frustrating thing in the world waking up every morning and going into work really wanting to teach and having the best intentions and wanting your kids to learn so badly and not being able to capture their interest, make them listen, make them respect you, make them learn. somedays i wonder if i’ve even taught them anything at all. what if they end up worse and stupider than when they started? i can’t get knowledge into their brains. that’s the fundamental point of being a teacher. and i. can’t. do. it.
i don’t know what i’m doing wrong, either. what part of me is so utterly undeserving of respect that they can yell at me, stomp their foot and tell me i’m aggravating, talk while i’m talking, roll their eyes and walk out of the room on me? what about my teaching style or my person or my lessons is so completely mind numbingly boring that they tune me out so easily? why do i constantly feel like i’m drowning in my own incompetence?
what am i doing wrong?
tomorrow’s another day. i’m going to wake up at 530am and try again. i’ll drag my butt to school with my lesson plans and my best intentions. i’ll stand in front of the kids and try everything i can to make them learn.
whenever i’m not good with God, the idea of going back to school gets overwhelmingly terrible. i get…echoes of that old pit of despair in my stomach, tension in my shoulders and chest, panic and fear…it all comes creeping back.
you’d think that this realization would mean that i’d value my relationship with Jesus more and take better care of my spiritual state. you’d assume that if i was in any way intelligent, and capable of discerning this correlation, i’d make sure i was good with God. it’d be reasonable to think that i’d take action to counter said echoes of terror/despair/tension/panic/fear.
but i’m stupid.
i spent this thanksgiving break watching movies and eating food and sleeping a lot instead. and while it was really nice to give my body and my brain a break, i can feel myself running on empty. something about too much relaxation makes me feel drained, worn thin and meaningless. it’s like i’ve numbed myself.
which is STUPID. because i did it to MYSELF. and maybe when i wake up in the morning, it’ll be better.
but just in case, i’m going to make sure the first thing i do tomorrow morning when i wake up is pray and read my Bible.
it’s hard to be satisfied with merely the temporal when you’ve tasted and touched something eternal.
so as i was cleaning up my classroom on Friday, organizing all my papers and putting back the chairs my (trouble) student had thrown, i came to realize something.
whoever is in charge of advertising for TeachForAmerica is a freaking genius. the sleek designs, the unique TFA font, the posters with their bright hopeful colors and the catchy slogan—“one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education”—all of it combines to this optimistic, professional, excellent package of idealism and prestige. “TFA is more selective than Yale or Harvard.” “TFA gives you a chance to give back to the world and help disadvantaged kids across the nation.” “TFA is a part of the movement against social injustice in the 21st century.”
It’s a two year commitment. It gets you a job right out of college without needing further education. There are perks and benefits of finishing an AmeriCorps program. You’re salaried with benefits, you get a job that graduates with education degrees need years of substituting to obtain, you get money off if you pursue a graduate degree in education, and most of all—you’re doing meaningful and non-menial work with kids who need your help. It looks freaking awesome on paper.
Now, I don’t want to say that all of that isn’t true… It’s more that they failed to emphasize a huge part of the experience.
You see, when you take fresh college graduates with no job experience and no background in education (probably 90% of the TFA pool) and throw them into the hardest urban classroom environments all across the United States, it’s really hard. It’s one of the most draining and stressful experiences of my life. And since I’m an idealist who isn’t used to failure, being put in charge of 30 kids’educations means a constant fear of letting them down—and constant regret when they don’t learn as much as I want them to.
I’ve never been as tired as I’ve been these last three months. I used to sleep all the time and eat all the time—I went through a period of my life after the two classrooms combined where I slept 3-4 hours a night, woke up from constant stress dreams and nightmares, and lost 5-10 pounds from not eating (I always had kids to deal with during lunch for lunch detention). No matter how hard I work, my lesson plans don’t go according to plan. I deal with constant disrespect and demeaning attitudes from freaking nine year olds who can’t read every single day—which can get a bit wearying. Behavior management is better, but still a work in progress for some individuals. In the evenings, I grade papers, print new things at the library since we still don’t have a printer at my school, and replan/refine my lessons for the next day since they almost never worked. I don’t hang out with friends; I don’t work out; I essentially eat, work, and sleep.
I never saw any advertisements for that. I never went to any sessions where we were told how to deal with depression, exhaustion, stress, pressure—where we were taught self-care and mental health, where we were forewarned about what was coming our way. Instead, we went to meeting after meeting and had discussion after discussion about leadership and teamwork, cultural recognition, “suspending judgment with wonder.” We read social work articles about diversity, but never learned about child development. We were told we were leaders. We were never told how much you suffer to lead.
I had a vague idea that this job would be hard—I would’ve been an idiot not to have thought about that at all. But, at the risk of sounding whiny and cliche, nobody ever told me it would be this hard. Instead, I was told (maybe not straight up, but by implication for sure) that I was successful, I was brilliant, I was a leader—I was selected. I would change the world. All I had to do was show up in my classroom with all the confidence and fortitude that had carried me through life thus far and my students would 1) fall in love and 2) fall in line.
I don’t want to say TFA lied to me, because I would’ve quit by now if I didn’t think what I was doing was meaningful and worthwhile. I never, ever wake up thinking I don’t have a purpose and that my job is useless/I’m just a paper pusher. That’s never a concern.
But I do wake up sometimes dry heaving over the toilet because the thought of school makes me so sick. I do wake up three hours before my alarm rings from a nightmare about my classroom falling apart and my thin veneer of control shattering into complete chaos. I do stay up late at night worrying and tossing and turning about how I could possibly make Child T behave, or Child S learn how to read, or how to help Child J understand basic addition because she’s so far behind.
When I went back to Penn, a couple of my classmates asked me how TFA was going, and then the big doozy: if I could go back in time and make a choice, would I do it again?
I had to think about that one. The answer, I’m pretty sure, would be yes.
But if I was back in time, I’d make sure Past Me was forewarned.
The former Trader Joe’s executive Doug Rauch on why food past its expiration date isn’t so bad.
You’re opening a store called Daily Table early next year. It’s going to sell food that’s past its sell-by date. Can you elaborate? Yes, and food that’s cosmetically blemished or food that is excess — like fish that is perfectly wholesome, but not the fish they were going out to catch. We’re going to grab all of this stuff, bring it on-site, cook prepared meals with it and also offer milk, eggs, bread and produce. It’s going to be priced the same as junk food, basically.
if anyone were to ask me before this TFA thing started, i’d classify myself as a pretty emotionally and socially needy person. i form bonds easily; i care by default; i connect with people well. i like having friends and i like having lots of them. a lot of my happiness depended upon those relationships.
i’d also say that i was someone averse to change. because i form those friendships fluidly, and because in the past big transitions have thrown me for a loop, i’d diagnose me with a serious case of peter pan complex. in fact, that used to be one of my defining characteristics: if you threw too much adjustment at me at once, i’d freak out and have an emotional meltdown. i used to really struggle at leaving my friends/”home.” i used to go through a spiraling cycle of depression and angst at saying goodbye to the familiar, the friendly, the known.
but being back at penn this weekend for homecoming has shown me how glaringly outdated those self-judgments are.
i think i’m much, much more independent than i previously thought, and i didn’t realize this until i graduated from college and moved on with my life.
being back at penn is great. i’m really happy to see all my old friends and classmates in my old city and campus. it’s wonderful catching up with them and hearing about their lives and their world, and sharing with them my own. i like walking down the cobbled red brick of locust walk; like the familiarity of old ivy and cobweb architecture, like seeing blazers and sperries just like the old days.
but i don’t need it—or even really, miss it. especially not like i used to.
it’s like…eating dessert, coming back here and being surrounded by people and old loves. i like dessert. it tastes good. it’s rich and filling and sweet and lovely.
but it’s not necessary. and somehow along the way, i lost my sweet tooth, and i now find the decadence a bit overwhelming.
i think in between that Christian internship and missing my senior year, in between training in arizona and graduating from college, in the midst of the ridiculous demands of my job with TFA, i grew up a lot. i think my happiness does not depend upon people as much as it used to. i think i’ve developed such a solid sense of myself and what/who really matters that the rest is just excess.
so things like moving to cleveland and starting a new job and not having friends there, things like living in the basement and working all the time under immense stress—trivial matters like not having a social life and feeling constantly pressured by my students—are okay. i really don’t care that i don’t hang out with people. i really don’t mind not having friends. that all is nice—but no longer necessary. and things like moving, transitioning into new places, leaving behind my comfort zone…none of that bothers me anymore.
i guess i’ve just found my center and stability. i stand solidly upon my relationships with my family, my sisterfriends, and my God.
the rest is nice.
but i don’t need it anymore.
i suppose this was all a bit of a revelation to me. a lot has happened in my world over the past two or three years, and i am not the same.
classifying myself as independent and not socially needy is strange, new, and most of all, empowering.