Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 12 2010

Who I Am

Here’s the thing: I don’t want regrets.

A year ago, the hardest thing I’d ever done was a summer rowing training program with LUC in Seattle. Somehow, I got in with the elites, and I had a coach who was pushing me harder than I ever thought someone outside my own head could push. I was not National Team material, and I was wracked with crazy inner turmoil, trying to decide whether to balls-to-the-wall every minute of every day to see if I could get there or to just… have a summer and row. I remember my life being just AWFUL there for a while, trying to decide if I was good enough to make myself good enough.

Teaching with TFA brings this same identity-threatening mayhemchaosconfusion turbulence havoc—you’re struggling with your own call to be better and better and better, while still second-guessing yourself, knowing that the non-TFA world is only asking a third of that from you. The world only asks me to live through this year. The world only asks you to do your best. No, no, to do what looks like your best. YOU ask you to do your real best, and when you’re not—that’s what sucks.

I don’t want to be content with sucking. There’s no reason for it. I thought being okay with sucking was the only thing that would keep me here—and maybe I did need some time with it. But I think… I think now I can really, truly sit down and start here with making the improvements I want. I can sit down and take each class period, visualize where I want us to be, maybe just in a month or something, and figure out what I can do to get us there. And I tell you what! I’ll still suck just as much, I promise! For a long time, I’ll suck. But right now I’m not even scratching the minimum of CIE-ness, because I’m not even putting one foot in front of the other.

I really, really want to be impressive. I really want to WOW my San Antonio staff. I want to wow my fellow corps members and I want to wow my administrators. I want to wow my fellow teachers. I have to face it–I do want to be the best. And you know? I can go from being the worst to being the best.

Worst: My mindset at this moment is totally resigned to failure. Maybe not quitting quitting—but definitely quitting in my head. Every TFA message I got was “just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” “all you have to do is keep trying to improve,” but I knew I wasn’t even doing that. I stopped putting work into the next day because I knew it would be awful no matter what. I stopped working my tail off, because there wasn’t any point. I hadn’t taught my kids a damn thing, so therefore I would never teach them a damn thing. AND I had become such an awful teacher that I would never get my uumph back.
Best: That’s not who I AM. I don’t wallow—or at least not for long. Wake up! Today is the very first day of the rest of your life. I want to WOW my KIDS! I want to come home totally high off of the progress we make each day. I want to figure out how to make them THINK right. I want to push them and push them and push them.

This is who I am. I remember sitting on a panel during our Water Conference last spring. Someone asked me something like “How do you do everything you do and still have energy?” … I replied with a quote that struck me from my Exercise Physiology course: “the human body is the only machine that improves with use and decays with inactivity.” The more you do, the more you want to do, I said. Every ounce of work you put into something is just more fuel for the fire. Every improvement makes you want to do more, be better, reach higher. An addiction—exponential growth—a wildfire—a crescendo. Grainger’s conclusions. 1812’s ffff. Firebird’s ffff, Mars’ ffff, and apparently Ligeti’s ffffff to a ffffffff. Blastissimo!

So, hello!
Nice to meet you.

One Response

  1. The button should say “love”. This post screams “turning point”. It sounds crazy, but at some point everyone who ever gets great at anything has to “Face” the suckingness… maybe even “EMBRACE” the suckingness… for just long enough to wrestle it to the ground and stomp it out. Otherwise, it’s like a big, scary, secret shame and the fact that it’s a “secret” makes it harder to do the work it takes to get better… you are very wise to realize that “Suckingness” is just some small town you have to pass through on the road to greatness… and very brave to be so honest in the way you share your experience with the world. Going through this as you are, with your eyes, heart and mind wide open will make you a better teacher, and a better mentor for teachers who come after you, and THATs impressive, if you ask me.

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“The minute you think of giving up, think of the reason you held on so long.” - John Maxwell

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