Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 03 2010


I am very lucky to have the principal and the administration I have (that’s sooo odd to say, after complaining about them for months). While I’ve officially decided that I really don’t care what they think of me as a teacher; as much as they fail in follow-through and are forced to operate in a system that makes them almost as ineffective as I am; as much as they’ve shown that they act with the school’s best interests at heart, rather than the students’…  I’m lucky because a) they work very hard and b) sometimes they say some really good things—things I might never hear from TFA.

Fact: to TFA, I am a high achiever. I got into TFA, and so to them, I am—currently—capable of doing great things, of working really hard to achieve my goals.

Fact: I have not been a high achiever since this time last year. Spring semester of my senior year was the beginning of a very weird sort of decline and unraveling, and unless you count Institute (which I’m not yet sure I do), putting together Health Care Week in November 2009 was my last real accomplishment. Think about it: Getting into TFA was merely showing what I believe, showing how I think, and showing evidence of really hard work done at some point (note TFA’s key words: “past leadership and achievement”). Graduating from college was just coasting from the momentum of 3.5 years of hard work, fudging together a capstone presentation and a senior internship and a final Ochem lab report at the last minute, and bam. Degree.

Fact: to my administration, I’m just a poor clueless struggling new teacher who maybe has some potential. This is closer to the truth.

Everything I’ve been doing has been riding on a bunch of hard work I did a long time ago, and now that hard work isn’t happening and isn’t relevant. My fantastic, amazingly effective PD sees me as something I’m just not right now: really, the part of me that got into TFA has been latent for 12 months. I do believe I am that TFA high-achiever way way deep down, but I’m simply not functioning as that person right now, even if I do believe my hard-core inner self is there. The slow, difficult, and painful way to pull that achievement out is to require, to push me, to hold me to high expectations, to accept no excuses from me, to put the pressure on until I perform. I’m confident that eventually I would find out how to get myself to effective-teacher-ness that way. BUT. The efficient way just might be to give me crutches, hold my hand a lot, keep a close eye on me, basically carry me until I can breathe on my own. I’m really hoping that’s what the TINA offers, and that’s what I’m not sure TFA could do for me.

Words from my meeting today:

Principal: “What do you believe your role is, as a teacher?”

Me:   whatthehellkindofquestionisthatwhatareyouevenasking? “Ummm…. to do all I can to provide every opportunity for my students to achieve. To put things into kids’ heads.”

Principal: “Do you really believe that?”

Me:    “…Yes.”

Principal: “Because if you do, your behavior has to start showing that. When you walk into that classroom, you can’t let anyone or anything get in the way of implementing the lesson you prepared.”

Basically, my principal and academic dean recited to me everything I’ve been telling myself for months: I need to bring more confidence into the classroom. I need more self-assurance. I need to be more sure of who I am. I need to feel good about myself. That’s my key lever, and it’s not a TAL row (unless you call it W-3, I guess). While strategies and rubric rows and specific actionable, measurable next steps are incredibly helpful, you have to have a certain baseline functioning level to make it actually happen.

It’s hard to go into the classroom with confidence when you wake up every morning hating the way you look—hating your haircut, your glasses, your eyebrows, your complexion, your wardrobe, your morphing body shape. It’s hard to have confidence when you hate the way you feel, physically and emotionally—hate that everything hurts, that you complain all the time and cry all the time and bring people down. It’s hard not to doubt yourself when you know you haven’t done SHIT—your incomplete lesson consists of a front-and-back worksheet, was put together in a hurried 30 minutes a week ago, and you haven’t looked at it since; you’re weeks behind in grading purely because you have no motivation to grade; you have pages and pages of to-do items that you planned and simply never did. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when your whole self-image is defined by leftovers of an eating disorder, crazy newfound anxiety problems, insomnia and depression. It’s hard to go in with a positive self-image when your kids deliberately attack who you are as a person, daily.

I’m thankful for my TINA (Teacher In Need of Assistance). I really am. It’s help and support, and it’s getting at the real issue. The other thing Tina provides is a little bit of validation: instead of getting “No, I know you’re really motivated and strong, I know you can do this,” I feel like I’m being heard when I get, “whoa. Yeah, you do need help.”  And while I’m not sure exactly how all of this is going to fix the underlying issue, I do have some ideas of my own, and it feels good to have someone put a finger on something.

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