Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 13 2011

What makes a successful first year teacher?

I’ve been thinking about the above question for probably about a month now (aside from all the thinking on it I’ve been doing for the past year—I mean, it was even one of the questions for my personal statement, right?), and I really haven’t hit upon anything satisfactory. But in the process, I have come across a list of things that would make me feel successful.

  1. Hitting 80% Overall Mastery in my TFA tracker. It feels kind of silly to say, when I know my tracker is only as good as my assessments and my assessments range from created-at-7am-on-a-whim to Good Enough… but seeing my tracker numbers rise with my overall of teaching has made me realize maybe that percentage does indicate something meaningful.  (I know I’ve mentioned 44% mastery on this blog before… currently we’re at 64.2% and 62.6%. Just for context.)
  2. Getting more kids to pass TAKS than passed last year. It’s setting the bar low—but the starting point is even lower. If more than 17 of my kids pass this test, then I won’t be able to feel as if I have done nothing for them. Honestly, I fear that less will pass than last year, and because I’ve never done this before, I have no idea whether that’s an irrational fear or a scary reality.
  3. If my kids think they’ve learned something from me, I’ll feel successful. I know they’ve learned from me, but I don’t know whether they still look at my class as a waste of time or if they feel it’s something useful.
  4. If my kids show mastery on their cumulative final, I will definitely feel successful. What better way to see whether I’ve done my job, right? That test will answer that haunting question: did I teach them, or did I not?
  5. My Brat passing the TAKS. I can see this girl riding the line between staying in and dropping out. They always say Sophomore year is when they either drop out or they don’t… every day, she wavers. One day she’s in, the next day she says something even more suggestive and less sarcastic than yesterday about hating school and dropping out. If this girl fails again, I really don’t know how much longer she’ll waffle. If this girl passes this test, I know I’d have her in the palm of my hand. I can almost feel her looking at this TAKS test as a test of me, a test to see whether I’m lying when I say she’s smart and can do anything.
  6. If the kids who don’t like me can’t help but say something nice at the end of the year, I’ll know none of them actually hate me, even though the social code requires them to act like they do. Right now, that’s Webbie, my Silent Treatment, Toothpik, Teezy Minaj, my Irlen’s Girl, Griller, and some number of kids who are fine now but get into trouble between now and June 7th.
  7. The one they call “Dirty” coming around. He breaks my heart. He was up for a while, then back down, and he hasn’t been up again. He knows so much math, and there were days when he was all over Pythagorean triples… and he’s done independent work in the library for me a couple days… but mostly he sits with his hands folded and his long thumbnails twirling around each other, responding to me only with “I don’t feel like anything today” or “school doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.” I will feel like I’ve done something if I see my constant encouragement making a dent in whatever darkness he’s found.
  8. If I ever hear from my Big Goal or my Wise Young Lesbian again. I almost couldn’t even type that. Somehow I’m so wrapped up in these kids who disappeared that if I even saw them in passing and they acknowledged me with the slightest nod, I’d feel … something. Warm? Validated? I know they’re out there somewhere, and I know they’ll never know how much my heart is tangled up in them, but if I just saw them… somehow it’d reassure me. Maybe it’d just be reassurance that they’re alive.

Lots of measures of success. Lots of varying degrees of feeling successful. I could very well end the year with none of these things happening at all—and maybe I would still find some hindsight success—but my chest would start puffing out if even one of them did.

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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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