Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 12 2011

End To End

I wrote this slowly. Please read it slowly.

It started in Portland, Oregon. I learned everything about everything, and loved everyone. I compressed my minutes and hours and learned how to do more than you think I can. It was enough that I had potential.

It started in Spokane, Washington. I put more than what I needed into a big black suitcase and gave away the rest.

It started in Modesto, California. I wondered and withered and worried and wasted away—but I did do all of my pre-institute work.

It started at Trinity University. I drank the Kool-Aid and was cured. My jaw dropped and my heart rose and my stomach churned, and I mostly only teared up when I was supposed to.

It started at Dowling MS. I fell in love with my kids the second day I taught them, and fell in love with my CS the second time I heard him speak. I lesson-planned alone in the West Servery, asked good questions of my CMA in the lobby of Martel, and spent very little time in my bed in McMurtry. I was an okay teacher but a really good student. I ran around campus in weird humid morning darkness and walked through Southside Place in blazing heat. I then packed up my things and abandoned my students, not of my own volition but because I guess one’s body usually follows one’s life.

It started on Fredericksburg Road. I had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea what I’d be teaching. I told myself I wouldn’t cry, I told myself I wouldn’t get stuck, I told myself I wouldn’t be distracted by all that pizza waiting for me in the back of the room. I looked my PD in the eye as she told us to take care of ourselves and I told myself I wouldn’t bother her with my craziness. And then five minutes later I did.

It started on August 23rd.
I marveled at the way my shoes demanded authority in the hallways, and at the way my voice did not in the classroom. I would’ve been doing everything right, except I wasn’t doing anything at all. I unraveled. I crumbled. But I stayed, and kept staying. And kept staying. I got good at stopping and starting over.

It started over again every period, every morning, every Sunday.

It started on December 29th. I woke up that morning breathing air that smelled like snow; I rode home that night breathing air that smelled like summer. I planned my heart out, got my hopes up, and turned my classroom around. I finally worked like I was supposed to and finally thought like I was supposed to. I laughed with my students, laughed with other teachers, and didn’t cry once in the month of January. My students and I started seeing success.

It started in Washington, D.C. I was ignited, inspired, in awe of our sheer magnitude. I asked myself “what role will I play?” till my face turned blue before I remembered it was still 2011: “Oh right. Teach.” My heart was pummeled by names like Arne Duncan, Camika Royal, John Legend, Amanda Ripley. I met people and almost met people. I came back a little unsure of what to do with it all.

It started after TAKS. I differentiated, scaffolded, and held my students accountable consistently. I called every parent of every failing student, checked every problem of every packet, and still somehow knew to let my Brat come during my conference to make up her work. I watched her multiply binomials like she’d been doing it all her life, watched her fail the test she needed to pass, and watched her resign herself to repeating the 10th grade because of two tiny credits. I noticed her defending me sometimes, saying “thank you” sincerely, and being truly proud of her passing grade.

***

I have crafted for myself too many new starting points to count. I needed to. Each one was a re-grouping, a mustering of energy and a plunge. I forced each one to feel new and fresh, and told myself “this is the first day of the rest of your life.”

But something very different started, by itself, in an abandoned restaurant. I spoke little, listened a lot, and cried—hard—for no reason I can articulate clearly. This time my heart was pummeled by a panel of students and parents, by a story about a debate team, by a letter from a fifth grade teacher, by silent knowing embraces, and by limitless gratitude to the people I admire most. But instead of bewildering me, it gave me the most visceral feeling of togetherness I’ve experienced in years.

All of the work we do can be looked at side-by-side or it can be laid end-to-end. You can view the corps as a set of individuals on parallel but separate paths, each of us earning our very own badge of experience and credibility that will allow us to be a part of the real Movement at a later date—or you can look at it as one entity with one objective, each member’s separate toil indivisibly enmeshed by the work they do to provoke and propel the others. After a year of starting over and over at the level of my kids, my teaching, and my classroom, what has started this time is the realization that the Movement doesn’t exist if I don’t do more. All the energy we put into our own journey is worthless if we don’t spend more energy connecting it with the journeys of others. No matter how effective I am, the work I do for my kids and my classroom can never change anything for the next batch of kids or the kids in the classroom next door or the kids in the school down the street—and if I spend two years never doing more, I’ve not been more than a stop-gap. To Move anywhere, we have to each make sure our separate classrooms are unquestionably transformative and we have to connect our work together so the impact is collective. If we don’t focus intentionally on being and building our revolution, we make a bunch of tiny scratches on the surface instead of one big dent.

I feel like a member of a strong and ready crew, right before the long winter training—we have our work cut out for us, and no victory is guaranteed—but we are finally coming together to build the spark that will turn into the flame that will be the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us.

4 Responses

  1. Loved this. Thanks.

  2. Holly

    Beautifully stated! I read it slowly, in fact, I read it twice.

    • Wess

      If I wrote for the rest of my life, I don’t think I could ever express the extent of my gratitude or the depth of my respect for you. You are an absolute treasure.

  3. houstonheart

    I used to read this blog when I was first deciding to apply to TFA. Now, having just finished my first semester as a 2013 CM, I’m rereading it again. it means even more to me this time. Thanks for sharing your words, your heart, your soul with all of us. I am extraordinarily grateful.

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Math

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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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