Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 10 2011

I. Am. So. Thrilled.

Orientation this year was EXACTLY what I needed, and I didn’t even know I needed it! Everything we talked about was centered on articulating our long-term vision for our students—and the process of pulling out what I’m doing and why I’m here has done SO much for my outlook for my classroom.

I love that I get to post this, the perfect answer to the frustrated questions in my post about “ambitious and feasible.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve never been a goal-setter (what? But you’re in TFA!). All of the big things I’ve done have happened because I had an idea of what I wanted and I just sort of … went for it. I never set ambitious and feasible goals for any of my accomplishments—I just thought about what I wanted to happen long-term and then just felt out what made the most sense for that moment in time.

My ED brought this home to me in a conversation last night when I expressed my apprehensions about not setting the perfect goal for my kids. “I think we’re over-complicating it,” she said. “You just… do the right thing.”

I’m not a goal-setter; I’m a vision-setter. I’m used to acting purely based on what feels in my gut like it seems like the logical next step toward the outcome I’m envisioning.

When I was in high school, I dreamed of being a leader but never actually led anything. I had wild fantasies of standing up on my chair in our wind ensemble and making a rallying speech about how we all had a responsibility to each other to practice more often. I imagined myself creating a practice schedule that students would sign and meet for student-led after-school sectionals. But they were always just fantasies built upon frustrations that never manifested in any action.

Then my freshman year of college, I heard about the “Wing Representative” position with our hall council—and luckily, before I dismissed it because “leader stuff wasn’t really my thing,” I realized that getting involved was pretty low-effort. I wouldn’t have to apply or be voted in or nominated—I just had to show up at the hall council meetings. So show up to hall council meetings I did, and there, to my amazement, we planned events for our dorm from the bottom up. We were just students, but we were putting on events for our whole community! The idea that the school would give us money and let us plan whatever we wanted and that STUDENTS were in charge of planning school events was so revolutionary to me. I call that realization, sitting on the floor planning our annual Haunted House, my “I can DO things!” moment.

From then on, I DID things. I planned event after event and started big things from scratch, because I was addicted to this idea that I could make good things happen, even as just one little seemingly powerless person. I saw problems, realized I could forcibly break them into pieces that would fit inside my locus of control, and then soon began to feel a responsibility to put solutions into action—just because I’d realized that I was one of few people who realized it really wasn’t that hard. And if not me, then who?

Nothing has ever been so fulfilling as being able to see concretely that I was a part of a solution. No achievement or success has ever filled me with so much ambition and endless energy as having ideas for change and watching myself put them into action. I continue to believe this is the highest calling a person can have—to spend all your energy toward a change for the better.

THAT is what I want my students to get out of life. I want them to feel the purpose and joy you get from realizing your own agency using it for good. I want them to graduate from high school, find themselves in college, and eventually come back to pour themselves into their communities—because they’re the ones who feel the deepest and know the most about what their community needs. In order to make meaningful change, of course, they’ve got to possess the skills and knowledge needed to get into college as well as the personal initiative to increase their skills to the level needed both to graduate with a degree and to do whatever it will take to subsequently effect the change most meaningful to them and their community.

The fact that I vaguely want them to make a 600 on the math portion of the SAT, complete a heavy-duty math-centered independent community-service project afterward, and exhibit a bunch of really great qualitative skills and mindset as the this-year portion of that vision doesn’t really matter. It really doesn’t matter whether that is ambitious OR feasible—because while my goal is a benchmark, what I’m truly aiming for is what I see in their future. I now know that any time I’m making a decision in my classroom, all I have to do is blink for a second and see my students Being the Change in the long run—and ask what makes the most sense now if they’re going to end up there and make it happen.

Which is why I’m so thrilled.


4 Responses

  1. YOU WIN, LADY. You win. Look at this. LOOK AT THIS.

  2. Hannah


    Also, congrats on the Whole Brain Teaching success!

  3. Wess

    Yesssss!! Thank you both!

  4. Ms. Math

    you never told me you raised 5000 dollars! Woot! Nice work!

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