Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 16 2011

Yellow Brick Road

This week I’ve been in a really weird equilibrium state. I’m not working as much, I’m sleeping a lot more, and I’m just… calm. Restful. Balanced. … lazy.

It’s a nice change from doing the whole chicken-with-its-head-cut-off thing, but it’s not really helping my kids any.

Don’t know if I’ve said this here yet, but I’m officially staying a third year at my school. I just finished an application to start work on a Master’s (what?!?) in January, and even though I know that’s going to mean even less time for, you know, teaching, I’m jazzed to be a student again.

(side note: it may be shallow or silly or lame, but I’m incredibly motivated by grades. All the time I’ve spent wondering “WHY was I so on top of it in college and WHY do I now feel so unmotivated in comparison?” has brought me to the conclusion that no, I’m not just inherently selfish, and no, I’m not just inherently bad at teaching–it has more to do with the type of success I see, the type of feedback I get, the way I see myself reflected in my work. I’m task-oriented. The thought of being graded, rated on a scale or rubric (you know, like that TAL rubric thing we used to have at Institute way back when? Where did that go?), is so malleable and controllable and straightforward–especially compared to the mess of the classroom with all of its zillion variables and trillion causes and millions of places to improve. It’s the difference between excelling at Guitar Hero or Laser Tag. In space. )

I just want to be GOOD. SO badly. I want to be amazing, I want my kids to drop jaws, I want to be TFAmous and be the first ever HS Math CM to win Sue Lehmann. I want heads to turn when people walk by my classroom. I want to have a reputation with kids as a ‘good teacher.’ I want to feel the high of being “with it” and to feel used to executing great lessons every single day. I want to never question my expectations of kids, never say anything to a kid that I regret later, never wonder what today could have been if I’d only had time to plan it better. I want to feel on top of my job, like I’ve got things pretty much under control. I want to do EXTRA! I want to push my kids BEYOND where they’re expected to be, to push them to the TOP of their class, to really get at their heartstrings and change something in them permanently. There would be nothing like the high I could get every single day if I were really, truly, unquestionably REALLY GOOD at teaching. … Which, I guess, is why I can’t leave.

If someone could just paint me a yellow brick road that would lead to that place, I promise, I PROMISE I’d work harder than ANYbody to get there. I’d do whatever it takes. I’d start now and bust my ass and LOVE EVERY MINUTE of it. I know I absolutely have enough grit and will and fire and soul to make it happen–if only I knew the way and could just buckle down and GO. The backwards-planned paths I keep trying to build-as-I-go for myself are winding in circles and forking and disappearing under my feet, and I’m starting to think I’ll never get there if I don’t start booking it along a directional shortest-path-between-two-points.

One Response

  1. Ms. Math

    oh wess,
    This is a beautiful post-it reflects so much of what I’m feeling all of the time.

    I see my old self, my 4.0 self, my bike racer self, and think about how good I was at all of that.
    I see myself in education, and all of a sudden I’m not in control of all of the variables. In school, I finish a set of homework, I study a certain part of the book, and I get a good grade. I threw myself into bike racing as a CM because if I trained harder I got faster and won races. It made so much sense. It was so obvious what I needed to do to win. And winning at something felt REALLY good while in the midst of bumping up against a system that was holding me(and I really mean my kids) back from being truly successful. All the little victories feel like tiny drops in a pond. My adviser told me that when he started understanding student thinking and realizing the depth of the problem that he almost shut down in shock at the immensity of the problem. Changing an ineffective culture is so incredibly hard. Math education is not working. But your kids expect you to keep teaching the same way that obviously hasn’t worked for them in the past. You have to get them on board so making changes is like pulling teeth. It’s not enough to teach differently- you have to convince everyone to want to learn differently. And to do that you have to understand more than I bet any second year teacher really has time to come to grips with.

    I’m glad that you are sleeping more. The system is a mess, and throwing energy at it works up to a certain point. And eventually it just destroys the person throwing the energy at it because changes are like molasses.

    About being TFAmous. Your are. My old community leader boss asks me “how did you get someone to act like Leslie?” She LOVES you. You are important to me-when I think about my future, and think about trying to help teachers change how they approach math, I think of you, your attempts and struggles and enthusiasm. When I get worn out I think about how hard you are trying to help the kids. The kids I’m trying to help at the moment are a little bit farther removed than yours, but what I’m working on has the potential to help kids all over the country. (I know my adviser designed this project with the idea of making as much impact as he could.)

    What if your goal for teaching, isn’t meeting the crazy expectation of havign 100% of everyone love you. What if it is to learn about the system? I don’t want you to leave education. What if you start thinking like an informal scientist and start trying to come to grips with all of these variables? And when that’s too much, just think about simple relationships. How did I teach fractions. What did the kids understand about fractions? How do kids understand X topic. How do they respond when I try to perturb them. What motivates them. If those are not the questions that interest you, find some others. How does a school schedule work? How are teachers motivated?

    I don’t think this education thing is a race to the end of two years for us. I think TFA is giving us the slap in the face, just because you rocked at college, doesn’t mean you can fix this disaster, experience. Think of how much we understand about these complicated variables, even if it is just that simple solutions and quick fixes aren’t the answer. I think you and I will be in education for a really long time so we might as well soak up and learn as much as possible while staying healthy enough along the way that we’ll make it.

    And also, what is your master’s in?

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