Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 02 2013

Watching Myself Quit

Somehow, I made it through two years of teaching without quitting. But I think I just watched a version of my past self actually do it.

By that I mean I identified strongly with the difficulties one of our after-school employees was having, but couldn’t keep her from quitting. (Not sure if I wanted to?)

I mostly knew of this girl’s struggles through her supervisor, but when I spoke with her personally I felt like I was talking to my first-year-teacher self. She wasn’t making any sense, but it made perfect sense to me: She would express frustration with the other staff members, then backtrack and say it was all her fault. She would say she was totally at a loss and hitting a wall, then say she knew exactly what needed to be done. She would spout humility and self-loathing, then insinuate that the rest of the team wasn’t pulling their weight. And throughout, I could just see this constant tension between how she felt like this was her life’s calling and how she felt like she couldn’t do one more day.

As I talked with her, I remembered conversations with administrators, veteran teachers, and TFA staff–remembered the look on their faces and the things they would all say–and realized I had the same look on my face, was saying the same things.

It would have been an interesting experience even if it had ended there. In the end, though, I decided I was in a position to make things a bit clearer and easier for her and improve the program at the same time, and so I scheduled a staff meeting for the site.

By the end of that meeting, though, she’d given up. She had also gotten into a heady confrontation with the site supervisor and revealed a lot of what she really thought about the school, its staff, and why the kids were so far behind. She was careful never to say it, and in fact said a lot of self-deprecating things instead, but I could tell that in her opinion, there was one simple problem: the school, and the rest of the after school staff, were not as hard-working as her, not as smart as her, and had low expectations for behavior. I don’t even think she knew that’s what was coming through in what she was saying.

So I went from identifying with her in an empathetic, “ohhh honey” way to identifying with her in an “oh crap was I just like her?” way. And on some bad days, I think the answer would have been yes.

For the most part, maybe with rose-colored hindsight, I think the sane part of me knew that my problems stemmed from my own lack of experience and inability to cope. But I definitely was not always thinking/saying the most ‘asset-based’ things about my school or coworkers, either.

I’m so glad I was able to be there for that, and learn from my mistakes in such a visual way. Because I can feel now how absurdly wrong she was about that staff, and how ridiculous she looked pointing fingers when she could have been learning from them.

One Response

  1. TFA Corps member

    I’m glad you posted this! I relate!

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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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