Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 24 2010

Fight for survival stops.

The field trip is tomorrow, and despite having taught for one month I feel I am so behind, perpetually behind.

I love that fellow Dumasian and TFA teacher┬áSarah constantly asks, “Caroline, have you updated your blog?” when we are working together. Searching for an excuse to not do work for five minutes. I like it because she has never commented, and it makes me feel like people are reading without me knowing it, like I have an invisible support system even when I am feeling invisible.

Wordplay, playing with words, it’s hard to think about language without thinking of my kids, now. How can I get them to appreciate the value of intentionally ruining standard word order in a sentence? How can I get them to grow to a point where they cry when they read E. E. Cummings like I sometimes do? How can I help them understand that if they read magazines, books, newspapers and write resumes, stories, poetry– it will help them develop as humas? How?

I think these things but make little effort beyond that, lately. I was sick two weeks ago to the point that, at the end of the day, I told students I had no patience or voice and please be kind to me. No threats, just an explanation of crankiness. I thanked God I already had a test planned for that day.

But the cold lingered. And the farmers kept showering their fields and our town with things I don’t understand that fill the air and my sinuses with things humans probably should not inhale. And the construction outside my doorway now not only increases my volume while teaching but blows bits of dust and concrete and insects into my contacts every time I open my door. And people have started burning their trash, so some nights when I come in from a run I pull of my tank top and realize I reek of smoke. It’s not the same feeling as smelling a hoodie after a bonfire– something that will always remind me of Rachel and fall.

I’ve met 37 of my children’s parents. They came to conferences on Monday and consistently immediately pointed to the “F” on the progress reports they held and said, “this, I’m wondering about this.” It’s a 5-point assignment that also has an “A” next to it for absent. “Your child wasn’t in class to take it.” Now the kids ask me daily if they can re-do their exit slip, now, please, to fix that grade. I should let them, but I don’t have extras printed out and I don’t know exactly which one they missed and I didn’t keep track of it well because I’m still not sure how to organize, well, anything.

At our TFA meeting on Tuesday, called ICE Group as an acroynm I can’t remember (sorry, Sarah), we learned the phases of teaching: Survival, Disillusionment, and Rejuvenation. I am in disillusionment. I’m past the point of just trying to get through the day and now stuck in some sad purgatory where I constantly realize what I am doing wrong and see mountains, mountains that need to be moved before I can see the sun again.

I live in Arkansas. I remember one Monday last year at prayer night in la iglesia when I was new to the group. Really, really new. I didn’t know anyone and Will did prophetic word for me (look it up, those of you who don’t necessarily know or understand the type of Christianity I don’t know how to label but was loosely affiliated with for a year and loosely continue to affiliate with– it’s worth reading about). He told me I can move mountains, with God’s help. He told me other things, too, and I cried and cried.

My sister is finally out of the hospital (she was there for a week) and I finally told my Program Director that I am struggling and need help (a good, good move I’d say) so this is where things start leveling out again. This is where I remove myself from lethargy and remember that the thing I have that is most commented on by others is my enthusiasm. I refuse to forget or lose my personality to frustration. I am here for a reason. I a teacher, and I will keep trying to teach.

(A big THANK YOU to cousin Patricia for donating binders to my classroom, and a big prayer for my mama because Lord do I miss that woman.)

8 Responses

  1. laura beson

    I had my first classroom observation yesterday, and have been teaching art and math to students in an after school program. I see a lot in the other teachers that I have to overcome, too. I see bits and pieces of my own life in every single child. My moods are embodied by each of them. It’s pretty incredible. What I’ve been dealing with in my after school program is grabbing on to each kid’s personality and drawing it out. In my pre-k class, I already see that the older teachers step back, take the “i’m your authority figure” approach. Punishment instead of discipline. I’m lucky to be getting all this experience and practice before landing myself in a classroom and hope you can feel comfortable asking me my opinion (even if you don’t even want to take it) on the subject. I hope all’s well. And I thoroughly support asking for help. It’s something I still need work on, myself, but I’m getting there.

  2. liz brauer

    As a teacher myself, albeit of yoga, I remember being a brand new teacher. Oh the poor people who had me the first few years. I feel so sorry for them. But, they will tell me they loved my classes! So I have to conclude that the students experience the class differently than you. On top of that , 6th graders really just need to learn how to get along! the info is less important than the culture of the class! Now I know this might not be a popular opinion but I believe it has merit. So don’t beat yourself up so much and enjoy being with those kids. Everyone will be happier and that is a good environment for learning. Also, and this is something that I find hard to this day; I teach for credit yoga classes at the local community college. The thing I cannot do is make students do the work! To a certain extent, you need to lend a supporting hand and to a certain extent you need to let them fall on their face (literally in yoga, ha ha). 6th grade is a good place to learn those lessons! Have fun!!!

  3. liz brauer

    The thing is, if your kids see that you are passionate about things, they might get passionate too, But they may not share your passions. I think a teacher needs to help a person find their way to learning how to learn about the things they are passionate about; and show their own passions. Your students may not cry over the poems you love but they will learn how to learn about the things that make them cry!

  4. Cindy

    Asking for help, an excellent move! Your sister’s healing, thank heavens for her progress. You are a teacher – kids want to dress like you, wear their hair like you, grow up to be you. And you can move mountains – you make a difference every day!

  5. sarah

    OK, this marks my first comment. hope this makes your day.

    just wanted to say i love you. and you are awesome. and have fun field tripping tomorrow.


  6. HA! Hello, me too. I skipped the last piece of Round 0 tonight because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. (Don’t worry. I emailed my PD first.) We’ve been in school for eight weeks and report cards are due tomorrow and do you know how to give kindergartners assignments? Me either. I feel like my kids aren’t learning, which, as TFA has engrained in me, if no one is learning, no one is teaching. Which means that I haven’t been teaching for the last eight weeks. Which means, what the hell have I been doing? I get the easiest place to close the achievement gap and it feels like I’m not even doing it. Crap.

    Hey, wanna come to Phoenix?

  7. Genevieve

    Hi Sister,
    Teaching is a tiring job, but I think it is one that will get better as time goes on. Just keep going!
    Try to find ways to give yourself a break, like running. Things that bring you back to normality and ground you. You need to find some baselines and work off those so you don’t feel lost in the chaos (I need to do that too).
    I love you!

  8. Shoshana

    “I am here for a reason”
    in all the words spilling from your heart here.. i find this uplifting and TRUE! You are here for a reason! that reason may often avoid you… OFTEN… but it is there and God knows it :)

    you are gonna do great things. that reason is a great thing!

    i love you!

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