Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 08 2011

To be a better human.

Spring is a time for reinvention and renewal. The things that have been lingering in my head are e.e. cummings and Justin Beiber. Don’t criticize me.

Something (another thing) I love about Teach For America is the value of Continuously Increasing Effectiveness. All of the values (see them here) are intertwined and play off each other, but this one has the most umph for me. It gives me the most guilt, and has tangible and gratifying results. Continuously increasing effectiveness means constantly analyzing, constantly tearing apart, constantly judging yourself and others– to answer the constant question, “How can this be better?” I love it. It’s making my heart beat a little faster just typing it out.

The appeal is that it is real and immediate. I can increase my effectiveness in teaching by holding a pause for (literally) one second longer. It can change the entire dynamic of my classroom. In fact,  it did change the entire dynamic of my classroom. Not alone, but it was the first, most concrete and effective piece of advice my PD gave me to get my classroom management under control. One second of doing nothing but stare with a blank look on my face, and I was heading for success!

Okay, what’s the point. Besides being in love with Teach For America (WHAT? WHO AM I?) and my job as a whole (OHMAGAWD, MY BABIES—), I am semi-freaking out with glee because of life changes I have made and continue to make. Last semester was a forest, it was the ocean, it was being stuck on Mars surrounded by aliens. But now I am in a place that will soon become home. Now I am in a place that I understand I have some (or a lot of) control over.

Not only does TFA push these values on you, but you are perpetually surrounded by them as a corps member. I can literally SEE people employing this value constantly. The type of people hired by Teach For America is a pretty amazing type of person (and is what makes me perpetually ask, “how on earth did I make it to where I am?”) Every day I see people who get thrown, absolutely thrown into fire and cement and deep holes and other aggressive metaphors. Then I see them stand up, climb out, brush their shoulders off, straighten their cardigans, and keep going. Not only that, but they then ask what they are doing wrong, what they can fix, what they have to do to make things better.

Personally, this sometimes just leads to digging the hole deeper with frustration. But lately it doesn’t. Lately it means buying produce from the grocery instead of frozen dinners. It means going into my roommates’ rooms instead of leaving or hiding in my own. It means taking ownership for my anxiety, talking about it, and trying things to help calm it down. Breathing exercises? Doctors? Homeopathic remedies? Running? Whatever. If it doesn’t work, it’s still a success in that at least now I know it doesn’t work.

Tiny anecdotes:

  • Yesterday after second period a student saying, “Ms. L, you didn’t yell at us today! You were nice!”
  • Fifth period and I finally coming to a comedic compromise of allowing a new student, Jake, into the class. (Jake is a checkered backpack who tends to wear his hat in class and answer all questions about parts of speech correctly.)
  • We sing almost daily in class, and it helps on so many levels. Today it was prepositions to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Third period might be on youtube soon.
  • Recently sporadic hugs from trouble makers have been on the rise. They are surprising and endearing.
  • I leave school with energy to finish my day.

The end. Happy Tuesday to you.

4 Responses

  1. Wess


    I have a cowboy hat with “CIE” glitter-glued on the brim that I won at Institute. I hang it over my doorway because THAT’S MY FAVORITE ONE, TOO!

    Did you know TFA just changed their core values? Now they’re Transformational Change, Leadership, Team, Diversity, and Respect & Humility (we got a description of them at a TAL workshop recently, but I can’t find it online yet). I’m still trying to figure out what I think about the change. I just don’t know if I can let go of my DT and CIE!

    I love this post.

    P.S. I have hair kind of like Justin Bieber’s.

    • G

      I remember that hat!!!

    • My roommate showed me the new values. In fact, my original version of this post included an entire tangental (not a word) paragraph about my dislike for them. Corporate. But corporate because we are getting so huge and, well, corporate. It makes sense, I just don’t like it. Big = generic = vague = meaningless. I mean less meaningful. Sigh.

      I do like transformational change, though, especially after reading a random blog post reviewing parts of Wendy’s newest book, because she explains how there is no silver bullet, but then explains that transformational change on all levels is a silver bullet. kind of.

  2. I really love your blog. I’ve been scouring Teachforus, reading everything I can find, in preparation for applying for TFA in August. I’m also considering the Mississippi Delta as a placement region, and I’ve been constantly worried that I’m gong to be adrift and lost with such a big life change (right now I’m in the Midwest, surrounded by people I’ve known forever). It’s so, so reassuring to hear someone talking about not only the good they’ve found professionally, through teaching, but also the good you’ve found in life through the experience. Your posts are really inspiring; thank you so much for sharing.

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