Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 04 2011

It feels like we’ve been out at sea.

C’R is a student in my fifth period class. He is a skinny African American boy with big eyes and an adorable smile. He walked into my class with no backpack, pencil in his pocket, today. We were revising the essays that every other period turned in yesterday, because fifth period is two days behind the rest of the sixth grade due to school holidays, unannounced assemblies, and a movie all the girls had to watch about puberty.

We have been working on these essays since April 14, their cover page says DUE WED, 5/4. I am mentioning this to make me feel like less of a horrible person.

As I talked to C’R in the last five minutes of class I watched the bright white of his eyes slowly turn to a faded pink. I watched blood red vessels creep from the corners toward his irises. I watched as an almost indiscernible stream of salt water crept up above his bottom eyelashes, then fell quietly past his nose to his faded red hoodie. “I turned it in yesterday,” C’R was pleading. “You have my essay. It should be right there.” I proceeded to forcefully pick up each stack of papers on the desk he had pointed to, proving to him that his essay was not in any of the messes I had made through the day. I told him that I had given him three copies of the assignment (true story) and that it is his responsibility to keep track of it. That in seventh grade, he will have to learn to turn things in when the teacher asks for it, not randomly at the end of a class just to get it out of the way.

Except I talked as if C’R was dumb. I slowed my speech and stared into his eyes. I wrote him up for doing no work, talking back, and being unprepared for class. I explained the entire situation was his fault.

At the end of the day, my homeroom came in and left quickly. Just now, typing this, I realize I’m supposed to be on duty. Supposed to be in the gym, which by now will be empty but two bus lines. My shoulders just slumped with my sigh.

I have never felt a stronger sense of life not being fair than at this moment. It’s not fair that I can’t be a better teacher. That I didn’t help C’R keep track of his essay, that I didn’t treat him like a human today, that I can’t figure out a way to harness how well these students want to do (and they do– they want to do well every bit as much as I want them to do well). It’s not fair that I grew up where I did, that I have the luxury of saying I don’t want to do this and giving up, walking away, taking more time to update my blog and schedule social events than prepare for the students who have everything working against them. How successful is C’R going to be if I never take the time to help him learn, or help him learn how to learn, or help him be confident that he is capable of learning and should be desirous of learning. None of this is fair. (And I want to add that I know very well it is not my sole responsibility to shape this child, but the idea behind TFA that I strongly support is the concept of changing a life trajectory which is something I can do. One person can absolutely make a massive impact on another. It’s incredible, and so so daunting to know.)

I am so deeply frustrated with myself for the way I treat my kids. For my own, huge, shortcomings. For slacking off because my calendar says MAY. For forgetting the sizable impact that I could be making.

C’R is going to fail this assignment, and likely fail my class. On standardized tests he tends to score high B’s. He should not be failing. I should not be making him cry on a regular basis. He should be completely aware of how deeply I care about him and his success. But if you asked him if he walked out of my room how much I care or how hard I work for his success, he’d probably tell you that all I do is yell at him and lose his papers. And he’d be right.

4 Responses

  1. justcallmemaestra

    I love how honest this post is. Chin up. I bet you are making more of a difference for your kids than you know.

  2. Wess

    Sometimes, I read your posts and realize that this whole Teach For Us thing is a really, REALLY good thing for the world. This is exactly what it means to be a teacher a lot of the time, full of responsibility and guilt and wondering how to do more, better. If more people read what you write, maybe “the profession” would be regarded differently.

  3. Cindy

    But you can’t know that your interaction with C’R isn’t exactly the thing the tweaked his trajectory and sent him on a better path . . . In my role as a bookstore manager, I have a lot of kids (18 to 23) that work for me . . . for most, their first real work experience. I worry about them this way too. How will they ever understand the work ethic I am trying to get across – that the job is not below them (no mater who they are or what I ask them to do) and while it may be a passing thing, the commitment to work is the same. My boss, an incredible manager with years of experience, tells me I can’t know if in fact one day they will open up and say to themselves “so this is what she meant!”

    You can’t know, Caroline, all you can do is the best you can.

  4. Robert Huston

    Simply, “Fail Harder”. I keep that in my mind at all times, seems to push me, hopefully it does the same for you. Fail Harder. Keep trying, failure is common practice among anyone that has ever made it into the history books. Fail Harder, keeping trying, keep pushing. Things will fall in their place, you are doing more good than you probably realize.

    Toodles.

    R.

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