Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 17 2011

Potential.

The Oxford American has a lot of potential. When my brother first told me to subscribe he said, “It’s like The Atlantic of the south.” Well, shoot. So I bought into the quad-annual (??) magazine, looking for great southern writing. The first issue I received was all about food, and it was excellent. The latest issue is about education.

Unfortunately, since that one beautiful issue, I consistently walk around with the latest issue in tow… but rarely read more than a few articles, and even more rarely enjoy and respect what I’m reading.

(Important note: How did I learn to become a critical reader? When did I learn to not trust everything just because it’s published with a nice cover and an editor? How did I learn to compare The Oxford American with The Atlantic and when did I realize that my opinion is at least moderately valid? Most importantly, how can I teach that to my students?!)

Anyway. I only read two or three articles from this issue, and they’re at least comforting in that they are about education. That’s something, at least?

I’m sitting in the only restaurant in the Little Rock airport, waiting for my flight to Chicago. I already paid for my grown up drink, which I purchased as a result of my semi-incessant crying the entire way here. I don’t think I’m sad, even, really, I just don’t feel grounded. And I’m projecting nothing but future not-feeling-grounded-feelings for the next month, as I travel from Chicago to the Delta to Michigan to Connecticut and back to the Delta. And in between there is an ELA conference I’m pumped for but somehow forget it’s actually more working hours than school on top of planning for when I return to school; there is an observation from the principal of Oak Park Prep who is driving from I think Memphis after a flight from Sacramento specifically to see me teach and oh yeah, I’ve been doing a really POOR job at tracking my students and figuring out if we’re actually getting anywhere.

Suddenly, the excitement of “fresh eyes” in my classroom has turned into a stomachache of “I am in no way good enough for a charter school principal to come and observe and decide to hire for a founding year of his school.”

With my students today, I was engrossed in what that principal would be thinking if he had been watching my lesson. How tight my procedures aren’t. How great at parts of speech we aren’t. How uninvested we are. How negative I am. How nevative we are.

I made a girl cry today for doing a common practice in teaching: 1) ask  student A the answer; student A doesn’t know 3) ask student B the answer, who does know 3) ask student A to repeat the answer student B gave, to ensure that that student A will know next time.

Student A completely shut down, stared into outer space, and eventually was sent out of the room by super teacher Ms. L, where she burst into tears and refused to come back into the room. When I finally made it into the hall to speak with her one-on-one and apologize, after crying and staring into outer space some more she said, “I’m tired of people telling me I’m smart. I’m not smart and language. I’m not good at language.”

What!

Yesterday I made a point of calling her “smartypants ____” as a huge compliment, and pointing out all the things she is doing right. Today I attempted to do the same thing and this was the response.

I’m baffled as to if this is the result of previous constant negative reinforcement (which is strange, because I know her mom, who is supportive if demanding, and reiterates, at the least, how cute and important her daughter is), or another attempt at attention (this child is in the top five students in the grade on the “NEEDS ATTENTION” list).

Either way, once she started crying, I was on edge for the rest of the day. I did everything I could in the next period to not burst into tears, and when I finally made it into the car to speed up to the condescending TSA agents of Little Rock National Airport, I intermittently burst into tears for any number of reasons.

As a high point, on my way here I thought about what I want from my life, and how I want education to fit into my career path, and I worked out one potential solution. It is as follows:

Finish out my year in Dumas, doing everything possible to get as much leadership and experience as I can. If hired, move to a charter school to feel like a first year teacher, cry daily, and get the best professional development as a teacher I will ever get. Continue to work there, learn the interworkings of a highly successful school, potentially go to some leadership academy or alternative principalship-education-whatever-thing, and then, ta da, return to the Delta to finish what I started.

Again, one idea of ideally 800 million thousand.

Keep checking. Gotta catch this flight.

One Response

  1. Shoshana

    wise words from Emerson, found in the wonderful small book you loaned me (which I will be returning next week when I SEE YOU)

    “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

    And I know that amidst all that lies within you dear Caroline, determination and spunk you have plenty of. Keep being you.

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