Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 24 2012

Failure, professionally.

As if that wasn’t already happening for the past 18 months, future prospects are dwindling.

Thursday after school I piled in the car with the boy roommates, so Art Teacher could buy a new car and I could get dropped off at the airport. After an entire week of <4 hours of sleep, I sat down and immediately fell asleep for the entire (1.5 hour) carride. I arrived to the airport, checked in American, and whined to sister on the phone for an hour about the looming six hours of travel (first flight at 8pm).

I am a classy girl, right? So it won’t do to trash talk in an effort to make myself feel better. I’m going to stick to biased facts and relay the story of the trip to Sacramento, to see the potential Oak Park Prep. I arrived near midnight, at which point the principal picked me up and drove me to my hotel: Sacramento Travelodge, land of dirty plastic trashcans about every five hotel room doors, stuffed with Hot-N-Ready pizzas and cigarette butts. Instead of being nervous when the gas station attendant across the street told me (while I searched for toothpaste that the hotel wouldn’t provide), “My advice to you? Get out as soon as you can. And watch your stuff…” instead I laughed aloud to myself while staring at the cat asleep next to the pool, thinking, “Well, at least coming here is an adventure.”

After four hours of sleep I got picked up (phew) at 7am, went to coffee, observed three high school classrooms, went to lunch, observed a kindergarten room, and returned to the school only to discover that the middle school (in my eyes, the top priority for my observations) was locked in either early release or study hall: no observations for me. Instead we pulled some 7th graders to talk, and some high school students took us for a tour.

I told a few people that I was hoping I’d arrive to sunny California, a knot of knowing tightening in my gut, telling me this was my destiny, a place where I would fit. In warmth and welcome and opportunity. Instead I arrived to the first rain of the year, a gray, seemingly unplanned day with a leader I believed in but wasn’t sure I trusted to develop me without making me want to throw up or rip out my hair every day in the process. Is it my inability to see this as a shining opportunity for my passion for closing the achievement gap? Is it me facing a school that I’m not qualified to teach in (world history?) in a city I don’t know (2,296 miles from Michigan home)? Is it the culmination of TFA, to put yourself through hell and realize that, right, as an unqualified teacher I ultimately result as … still being an unqualified teacher?

The rest of my trip was social and lazy. I cried through my layover. When I arrived back in Little Rock there was a late-middle aged couple waiting for someone outside the gate. As I walked (with a semi-broken shoe, to give you a real good picture) to the escalator a girl about my age jogged from behind me into the arms of the woman in the couple. She was crying. I could only assume it was her mom. I blinked back tears and do the same now– where’s my mom? Who can clear this indecision and guide me?

Granted, I am infinitely lucky with my family, with Dumas, with my friends, with my utterly amazing students. But none of those people are my tiny wild-eyed mom, huddled in a down jacket or clutching a dog leash, waiting to give me a hug whether I want it or not.

The bottom line is that after this process, after the application, the two hour observation, the offer, the visit to Sacramento– tonight principal called and withdrew his offer.



Plus sides are that, after MATCH did the same last week, my potential 2012-13 opportunities have narrowed themselves down to staying in Dumas, or seeing how this interview in Connecticut (Thursday) goes. Maybe I shouldn’t have cancelled that interview with KIPP New Orleans, afterall. Not just narrowing opportunities, but no longer struggling with the half-hearted idea of teaching at this school, of forcing potential, of making excuses for it to be wonderful.

Today our Mennonite tech woman pulled me into an empty classroom to gossip. She said, with some concern, “I heard you’re leaving.” What?! I haven’t told anyone what I’m doing, and have no certainty of leaving. I told her this and asked who told her. She: “Well, everyone’s talking about it. Everyone.” I’m dumbfounded. Small town. “We heard you’re all leaving. I know Leaf is leaving.” Lord. “I just think you should all stay. Just one more year. Everything is changing.”

There were plenty of fabulous things that happened today, and productive, and inspiring. I’m going to save them for an entry whose first title word isn’t failure.

7 Responses

  1. Yikes. I’d definitely sleep on it before thinking too much — I don’t think straight when I’m exhausted. Sleep on it, and don’t burn your bridges; that’s my unsolicited advice.


      • els

        Do you want to work in CA for sure? ‘Cause I have a few connections there…not a lot, but a few. I know people in public schools in Orange County and one in a private school in Walnut Creek.

        • I’m interested but definitely don’t have my heart set on it. I went to Sacramento because the principal recruited me from a TFA resume site– I didn’t seek him out. I appreciate the thought, though!!

  2. Ms. Math

    don’t worry too much about criticism from principals-I’ve gotten plenty of it and some of it was just not helpful for anyone.
    I’ve seen that I have always had a lot of potential but it wasn’t always appreciated.
    You’ll find a place in education :) eventually!

    • Thanks for that! It’s kind of nice to realize that after just a year and a half I can start to sort out what’s productive for me and what’s not. AND what kind of leader I’d like to work under and what kind I couldn’t be productive under.

      The principal had GREAT feedback and was awesome for my own development even here in AR, but the disorganization was not my fav…


    Immediate answer: having any sort of social life would be kind of nice.

    More forthcoming.

Post a comment