Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 03 2012

Pretenses.

Thank God it’s Friday, for my kids’ sake more than my own. Today I was downright a word I wouldn’t publish in a blog, and I could feel it. I could feel the poison seeping out of me, negativity washing down my face, pushing the frizz off the side of my head, weighing down each finger, infecting my Smartboard markers and turning all my words and glances toxic. I knew I was in a bad place this morning, but it was a hurtling train. It was a vase two inches from shattering on the ground. I couldn’t stop it.

First and second period I did what I could. I held silence more often than I cut down children. I used hand motions more than consequences, because even I knew I wasn’t always being fair, or impartial. I was in a bad mood, and taking it out on them by issuing strict management based on reducing irritation, not maximizing learning. Bottom line: not good for kids.

I can’t shake the death of this little Detroit girl, and I’m reminded each time a student asks me about it, or hands me a dollar bill for the flowers. Our second-period conversation yesterday sunk my heart deep into my other organs– stifled pumping and in the dark. I just want to sleep. I just want to lay down in the rain. I just want to be alone.

At lunch I went home for a ten minute break. I left the building knowing I had to change something before lunch was over. I thought through my very ill-planned lesson and clarified my key points (solution one), I reminded myself that every day is a work in progress, that teaching has no quick fix (simultaneously most frustrating and gratifying quality of the profession), I took a deep breath and tried to sing with the radio. I remembered I love my job.

When I returned I told the boys waiting at my door that I was sorry for being late (there are three of them that come daily to help me with my class library). Dar answered, “I know what will put you in a good mood!” “What?” “CHOCOLATE!” I started laughing, and completely agreed. Except I promised myself that after last month’s malnutrition, I’m eating zero sweets until (at earliest) March 1st. Though chocolate likely would have helped. A lot.

A few minutes later, as I walked to Reading Teacher’s room to help with GradeQuick in the minutes before recess ended, I thought about Dar’s comment and laughed again. He was so genuine and automatic, and yesterday he asked what I would do if I wasn’t a teacher. Just a thoughtful kid.

I found out a few days ago, and I hate even typing this, that I was nominated for a TFA award in my region. Ironic that my MTLD told me the same day I wrote a post about not getting recognition from TFA, and not deserving it. Finding out about the nomination gave me a dull curiosity, wondering who filled it out, who was considering my classroom, who had the capacity to compare me to anyone else. A few hours later, she texted that I was a semi-finalist, and the curiosity turned into a kind of nausea. Like in that story by Sartre when everyone’s in a prison cell waiting to be put to death, and one character gets let off by sheer accident. I felt like the guy that got let off. I don’t deserve this. I’ve committed too many teaching crimes to be recognized for something good. I was too stern with my kids today. I didn’t plan for my kids today. My kids haven’t internalized big goals; they still sigh when I fake-cheerfully exclaim, “Today we’re writing outlines! We’re writing what?!” Life trajectory status: stagnant. Transformational teacher I am not.

Not saying I don’t want to be, I just believe with some certainty that I’m not at this moment.

Then I found out that this semi-finalist thing is pretty involved. And that their are 8 of us, from an initial 75. More serious than I thought it would be. This has added to my negativity in the classroom (sounds backwards, I know). I walk in expecting my class already is what it should be and what I’ve been working for, but it’s not. A classroom is not creating a work of art and admiring it, or writing a paper and getting an A. This award is not like the accidental scholarships from college, where someone notices you and hands you a check on stage then never says anything to you again. This is to see a living, breathing, changing result of your daily interactions inside the brains of rooms full of miniature people. The whole point of teaching is to continually improve, to continually learn, to be in perpetual motion. Teaching is … to cultivate a garden? To manage a waterfall? To gently shape the evolution of so many tiny humans. It’s impossible. It’s a penny in a wishing well.

I’m not usually pessimistic, but I’m not good at acknowledging praise– especially when I don’t agree with it. I hate when my family tells me I’m a good teacher more than anything on earth; the people who have never seen my students, who don’t understand my curriculum, who don’t know the knowledge locked in my brain, the ideas I never execute, the things I know I need to bring up to the leadership team and haven’t, the procedures I haven’t taught. They don’t understand the difference between the potential me-teacher, and the current me-teacher, and how the latter is a drastic failure in comparison.

I love my job. I love and believe in my kids more than anything I have ever loved in my life. It is because of this that this award is tearing me down. I don’t deserve recognition because I am not doing enough. Because I still walk into school without a plan some days, because I still mis-manage students, because I am not giving these kids their way out– and I know I can be doing this. I know a great teacher can. I know that the reason I’m inching toward 80% positive I’m staying in Dumas next year is because I know it’s possible and I want to be it, but I’m not there yet. Not even close.

2 Responses

  1. els

    I think the better you are, the more aware you are of how much you have to improve. Also, it’s Friday night, and I don’t know about you, but I’m dead tired and not very objective right now.

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