Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 21 2012

Opportunity cost.

A part of me is desperate for headphones, to isolate my brain from this adorable cafe, somewhere near Union Square, on the coldest day of my east coast trip.

When I sat down here I stopped to read for 30 minutes, A Wish After Midnight, a self-published book I expected to dislike but don’t. Opened my email to something from Morgan, the principal from Bridgeport Academy Middle School. I have questions to answer about my trip, further ways for AF to access my candidacy at their school.

I open it and almost wince–

Two mornings ago I woke up at a hotel in New Haven, was picked up by my second AF recruiter. As I stepped to the car we had a mutual moment of recognition: she dropped me off at the same hotel in November, after High School Immersion Day. On the way to Bridgeport we talked about running, injury, yoga, and addictive personalities.

Once at the school, I had 30 minutes to observe other classrooms and get comfortable. For this trip, I did significantly less planning for my sample lesson. I yanked something from my own classes two weeks ago (a loose, quick, low-rigor “show-don’t-tell” lesson…mixed thoughts on that choice). After my observation time, I hopped into the room to teach 30 sixth graders. They were adept, my lesson was shallow, and compared to my sample lesson in Hartford in January I was incredibly relaxed and excited to be there.

After the lesson I wandered for another 20 minutes, until I was beckoned into the principal’s office. Around a circle table sat the principal, principal-in-training, recruiter, and myself. The conversation: my analysis of my lesson (glows and grows); their analysis of my lesson (glows and grows); then a slew of standard interview questions (strengths, weaknesses, interest in Connecticut, how I run my classroom, consistency, what I think of their management system, etc. etc. etc.)

Enter the two deans (this school is 5-8th, so they both lower and upper school deans of culture). I am shuffled along to walk the school and complete, basically, interview number two. The upper school (I think!) dean had a clipboard and boxes she filled in as she asked me about the culture (culture is a euphemism for discipline in the charter world, so I’ve learned) in my own classroom and my own school. From there I had lunch with some teachers and the eighth graders, where I pried open the art teacher to tell me more about Bridgeport (“It’s kind of like a very mini Brooklyn,” he says before telling me about the gallery he just opened up down the street.)

After lunch I’m told I’m expected back in the principal’s office, where I sit for round three of questions, this time with principal and principal-in-training but no one else. These questions are on a separate level from the first: how I became grade level chair (“I volunteered.”), what I think about moving to a state where I know no one (“I’d have a much stronger social network here, considering I’m 10 hours closer to family”), what I like best about AF Bridgeport so far (“…?…”) and what questions I have for them (“What’s your plan, seeing as you haven’t stayed in one school more than four years?” “How do you prevent teacher burn-out?” “What’s Bridgeport like?”)

The end of that set of questions was Morgan (I feel slightly dangerous calling him by his first name already…hah) and I sharing delta-isms. He’s a former Delta corps member, one of the first to go to Lake Village! We had plenty of common ground to cover, and by the end of it I almost felt like I was doing the recruiting… for him to come back! Bahaha! This is because when I asked what his plan is, he told me he’s leaving Bridgeport Middle after the 2012-13 year. From what I heard walking around, it seems that in the 2010-11 year the school struggled a lot, and Morgan was brought in for damage control. Once the new principal is fully trained, Morgan is ducking out. He’s interviewing for positions now, and doesn’t know where he’ll be two years from now. Interesting.

He mentioned that he always saw himself going back to the Delta eventually… we both admitted that the Delta is a unique part of the country, something about it pulls you in and never lets go.

Hearing him say that, though, that he intended to go back but hasn’t so far, left me a little dreamy. Do I want to make the jump to Connecticut, surrounded by friends and family, urban life– something I always thought I’d be in the middle of post-college –right now? I almost feel like that would be pressing fast forward. Like I always expected (and continue to expect) to be in some similar situation, but until this interview I was not taking it seriously for the 2012-13 school year. I was hesitatingly informing friends and family that “I’m leaning toward staying a third year” and “I love it here. I love my job.”

Granted, I haven’t been offered a position yet. Part of me was silently begging for AF to be a terrible interview and a school that just didn’t fit, the same way Hartford felt. But Bridgeport is not Hartford, and I do feel like I fit. I loved the staff, loved the kids, love the gorgeous old school with long windows and high ceilings in every single classroom. I love that the principal reminds me of my college supervisor who’s been my number one go-to for letters of recommendation and the first person I visit when I go back to campus. I love that the art teacher compared Bridgeport to Brooklyn and the principal compared it to Detroit. These are cities I love, cities I know I fit into.

So now I have this email questionnaire, in my eyes interview number four with this school, sitting in my email inbox. Something in me doesn’t want to answer it. Doesn’t want to let this opportunity be more serious. Doesn’t want to take another step further away from the delta, from Dumas, from my life for the past two years. I don’t want to admit that I’d seriously consider leaving my kids, leaving my classroom.

I sit, I sit, I am sitting blocks away from Union Square but need to scoot down to SoHo sometime in the next two hours, so I won’t be late for my meeting with Francie, miss Queen of Scholastic. Maybe she will help me figure out my life, my priorities.


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