Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 15 2012

Proving what’s possible.

When I started the Delta Institute six weeks ago, and for the duration of it, our theme or motto or slogan or motivational phrase or whatever else we can call it, “Proving What’s Possible,” made me cringe.

I’ve never been one to buy into themes. I remember my tenth grade chemistry teacher used “Learning with Langly” and kids were obsessed with it. They had sweatpants and t-shirts, called it out in the halls, bought into it in a way foreign to any other class. In my high school we didn’t really need slogans– there was an expectation that you did your work. I kept up because my friends did, because it would be embarrassing not to, because it wasn’t hard to. Somehow mottos always felt artificial and forced to me. I love rules and expectations enough that as long as they’re there, I’m set; I’ll do what you want. The mottos just make me uncomfortable.

Such was Institute. Today when we got back from closing down the dorms there was a group of six CMAs chillin in M-Dog’s room and Mr. Guy asked me, “How was Institute for you, emotionally?” It was surprising to me that he even had to ask. “It was fine. I honestly didn’t dip low at all… at any point. I never broke down, I never felt too overwhelmed. I was confident in all of it, I guess.”

It makes me wonder if I was doing something wrong. I loved this job. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt as confident, secure, and successful at what I was doing. Despite operating largely as an island (a CarCar MoMo island, but an island still), I never had serious concerns that I was doing anything wrong or that I was failing or that I couldn’t handle it.

This is the last, very last, night of institute. We had our staff dinner tonight, which included a marriage proposal and many transition announcements. I’m not going to talk about losing the daily interactions with my staff (especially Mo), and what kind of impact that’s going to have because it won’t sink in until I start driving away from Cleveland, into the rest of summer. I will say that at Thursday’s closing ceremonies, I had the privilege of hearing a speech from a ’98 corps member, Rachel Schankura, that was the best TFA speech I have ever heard, including the unbeatable Camika Royal speech from the 2010 summit.

This morning I said goodbye to two of the CMs I got closest to. We had brunch in the dining hall with a lingering send-off. One beautiful lady gave me a card that I don’t have permission to re-post on here but I’m going to regardless. It wasn’t until I read this card that I actually bought into this theme, that I realized my somewhat jaded perspective could use a jolt of freshness, that I acknowledged that even though this is my third institute, for hundreds of other people it is groundbreaking. It is life changing. It is a frightening initiation into adult life. I am so appreciative and overwhelmingly grateful that I was given a chance to facilitate the transition into this life– that I got to be a major player in eight very important teachers’ lives as educators. I’m floored with the responsibility, with the privilege of knowing them and talking with them, with the precious time I had with my three classrooms: eighth grade, ninth grade, and tenth grade English.

I can’t put into words the things I want to say about my staff and my CMs. I don’t know if that’s coming in a later post or not, but I love them. I love them with my entire heart. And from the note I received this morning I know that they understand that, and that’s all I could ask for from this summer. So, to prevent my rambling from running too much deeper into the night, here come the two sentences that gripped my heart and gave me that sick sick feeling that’s ever so present in all us kool-aid drinking TFAers: hope. And faith. That we’re all doing this the best we know how, and for right now, it’s enough. From my sweet, sweet CM:

More than anything, though, I want to thank you for loving people too much to let them fall short of what they could be. You pushed me beyond what I thought was possible at Institute, and I hope to shatter my students’ perceptions of limitations, as you have done for me.

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