Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 08 2012

Double Life

I am starting to get embarrassed about being “a third year.” Something about TFA is leaving a bad taste in my mouth, some frightening divide between being a third year teacher and a third year corps member. There is no third year corps member. There is no mandated social responsibility bearing on the shoulders of “the best and brightest” TFA-twenty-somethings. I feel guilty typing that out. I feel dirty claiming myself to be part of something like that. I want to take a nail file and scrub off whatever shred of entitlement I walk around with.

I am heartbroken when I reconsider the demographic statistics I see on the wikipedia site for my town. I am devastated when I think about leaving this town next year, or in ten years, or ever. But I also feel a very clean sense of not belonging.

There is a point that some longer-lasting TFA people have more than once told me they’ve been to. When they “just can’t do it anymore.” It is a strange thing to consider. The idea of trying something and facing a brick wall you literally refuse to tackle. One too many walls. One too many tackles. One too many hands pushing your shoulders straight into the concrete below you.

I love my school. I firey, passion-filled, defend-to-death love my school, and students, and co-workers, and position, and opportunity. But right now I feel young, and silly, and overdramatic, and like I cannot be explicit about anything I want to be because as much as I feel like I don’t belong, I feel like I belong enough to be careful. I am constantly thinking of what message I send, what picture I paint of the community I live in.

When I was an RA in college, it was always referred to as the fish bowl. Everything you do is watched. Even if this isn’t true, even if it’s never been true, it is how I have always lived my life.

Always.

Like someone is watching me, like there is some sort of judgement, like my so so precious reputation is worth something. Part of me hopes that when I grow up the me I genuinely feel and am sometimes scared to talk about will reconcile, will not need to ask for forgiveness but just acceptance from the me that is perpetually aware of the world staring in.

Even when it’s not staring in.

I refuse to delete this post, even though I desperately want to, because it is exactly how I feel right now. October. Year three of teaching, of southern life, of being a twenty-something, of trying.

10 Responses

  1. Tee

    I’ve made it pretty clear in my comments on TFU that I dislike, if not despise, Teach for America as an organization, so this may sound odd coming from me, but…

    Good for you for not deleting this post, even though the vultures are going to be all over you for daring to admit what you are feeling. I appreciate your commitment to being honest and reflective, as you always are on your blog.

    • Wow. I am pretty much floored by all the implications of this comment, so in short: thank you. It means a lot.

  2. Tribute for America? (lol random Hunger Games reference that you didn’t hear from me… they’re watching… ;-P )

  3. Megan H

    You will feel better if you can find a community that brings out the part of you that you are still looking for. Ultimately though you have to let down your walls first. Good luck! And keep writing posts like this — the honesty is refreshing.

    • My gut tells me you are right. But I often wonder what I need more: the appropriate community, or the ability to let down my own guard. When I think about moving, I feel a big emptiness– I’m not sure I need to find the community elsewhere, maybe just that I need to let my walls down enough to really embrace the community I already have right in front of me? I hope that’s it.

      Thanks so much for the comment. I was nervous putting this up, but all has been positive so far. Thank you. :)

  4. One of the things I have noticed with displaced TFAers is that there seems to be the belief that the notion “if you work hard enough, you can do anything!” applies to fitting in. I don’t think it does. It often applies to getting along with people, and to understanding where people are coming from, but fitting in (while being yourself) is a different matter. When you are surrounded by people who have many shared life experiences that you don’t share of course you’ll be the odd one out, even if you have a niche and people like you. If you stick around long enough you may begin to get more shared experience, of course. But in the mean time, the Mississippi Delta has a lot of people in it, though…it should be possible to find people you click with. And hey, you can look at it as a chance to develop greater understanding of what you’re asking of some kids when you tell them to move away and go off to a snazzy college and enter the middle class with all that that entails. For a lot of people that transition basically guarantees a life of never quite fitting in anywhere, much like what you’re describing now.

    • Hard to get tone across on the internet – none of that was intended as criticism, just sharing of experience and observation of a pattern I’ve seen quite a few times. Most people going through it don’t seem to be as self-aware about their situation as you, though…just feel that something is wrong, and get vaguely hostile, or disaffected, or depressed over it.

      • Yes. I so appreciate this response (and all responses on this post). I didn’t take your comment critically at all, but more reassuring.

        I think it’s not unique to teaching, either, and not unique to TFA. It’s just being a stranger in a strange land. I love seeing the universal human experience paralleled between myself and my kids; you pointing it out again is a nice reminder of the commonalities… but I can’t figure out if that means I shouldn’t push them into a potential life of an outsider, or if I should suck it up and potentially feel somewhat stifled but keep working on this thing I care so much about for countless years, or…

        The struggle is figuring out if there is a threshold, and if yes where it is. Is it futile to keep trying to “fit in” for literally years? Is it “worth it”? Does that mean I should be working harder to try to find or create more people with similar experiences to me? If I don’t do that, am I being a needless martyr? Making things harder than they need to be?

        This is basically a new blog post in itself, and the third-year continued dilemma: what is the best thing for me after this year? Last year it was “do I call this mission complete and pack up, or stick around and show grit and authenticity for a bit longer?” but the longer I stay the deeper the question becomes. I’m not just a flimsy TFA corps member anymore, I am finding a place in my community, and ingraining myself more authentically in culture, and questioning more seriously why I am here, what I’m supposed to do, what my legit, bottom line, quality of life is. Again, I don’t think this is a TFA specific question, but a quarter-life-contemplation question.

        Thanks for taking time to consider the ramblings and respond. It’s always soothing & enlightening to hear from anyone!

        • I agree with you on the quarter-life thing – I think even for people who haven’t gone too far outside their comfort zone, this is something they experience to some extent in adulthood. Going outside the comfort zone just adds another layer to it. Through school you are all the way along surrounded by people who are hitting pretty much the same life milestones at the same times. Going to college extends this phenomenon, as may choosing a very conventional post-graduation life. But eventually you start to diverge, which cuts you off from many of those ready-made relationships. I think becoming comfortable with your own company, and developing an identity that is not dependent primarily on your “role” in society, becomes particularly crucial then.

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