Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 05 2012


In ten minutes I will leave for Sunday Family Dinner with the Doom Crew.

It’s November. How this happened, we’re not really sure. This afternoon Erin, JL and I walked to Subway for lunch. For the first time in three days, my appetite came alive at the thought of a Subway pizza (?) We ate on our porch, all three of us nested in the squeaky swing Erin and her dad put together when he came to visit.

Lately we’ve been spending a large amount of time talking about how much we like our lives, all six of us. I’m continually amazed and blessed and impressed with how full of gratitude this group is, of how astounding Arkansas sunsets are, of the ease with which I navigate through days (even the hard ones). We’ve carved pumpkins and turned a semi-vacant room into a movie theater (fabulous perk of teachers: at least one person usually has a projector!). We’ve planned a camping trip and ran 10 miles. We’ve commiserated and celebrated.

Today I got the email that all 2012 CMs got, about the intensely difficult months and days of teaching. I read the posts from Sue Lehmann winners about their hardest days, none with clear cut solutions or resolutions. I found the timing funny, or my life funny, because I am not in that place. Not even a little bit. Two years ago I was planning and messaging the gimmicky “BEST THREE WEEKS EVER” to my classes because I hated going to school so much and thought heavy sarcasm could pull me out of depression. This year I genuinely look forward to each day.

I’ve been reading students’ notebooks for the past two hours, and I am calm but torn. There’s a national argument about the skills of our nation’s youngest writers. The first piece being that they aren’t very good at writing. The argument being how to solve this: tons of freeform fearless narrative so students aren’t terrified anymore, or pushing structure and grammar in ALL classes. I’ve read a bit on both sides, and have no answers. I’ll tell you the easiest thing is what I’ve been doing: write with very little structure, write a lot, write with lots of modeling.

Truly, it’s a cop-out. I am not sure how to teach grammar. I am not sure how to teach, in general. I have more and more positive relationships with students, but I do not feel successful at my job. Lesson plans are weak, daily objectives are weak, assessments are weak. I enjoy my job infinitely more than I did either of my first two years, but I’m increasingly nervous about my skills and abilities as a teacher. I like kids, but that’s not going to make them great writers. I’m not sure what will. Better planning, probably.

I miss my family lately, a lot. My sister might come for the Mississippi Marathon in February, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up as a result of two previous disappointments. Yesterday was 10 miles and it’s insane how training makes you feel so different. Running so much makes me so much more aware of my body, what I need and can do.

Last: pen pal project Dear Successful Stranger is struggling. After many pleading emails and many kind forwards, Facebook shares, and everything else, I am still waiting for 20 more letters. More than 20 people have promised to participate (new recruits!), but I am genuinely nervous for my kids. It is frustrating to have so many initial volunteers (173) with so little turn out (80 original volunteers sent letters). I am calm because I know it will work out in the end, but the amount of work that has gone into finding so many pen-pals has been pretty draining. My interest is waning because I feel ineffective as an organizer.

Thankfully, I have many incredible encouragers that are keeping me afloat. Then I take a step back and realize how inspiring it is to have over 100 people from across the world taking an interest in my students in Arkansas. I am a lucky girl, in a good place.

This is long and rambling and finished.

2 Responses

  1. Megan H

    Lisa Delpit does a great job of answering questions regarding teaching literacy to students in her book “Other People’s Children.” It’s a fantastic book that examines the progressive notion that students have to acquire fluency before they can learn skills. Of course students must understand the necessity of writing and be comfortable with the idea, but they also come to school to learn the conventions of language. Check out the book, I couldn’t put it down! And, let me know if you need more pen pals, I would be more than happy to help out.

  2. Wess

    I’ll write 20 letters!

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