Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 13 2012

Putting out fires.

Leadership team meeting today:

“What are we accomplishing? Why are we here? Why do we meet?” asks Vice Principal.

“Putting out fires,” says one. The other six stay silent.

I am shaking right now. Shaking. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been eating as much, or because I’ve been eating more sugar, or because of the coffee, or because I feel like sobbing, or because I haven’t had a night or day to myself in two weeks, or the approaching holidays grating my nerves.

This is a time when I feel horrible at my job. This is a time when I couldn’t love my job more.

I am fortunate enough to chair our leadership team, as I was the only one that volunteered to do so. This feels, consistently, like a self-induced large rock on my back and a watermelon in my throat. There is a balance that my brain works to maintain, between wanting to restructure, reorganize, redelegate, reinvest, and completely take over my school, and having a deep respect, appreciation, and love for what is created organically here, the traditions and expectations that keep our school running.

After two years a and a few months I still consistently feel that I know nothing, nothing, about teaching or about my school. I feel timid, young, inexperienced. But there is also the inborn push that consumes me, that brought me here in the first place, that lead TFA to hire me and that had me plotting to be the leadership chair for a year before it happened. Part of me knows that I knew what I was here to do before I came, that after two years I have the insight I need to create momentum. Lead is what I do. This is what I love to do. But at 25, I just can’t claim to be good at it yet.

But can I be good enough at it to create any change in this realm? Am I cut out to barge into a community and do anything? To come into a school without being a teacher and… become a teacher? To become a leader of teachers?

I hate the tightrope between feeling like a leader, feeling empowered and important and smart, and feeling like I need to know my place. Like I need to cut off before I begin to avoid embarrassment. Here, approaching the middle of my third year, I am at a crossroads. Now is where the leadership takes over or the preparation to leave comes. I can’t decide which.  I can decide what I prefer, but I can’t decide if I’m going to make it possible.

Everything at our leadership team meeting left me wanting to plan document after document, calendar after calendar, accountability systems and pairs of administrators and teachers, student focus groups and duty teachers. With each new tangential comment my experience as president in college, as a well-trained retail employee, as an entrepreneur, as a human being– they sparked and screamed to be let out. I’m glad that now, in the middle of November, an administrator is finally admitting that we don’t have goals or procedures at this school. What makes me bite my tongue and taste blood is the amount of work, the number of emails, the half-finished teacher handbook in my dropbox, the hours of planning we did as a sixth grade team (that bore fruit this year); the extent that I have already spent working to acknowledge that problem. Is it my fault for not screaming this from day one, or should I be applauding that someone who actually has credibility (because I’m still working to earn that) has finally admitted it aloud?

I am shaking.

Maybe it is the time of year. All day I was blaming my restlessness on the poison ivy snaked all over my legs from the knee down. I was blaming my bitter disappointment on my own inability to line up my students. I refuse to let the brutally blatant negative thoughts out of my head, so I’ve been keeping my eyes low and my voice hesitant.

What are we doing? It’s fire after fire after fire in a season of drought. It’s sunset at 5:15 and a song that can bring sobs in the first three measures.

I love my job, I just don’t know if I have the courage to do it.

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