Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 16 2013

Why We Don’t Stay (Even Though I Am)

I’m getting fat. I’ve picked up a few awful habits in past months and lately have spent a lot of time dedicated to thinking of why I haven’t taken care of myself. Why I’m not on fire. Why these are statements, now, and not raging exclamations, or questions, at least.

I’m disappointed in myself. My spine might have turned to jelly, my teaching pedagogy might have changed to getting by, status quo, hiding. No one watches me teach. No one coaches me. No one holds me accountable. No one knows any different.

I’m getting lazy. Lazy is a word I’ve adamantly ignored because I feel there is a very incredibly damagingly negative connotation, and it’s usually misused.

Maybe I forgive too easily, maybe I make too many excuses, but I think very, very few people are genuinely LAZY. They are stuck, they are emotionally messy, they are unbelieving that they can complete the task at hand. Rarely lazy. Mostly fearful.

But I’m lazy. I know better, I expect more, I am capable of more, I am scared of I’ve turned myself into and perhaps more scared of why. I don’t run. I do the minimum at school. I eat poorly. I drink constant caffeine and my body feels bloated and useless. I’m a mess, pretty much.

This is part of what’s stopped my updates. The laziness, and mores the embarrassment that comes as a result. Bigger than that: this is my Third year. I’m TFA-grown and by golly, I should know better. I should do better. I should be better than a first or second year teacher because regardless of anything else I’ve been here longer and I know what it means to work hard and I know what it means to have high expectations and I expect myself to have them.

Until I lose motivation. Or accountability. Or anyone around me that has the time or energy to point out I’ve stopped working as hard. To call me lazy.

Third year TFA means No Longer TFA means Good Luck and Have Fun Feeling Alienated because if you’re not on staff and not a corps member, well, then you’re a teacher. You should have figured it out by now.

This makes me fear the fourth year. I simultaneously very much want to plan and don’t want to plan at all. Facing failure, again, is scary. Keep me where I’m safe and dry and hidden! Keep praising me for Staying A Fourth Year because no one Really wants to stay here, do they.

Well, yes, sometimes.

I love my community for my community, not for TFA, not for proving a point, not for being a martyr or earning incredulous and totally uninformed compliments. I love being here and I know there are other teachers who love being here, too, but if people wonder why it’s so hard to stay, why so many TFAers leave so quick: this is why. The support runs out. The well runs dry. Or as I’ve said 800 times in the past three months: you hit the ceiling. It seems the only people who can help develop alumni are entirely (and rightfully, in the sense of a job) dedicated to the current corps. The rest of us, they figure, MUST be doing SOMETHING right or we wouldn’t have stayed that this or fourth year, right? We’ll be fine.

And yes, we will be fine. We always are. But what about our kids?

5 Responses

  1. Jay Fogleman

    Caroline,

    Your cathartic post is probably not as painful to read as it was to write. The school year is almost over. ‘Tis the season of teacher fatigue and regret. Here is another perspective that I think you should consider:

    Sometimes it is easy for people who are successful early in life, e.g. in school or in parent-supported sports, to develop a dependence on extrinsic validation and to become strategic in their performance. Great teaching is often internally-driven endeavor. Once the external accolades subside, you will have to shake off their bonds and cultivate an internal drive to improve your practice.

    The habits that yielded strong performances under the external regime will apply equally well for you to meet your internal standards.

    Becoming a master teacher requires that you reflect on your classroom to try to recognize how complex and interesting its happenings are. Expert teachers see who their students are becoming in addition to what they are learning. They also see each feature of their classroom and interaction they have with their students as playing an important role in these processes.

    Because they eventually make it look so simple, the best teachers reach a point where few others, especially non-teachers, can understand the sophistication of their practice. To reach this point, refining your practice must be driven internally.

    Alas, it takes more than three or four years in your classroom to even see the possibilities. If you love children and seek to be a transformational force in their lives, I urge you to take control of your health, fitness, and life balance. As you improve your own health and confidence, you will be shining up your internal compass and will be able to set ambitious goals for your teaching that include cognitive and non-cognitive objectives for your students.

    As summer passes and your spirit is mended, you will hopefully be ready to tilt at the windmill once again. Cheer up and good luck! You are doing very important work.

  2. G

    I can totally relate to your post. I am also completing my 3rd year, and I know I could be…should be doing more. I taught a new grade level this year, and it was like year 1 all over again. Honestly, I am exhausted. Teaching 5th grade was quite the adventure, and while I am going to miss my kids, I won’t miss the attitude and the serious lack of work ethic. I miss 2nd grade. I miss not having to dedicate so much time to test prep. I hate state assessments.

    On that note, I am applying for the principal certification program that my Education Region offers. 18 months…18 more months in the classroom, and then onward.

    • G,
      Yes! Oddly enough, I am in the same boat! I’m doing an educational leadership masters through a partner university in my region, too, while teaching. 14 months for me, and the yes: onward!

  3. I’m getting ready to transition into my third year. Definitely feeling anxiety about some of these points.

    I don’t know about you, but I keep thinking that, even if everything else runs out and leaves me, the relationships that I’ve been with colleagues (TFA and not) are something that I can take with me going forward, and I’m very grateful for it.

  4. Wess

    Caroline,
    1. I love you.
    2. Your paragraph about community is a big reason why I didn’t keep teaching and why I’m thinking so much about maybe possibly starting teaching again once I’m in a place where I feel more connected and at home.
    3. I think TFA has a really unique way of looking at what it means to be “grown” as a teacher. Of course motivation, support, accountability fluctuate with time–and I think long-time teachers might look at 3rd year teachers in a way analogous to the way 2nd and 3rd years look at 1st year teachers in their “october”–but it seems odd that once you do two years you’re treated as if you have it all figured out.

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