Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 03 2014


Before the holiday break, my students wrote to a TLI (test prep program used across Arkansas) prompt. It was their summative expository writing essay test:

There are many places we might feel “at home.” Your teacher has asked you to describe the place where you feel most at home.

Before you begin to write, think about the place where you feel most at home. Where is this place? What is it like? Describe it so your teacher can understand.

Before the test, we did a three-day crash course in essay organization. Pre-writing to have the solid, formulaic, five paragraph essay. The writers of the world shall cry, woe to those teachers who write to formulas! Woe to those students who have creativity stunted! Yes, I understand, I know the evil of prescriptive writing. I also know that understanding a five paragraph essay, out of the box as it is, will ultimately bring more generic academic success to a greater number of students than allowing free-form creative writing for all assignments. It’s a fine balance for us literacy teachers, isn’t it? I just hope that doing the Poet Warriors project later in the year will counteract any formula damage I’ve created so far.

So my students sat for 45 minutes, some done in 10, some taking the extra 45 seconds it took to collect the papers to furiously scribble a closing. Some students vomited out three scrawled paragraphs of decreasing length, but the majority have one page of carefully calculated pre-writing, and a page and a half of formula writing. Here is the place. These are three reasons. Let me remind you of this place.

I took a solid two weeks off from thinking about school even a little bit. I hid from my email app on my phone. I spent 12 hour stretches alone in the car, thinking of my own life, thinking of my career goals and opportunities, thinking of myself without the attachment of children. Maybe this is the product of TFA’s short term commitment. Maybe I am one to be persecuted for selfishness in planning to stay only four years, for not being a life-long teacher even though I could be, for potentially walking away.

Yesterday I began the slow crawl back to the work life. I spent literally seven hours at the Starbucks in Rogers, AR first grading papers, then conquering email, then doing work for the second job in an effort to procrastinate work on school. Today I’m back at Starbucks, right now in hour four, ignoring school work by grading all these essays about home.

I keep thinking about a potential move to Little Rock next year, taking on ATC as a full time job, walking away from the classroom. Arkansas is home. I feel deeply connected to this state, to the values and motives that brought me here. This is home. But in thinking of this move I’ve ignored the equal sense of home I get from walking into my building, into my classroom. I forget that even in that first hellish year I have always always felt home in my classroom. To a shocking degree, I have never been afraid of my space or the students within it. With all the problems in the past four years, I have felt more safe, more protected, and more in control while in my classroom than in any other place– including the home I live in with my teacher roommates. Am I ready to leave that? Or is that the very essence of the problem, the lack of balance I feel in my life? I love teaching, but I don’t want it to be my whole life.

Of my two classes, the very last essay I read was the only one that agreed with me, saying that my classroom is the place she feels most at home:

I love being in a place called home.

The one place I feel at home is at school. It like home you get to have Ms. Lampinen as a teacher to help you like your Mother. She so funny when she dance. I never had a teacher to dance before.

The next reason school it’s like home is because Ms. Lampinen is so nice she helps you with your work like you are at home. She keep making you do it until you get it right. She give you homework to make you a better person.

This place is like a dream house I want to live in. That’s make you a better person and let you be something in life and help you be strong to go out in the world and be something, and I can go back and thank her for that.

That my home where I work. How about you were do you work and call it your home?

One Response

  1. AMR

    “I just hope that doing the Poet Warriors project later in the year will counteract any formula damage I’ve created so far.”


    Every time I grade 90 essays that start with “In _____ the author uses _____ to _______” I cringe. but then I think of Poet Warriors.

    Best wishes for a smooth beginning of the new semester!

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