River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 20 2011

Know Your Role, And Shut Your Mouth?

“Man, I feel bad for y’all! I really want to be a science teacher but I can’t take someone telling me what to do!” -8th grade boy

“Ms. O., Mr. B. taught me that sometimes you just have to let your woman win the argument just because…” -7th grade boy

“Mr. B., you and the teachers on our hall treat me just like some kin. Ms. C studying with me at the coffee shop and y’all listening to what I have to say. It’s like I’m your daughter. I appreciate that. -8th grade girl

This post was inspired last week by some reflective thought after taking seven students to an Ole Miss football with a fellow corps members. A day described by one student as the “best day of his life.” :)

I’m at a crossroads. I know what it takes to be an effective teacher and for the most part I am doing it. Some days, I may even border on highly effective. I still have a long way to go and I look to some of the veteran teachers at my school and even a few second years for both guidance and inspiration. However, I’m at a point where I feel like my priorities and focus are strongly divided. Riffing on Mark Twain, my mantra is quickly becoming: “never let your teaching interfere with your educating.”

Many TFA corps members advance the perception that we’re all future lawyers or bankers. In my case, I wanted to teach until 8th grade, at which point I decided teachers deserved more respect than they received, especially given the BS they have to put up with from hormonal teens. The irony is not lost on me that I now teach 8th grade. However, I’ve always maintained that I’m an educator for life; that’s the kicker! Education is not just about balancing chemical equations or solving problems about Punnett squares. It’s about developing the whole child. As I think about my plans for next year, I have a hard time seeing myself staying in my current role. As it stands, I believe teaching 8th grade science to 125 teens is somewhat rewarding but the curriculum gets in the way of my bigger plans for my students. Quite frankly, I’m unmotivated to teach about volcanoes when there’s so much more to life I want to discuss with my students!

As I explained my experience this year to my mother, she commented that I seem to be having fun and enjoying my kids much more this year. That is incredibly true! However, I’d give anything to teach fewer children or to be a counselor or full-time mentor without having to deal with all the nitty-gritty details of being a full-time teacher. My students need positive male role models just as badly as they need highly effective teachers, but I’m burning the candle at both ends trying to do both. Further still, that is not even really the issue because I’m used to working hard. The problem is that I don’t get very excited about test scores or the majority of the measures we use to evaluate “learning” these days. I’m much more energized by the “man-to-man” conversations and the seemingly random outbursts of ingenuity I am starting to see more often from my students.

I could go on but it’s getting late and I’ve going to Memphis with my family tomorrow so I’ll stop there on this post. Hopefully, I can figure out my where I see myself in the larger education reform movement over Thanksgiving Break. Oh nah nah, what’s my role?

“School gets in the way of my learning. Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” –Mark Twain (allegedly)


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    Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

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