Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 08 2010

The fruitful balance

With just about a week left on campus and then two weeks at home, it’s not long until I will be in Atlanta.  Hopefully the sun will be shining and good company plentiful as we roll up our sleeves and continue to learn about teaching as leadership.  I’m very excited, but it’s so difficult to believe this day that seemed so far in the future is gettting closer and closer!  I guess that could be equally said of commencement.  Graduation ceremonies are next Sunday, and between now and then are some days of fun and relaxation with the senior class.

Growing up, high school and even college graduation were givens for me; the choices always were where to attend school and what to study.  A staff member at the juvenile justice center where I tutor unknowingly pointed out the uniqueness of that position when she deemed my impending graduation “frickin’ awesome” and had the young ladies applaud me and wish me luck.  The clapping was awkward, but if these girls remember me as a college graduate (nearly) who cares much about them, then it was worth it.  I’ve talked with many of them about future plans and hope they continue to dream big!

I’ve loved my time with those young women and can only imagine that in spending more time with my coming students I will become even closer with them.  That all depends, though, on how we structure our time together and what we share.  Here’s a bit of what I wrote on my last night at JJC:

“I’m going to miss the girls I’ve met–the regulars, long-terms, overnighters.  The dynamic of the place is so special, always changing and never old.  I lose myself there.  I often don’t think of who’s gone so much as who is present and how I can be present.  The runaways, the unstable, the sweet, the smart, the drugged, the pregnant, and the moms.  The writers, artists, and athletes.  Boyfriend and best friend.  Clean faces and curly hair.  Green, white, blue, and orange monochromatic fabrics.

That I had no agenda but to be I think really helped me…with these girls I knelt beside their desks to discuss past, present, future; to multiply integers, combine like terms, or understand the integral; to read their journals, essays, and paperbacks.  Some were reticent, others wary, but many welcoming.  I hope my presence made a difference.  Tonight as the guard quieted the girls, I didn’t know it was to ‘say congratulations and good bye.’  Just as I began to feel uncomfortable, I realized that some of these girls might not know a college graduate besides their teachers, one who visits them weekly and without tangible reward…”

I do not mean to make myself a jjc hero (or one of any other sort).  Rather, I believe my experiences there will guide my teaching.  As I work hard to facilitate measurable academic progress, I know that that progress is grounded in relationship.  In “being” for my students in addition to doing, they will come to trust me and, eventually, to invest in their own success.

The coming years will require me to strike several balances: between knowledge and understanding, standardized tests and life skills, being and doing, work and leisure.  I’m learning that these forces need not be oppositional; instead, I need to seek out and capitalize on those intersections where being does promote doing, where leisure improves work, where understanding fuels lasting knowledge.

One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to achieve an excellent education…

p.s. Here’s the promised answer to the puzzle I posted last time: moscow puzzles answer key, page 275

Finally, a few ancillary notes, particularly for anyone looking into Teach for America.  My posts are heavily driven by reflection, but here’s what has been happening: Teach for America sent me several hundred pages of reading, links to videos, and classroom observation note sheets as pre-institute work.  I’ve found the work to be helpful in understanding Teach for America, its beliefs, and expectations for me.  Much of the reading and reflection is on the principles of “teaching as leadership” or from a text called “Diversity, Community, and Achievement.”  I’m definitely excited to see it come together at insitute and in my classroom (wow, so soon!)

Other than the pre-institute work, there have been logistical tasks, first on a monthly basis but now weekly.  In January I took and passed the GACE exams for my math placement, last month I was fingerprinted for an FBI background check, and there are always “surveys” from Teach for America (ways to collect information from us so they can plan institute and placements).  Today I completed one on my placement preferences: final feelings on subject and grade level, my comfort level with various placement scenarios, my strengths and weaknesses in a work environment, etc.  It’s simultaneously exciting and scary to be providing this information that will affect where I teach next fall.  I don’t want to leave anything out that could help yet have a limited understanding of teaching and the Atlanta area itself.  Fortunately, I’ve felt really supported by Teach for America, and it’s clear where to turn if I need help.  To continued support and balance, and a happy graduation!

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    a Teach For America teacher's blog

    Metro Atlanta
    Middle School

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