Last month, during testing season, stress levels are at an all-time high—for my 8th graders and their teacher. So when a student stopped doing his homework, I stopped letting him into my classroom. He sat on the floor in the hallway and moped, while I circulated with the other 24 students in my classroom and let my emotions stew. And then we both went home angry.
When my assistant principal suggested that I sign up for a teacher organization professional development, I was offended. I always turn in my lesson plans on time, I never miss meetings, and unread emails don’t stack up in my inbox. I’m already ahead of the curve, aren’t I?
But then again, I also couldn’t find the old email that explained the training. And when I showed my assistant principal the half sheet of paper that acted as my planner for the week, she laughed at me. (I don’t even have an example of this; it would always go in the trash at the end of each week.)
“For this year, I fear nothing, fear is a lie.”
I get this from one of my eighth graders on the first day of school while they are doing an activity that requires them to write down their hopes and fears.
I wasn’t exactly scared about coming back home and starting this new school year—I wasn’t even as nervous as I thought I should be as I set up my classroom and finally greeted my students for the first time—but fear still stops me in my tracks. In all its forms—anxiety, terror, worry, panic—fear stayed with me through most of my three years teaching, and ultimately, drove me to take my hiatus from the classroom.
(Photo credit: Vero Villa)
Just about this time last year, I was hiking over the Pyrenees, starting a 500-mile walking pilgrimage across Spain. Eight months ago I was dancing on the beaches of Thailand with thousands of strangers under the full moon. Five months ago I was taking shots of snake blood and motorbiking down the coast of Vietnam a la Top Gear. Three months ago I was watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon over the fairy-chimney-shaped rocks of Turkey.
No job, no responsibilities, no deadlines.
(I’m kidding. A Texas placement DOES NOT mean that you’ll end up sounding like that … though I do own a pretty sweet pair of cowboy boots.)
My name is Emily and I was a 2010 Houston corps member, originally from Connecticut. As a two-year Institute veteran (once as a corps member, once as a Resource Room Specialist), the best piece of advice I can give you as you embark on your TFA adventure: stay flexible. I like to think of it as trusting “TFA Fate” that whatever surprises teaching might throw at you, everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. (Really.)
For me, the hardest part of Institute—harder than packing up and moving to a brand new city, harder than learning new kids and new content, harder than the long days and late nights—was the feedback.
Let’s just say I’m not the most graceful at accepting criticism.
It’s not like I thought I’d get to Institute and immediately know exactly what I was doing in the classroom … I guess I just didn’t think I’d get to Institute and immediately feel so bad at it.
In retrospect, I was not a terrible teacher. But, like probably every single incoming corps member, “not terrible” was not exactly what I was going for. Transformational … that’s what I wanted, and I wanted it fast. One Day? Psh. Let’s do this TODAY.
An unprompted exchange between two of my students last week:
“I would rate the book 6.2 stars.”
“Dude, it’s out of five!”
One of the key lessons that stuck with me from my Institute experience three years ago: Every teacher is a literacy teacher.
It doesn’t take much time in the classroom to see how true this really is. The biggest issue my students have with the social studies standardized test is not content, but vocabulary. So setting aside all test prep and curriculum guides, I embarked on the journey of an ELA teacher this past month … and read a novel with my kids. Out loud. During class.
Whatever your content area, whatever your grade level, and whatever your class materials, this is something I’d definitely recommend for every classroom.