Coming Home


It is a cool afternoon in September. My stomach aches, my hands are sweaty, and I’m standing at the whiteboard of a local school, apparently to help prep them for PSATs. I shouldn’t be so nervous—I did something like this for two years under more emotionally taxing circumstances. Still, I haven’t been in front of a classroom for nearly the same amount of time, and every fear I had about myself as a teacher starts racing through my head:

What if I can’t do this?

What if I’m horrible again?

What if the kids are so bored they walk out?

I write “Ms. Torres” on the board.


When I last wrote about my time as a teacher, I shared my reflections on why I had chosen to leave the classroom, as well as revealed a perhaps eternal truth: there are some choices in life that will consistently leave you asking, “What if?” What if I had stayed? What if I had continued teaching, following my once-dream job?

I still believe I made the right choice. That said, remembering the fire in my belly about becoming a teacher, recalling how passionate I was to go to work most days, it ached a little to revisit.  Any time I thought about the classroom, I thought about a line I had written when applying to Teach For America:

There are few things in my life that are certain. I don’t know how much I’ll pay for a gallon of gas next week…There is one thing that I am certain I want to do: I want to teach.

My most recent role at Teach For America was community listening. I heard a lot of the stories people share about their classroom. Each time, I left feeling inspired, but also a twinge of… what was it? Jealousy? Regret? Remorse?

I thought I had left the dream of teaching behind to pursue a “larger impact.” Wasn’t that what I was doing?


Students began to file in, a little meekly at first. Were they nervous? Scared of this random twentysomething in an awkwardly fitting dress at the front of the room?

Don’t worry, guys. You can’t be half as terrified as I am right now.

“Hi there! Find a seat anywhere. I’m Ms. Torres. I’m your teacher today.”


I hadn’t been looking for a new job—that’s what I told everyone, including myself. I had only gotten my California credential transferred to Hawaii so I could get better part-time gigs as a tutor or maybe an afterschool specialist to be around students again. I was fine at my new job on staff with TFA. I mean, I liked it, I loved the people I worked with, and I appreciated an opportunity to be on social media as part of my job. That was great.

Sometimes, though, as the afternoon would wind down, and some of our MTLDs would go visit classrooms, or I would see what corps members were posting about their students, I would be left looking at the blue glow of the computer screen, wondering, “Is this what my career is?”

Let me clarify: I absolutely do not mean to say that the dedicated people who work in front of computer screens every day—at TFA or otherwise—aren’t amazing, devoted, or doing worthwhile work. They often are. But, I was left with a few glaring facts about myself:

  1. I missed working with students.
  2. I liked teaching, and didn’t know if two years had given me an adequate perspective on if I was any good at it.
  3. The more I worked, the more I realized that meaningful change did not mean leveraging my voice or the organization’s voice, but those of communities we were serving.
  4. Teach For America (and its donors) and I (and my student loans) had put time and effort into making me into a good teacher, and I didn’t know if I had adequately used that gift.
  5. I missed working with students.


The lesson goes better than I expected. I am nervous, especially about teaching math to kids who probably were more advanced in algebraic ability than I am at this point. Still, the kids talk to each other, engage in some discussion about the “why” of certain techniques, and even laugh a little. They file out of the room, a few saying, “Thanks! See you on Thursday!” as they do.

I breathe a sigh of relief when they leave. The knot in my stomach unwinds, and I start to think about what I would do differently in the next lesson.


My hands were shaking. It was late afternoon on a Friday, and I was sitting on a bench at the beach. I was watching the waves beat against the stones, never more unsure of what I was doing with my whole life.

A little over a week before, in my search for tutoring jobs, I had stumbled across a school a few of my friends taught at that was seeking an English teacher. I liked the school a lot—a focus on tech and near where I lived. On a whim, I decided to apply. I figured that half the state would be applying, so I thought nothing of it.

Three days later, they invited me in for an interview. I thought it went well.

Three days after that, I was sitting there, waiting for the call that would tell me what came next.

Throughout the entire process, I was leapfrogging over my own internal sense of conflict. Was this what I wanted? I had only been at Teach For America as a staff member for a little over two years (what is it with us and two years?!). I hadn’t thought about going back into the classroom for at least another year, maybe not until I had kids of my own.

Throughout the entire process, I had pushed forward, thinking, Well, if they offer me the job, I don’t have to take it. I could say no. I could stay away from the classroom for all the reasons I remembered—the long hours, the occasionally demoralizing look at test scores, the sometimes rowdy students. I could keep doing what I do now.

Another thought came: But is what you’re doing really the most you can be doing? Is this the job that makes you the most happy? Are you making the “larger impact” that you wanted? Or is there another group of kids whose voice you want to help find?A wave came up, lapped the shore, churned the water, pulled it back.

The phone rang.


A few days after that first prep class, my manager emails me. “I thought you might want to see an evals from one student on your first lesson. :)”

“She is very good at teaching.“

I laugh. Six words make my day.


Yes, it’s perhaps an eternal truth that some choices will leave you wondering, “What If?” There’s no way to know the future and to look down the path you ultimately didn’t take.

I think it’s possible, though, to be granted another shot, the optimism to realize that you not only could have been great, but still have the opportunity to do something great. Then, it’s not a question of can, but a question of choice: will you choose to do more? Or will you stay on the path you know pretty well already?

It was important for me to take a step back at the end of my TFA commitment and reassess who I was and what I needed. Now, it is essential to realize that where I needed to be and who I need to be standing with was there all along, waiting to welcome me back.

Students need teachers who not only want to teach, but want to provide them the platform. What kind of future would I choose to build? One for myself, or one for them, too?

So, for all the whiteboards I come into contact with in the future, for all the classrooms I hope to learn in and help lead: I hope you’re ready.

Ms. Torres is back.


Goodbye, Dread


(Photo credit: DieselDemon)

August came without welcome, and nightmares of the first day of school began unbidden with the memory of Delia choking Robert to the floor dancing at the forefront on my mind. I hadn’t thought of school much in June or July, and when I did, it was accompanied with a feeling I coined as “the dread.”

When a friend from my hometown asked how I felt about going back to school, I laughed, embarrassed at the truth:

“Honestly, I’m dreading it.”

She nodded. “I knew you’d be feeling that way.”

And so I began to tell Rachel and her husband, Thomas, about “the dread” while we ate cheese covered fries and wings.  I told them about the way I was planning to survive from Monday to Friday and enjoy a respite from Saturday to Sunday.

As I spoke, a guilty feeling surrounded me as I remembered talking with incoming corps members about how much I love my kids, love teaching, and want to keep doing it. I remembered feeling a glow surrounding me then, a love that made my heart feel bigger and fuller, a hope that burned and sparked in me.

“I want to remember the good!” I said. “But every time I try, I see Delia choking Robert to the floor.”

Rachel told me to read my old blogs.

“You wrote about the good things, Lydia,” she told me. “Little lessons you learned, that kind of thing. Read it. I think that will help.”

The next morning I googled TeacherPop clicked my little picture in the author’s section, and began scrolling through posts. I started with A Wall Full of Love, and then skipped around until I found the one I needed to read.

The post about the danger of the only story I seem to remember. The story of Delia chocking Robert:

“…negative focus is draining. When we are told that the future of the world is at stake … that we must make a change or else … we focus on the “or else.” A black hole begins to open. Everyone is already too tired. We don’t need another struggle to haunt us.

And so I realize that in telling you my horror story from Friday, complete with choke marks and suspensions, I am not motivating anyone to make a change.”

My eye scanned the words, drinking them in as I reached the poem at the bottom:

Sometimes I walk into my school and I find joy spread across the hallways.
I find joy in the face of a blond chubby boy lit up at the first bars of “Eye of the Tiger.”
I find joy when I try to belt out Mary Mary’s “
Can’t Give Up Now” as we prepare fifth grade for the Black History Month performance.
I find joy when I try using social media for homework, and students like all my science-themed photos on Instagram.
I find joy when Matt says, “Ms. Freeman, do you have anything broken, like technology?”
And more joy when he fixes it.
I find joy when I remember Delia’s insight into the Syrian conflict earlier this year.
I find joy when Robert tells another student that he has so much to live for.
I find joy when Devon sings about butter.
And even more joy when Anya leads a cheer about radiation being a form of heat transfer.
I find joy in hugs, in notes, in subtle brilliance, and in unmasked cleverness.
I find joy when students can explain why we have seasons, and I find joy when Jimmy dances his way through an interactive quiz:

correct answer after correct answer.

Because in a world of darkness,
in a world of despair,
moments of joy can guide and teach us,
reminding us that in the greatest of struggles lies the greatest of hopes.

We all have to make a cognitive choice on what to spend our energy focusing on. I am struggling to not remember Delia’s hands around Robert’s neck, and instead to remember her sassy smile and her daily, “How you doin’, Miss Freeman?”

And so, with discipline and drive I am seeking out the memorials, the pictures, the videos, and the sentences of hope that I recorded over the last year. My mind has seemed to erase those good things and wants to play the bad on repeat.

But I’m tired of “the dread.”

I want my hope back.

Pop Links 8.14.14: Mike Brown; Student Loan & Health; Buzzfeed Classroom Hacks

  • Brittany Packnett, the Executive Director of TFA – St. Louis, reflects on Mike Brown: “Education didn’t kill Mike Brown.  Racism did.”
  • Student loans are no longer detrimental to young graduates’ bank accounts – it also affects their health. Read more about the connection with student loan debt and physical health.
  • Get ready for the new school year with 37 tips and tricks to make your classroom life easier from the most trusted source on the internet, Buzzfeed!
  • TFANet Resource: Place Value
By |August 14th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

First Impressions: Moving In

It’s officially August, which means the back-to-school commercials are everywhere. I’m sure I’ve never been so excited about school supply sales at Target! The Washington Corps is halfway through a two-week stint in Seattle, hard at work preparing for our first weeks in the classroom.

(Photo Credit: Waldemar Merger)

It was the same this time. I’ve been in Chicago, in Seattle, and flying over the country late at night, looking down at constellations of city lights. A lot of my fellow corps members have mentioned feeling uncomfortable with everything that is still up in the air. But I didn’t think I minded all the back-and-forth and quality time with my suitcases until I stood on our back porch and felt like I was home.

I know that my experience here is different from a lot of new corps members. Some of us are still finding our placements, or looking for a place to live. And unlike a lot of corps members, I’m moving into a small community that smells like farming. I feel at home in a town that is 45 minutes from anywhere and 3 hours from anywhere “important.” But in the next few weeks, all the 2014 corps members share this experience of finding our new place and putting down our first roots.

This week we are focused on setting goals for our classrooms, navigating our tracking systems, and refreshing our management skills. In a lot of ways, the concrete nature and urgency is like it’s been all summer, but now that I see where I’m going, I have so much more energy to dedicate to the work.

For those of you who are still looking for school placements, homes, or necessary furniture: Good luck! It’s coming soon! And for all of us who are in the messy and stressy process of moving: Congratulations! Enjoy the treasures you find in your new community—whether these are constellations or coffee shops. We are so lucky to have whole new communities and homes to explore! Things are about to get even more hectic, so stay tuned.

Pop Links 8.12.14: Segregation In Schools; College Athletes Win; TFA Diverse Corps; Introductory Comics

  • More than 60 years after the famous Brown vs. Board of Ed ruling, segregation is making a major comeback in the nation’s schools. A PBS Frontline documentary explores the disturbing trend.
  • College athletes scored a major victory in the nation’s highest court. Read more about the ruling that has overjoyed longtime critics of the NCAA.
  • This year Teach For America debuted the organization’s most diverse group of Corps Members to the delight of many education reformers who say that diversity is an absolute necessity in the ed-reform movement.
  • Over the next few weeks, you will meet the cast of characters that will bring life to your classroom. Get to know them in a unique way. Have your students introduce themselves by creating fun online comic stories!
  • TFANet Resource: Parent Letter

Motivation Monday: The Key


By |August 11th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

League of Lessons: Why Gaming Matters

African-american Male Playing Video Games

(Photo credit: Bigstock)

I was in the middle of a presentation to three hundred middle schoolers when a boy’s arm shot straight up so desperately that I thought it would separate from his body. I stopped, midsentence. Clearly this child had something incredibly important to ask and I just couldn’t ignore him.

Me: What’s your question?

Boy: Are you Xbox or Playstation? (I froze, realizing the magnitude of the question. Three hundred boys looked at me with bated breath.)

Me: I refuse to answer that.

Boy: Why?

Me: If I tell you, you’ll make an assessment of my character and intelligence.

Boy (mulling over my response): Fair enough.

Looking back on that moment, I don’t know how I knew that this was one of the better responses I could have given. But immediately after the presentation, I had three realizations: 1) I was very grateful to the teaching gods that somehow I answered that question correctly; 2) acknowledging the importance of his question was meaningful to the other students; and 3) I’d better educate myself much more about gaming as soon as possible.

But why was the question and my answer so important? 

Pop Links 8.7.14: Religion and Fantasy; University President Gives Up Salary; Literal Representations

  • Religious children have a harder time discerning fact from fiction. Read more about the results of an intriguing study about how religion shapes young minds.
  • The president of Kentucky State University has taken a major step that is bringing him and his school national attention. Find out why he is giving up 25% of his salary!
  • A popular artist takes common sayings and transforms them to literal visual representations of what they mean. Check out some of his unique work here.
  • TFANet Resource: Irony
By |August 7th, 2014|General|0 Comments|