Wayward Journalist

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 20 2011

End of the innocence

It’s been a rough night. It actually has nothing to do with lesson planning, or deciding where I’m going to hang my latest motivational poster in Room 215A. Nor does it really have to do with the never-ending drama about my unfinished business at Vanderbilt, where I tonight I helped clear the name of a innocent person – she was being accused of being a drunk, bumbling idiot by a 60-year old who needs to find better hobbies than DJing on a college radio station.

The real matter tonight is that we lost a corps member. I don’t even think posting this is appropriate, but I’ll try to keep it as anonymous as possible. On Friday evening, I learned that one future teacher left Rice on Thursday night. But I didn’t know that member all that well. So it was a real shock when A. made the rounds at dinner to tell us that this night would be her last, and that she’d be heading home very soon.

From the best I understood, and everyone has their own reasons for doing it, but A. was passionate about changing kids lives in somewhat of a different way than TFA does. Without speaking for her, what I understood was that A. believes in more of a holistic approach, whereas TFA tends to see test scores as the way out… whereas test scores for individuals who are driven in other aspects of life might just be the route to mounds of college debt.

And I think tonight, because A. was so public about leaving Institute, it has a lot of us thinking about why we’re here. Institute is no question the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. I’ve been through so much red tape to follow procedures. I try to stay awake through lengthy CS sessions where I try to make sense of the piles of information I’m taking in. I try to motivate my students who have seen all too much failure, to success. And I have been set to extremely high expectations when you consider the learning curve on this kind of stuff. There’s so many variables in rotation at once that it’s hard to stay focused, or really determine what the big things I’m supposed to get out of Institute really are.

For me, this loss is big. But I know that, for me at least, I am where I need to be. I’m pushed to the limits, and I don’t necessarily agree with 100 percent of what is thrown my way. But a lot of it does make sense, and I believe that I can make a positive impact in the lives of middle schoolers in the West Rio Grande Valley. While A.’s leaving is really sad for me to hear about, it doesn’t change the situation that the need for change in the valley is real. It doesn’t change that I’ll be in the third-poorest county in the United States,  and doesn’t change the idea that I know that I will make a difference.

At the same time, ignoring the silly posters around Institute, it’s not fun and games anymore. Suddenly, as I work on my tracker and such, it’s real. More real than ever before. It’s about us, it’s about the kids, and it’s about putting both in the hands of an organization that you hope is leading all in the right direction. From time to time, I’ve had my doubts, tonight probably more than any other. But the Valley needs me. I just know it. And I’m willing to go through pretty much anything for the 120 kids I’ve yet to meet or know their names. And the same for my 8 summer school students who might not meet their growth goals, but are damn straight getting to 8th grade somehow.

And so, when my car pulls out of the Rice/Timbuktu lot for the last time, it will be pointed due south. But I’m not going to forget the people who got me this far. I’ll miss you, A., and I know you’re off to change the world another way – be sure to stay in touch with all of us.

2 Responses

  1. Ronnie

    An important thing to remember about test scores (as I learned in my first year) – they are not the only measure of success, but they are essential to increasing opportunity. Whether we like the current system or not, students must perform well on tests to advance in grade level, to graduate, and to get into college.

    Something that doesn’t come up much until after Institute is the notion of big goals which focus less on the qualitative and more on the quantitative. I hate that a CM was so immediately disheartened with the TFA model. There are certainly problems with the model, but TFA genuinely needs and wants CMs who are willing to address those problems and improve things for all CMs.

  2. Justin

    An update to this piece – I learned this morning that A. was later convinced to stay. Very glad to hear.

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Houston Institute '11 alum. Now a rural E/LA teacher.

Rio Grande Valley
Middle School

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