Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 03 2011

Week one (with pictures), and reflections from a river

Random comment during a lesson on procedures
E.: “Mr. K, you look like you’re really really old. You look like you’re like, 24.”

I’ve officially made it through the first week of the school year, and wow, what a week it was. Thanks to certain apocalyptic predictions about Hurricane Irene (I’m looking at you,, the first day was pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday. This was a blessing in disguise though, as it gave me a much-needed extra day to set up my classroom and decorate it with all manner of college paraphernalia and student investment goodies. (See pictures below.) It also gave me an extra day to try to figure out the copy machine situation at my school, which I quickly discovered is almost nonexistent. As a result, I’ve been heavily reliant on the TFA office copy machine, which is technically not supposed to be for classroom usage. I’ve also had to buy my own copy paper, since we’re not provided with any. Alas, such is the state of Providence Public Schools. Oh, and did I mention that my apartment didn’t have power for four days? Showering by candlelight gets old pretty quickly, I have to say.

Teaching itself has already been quite an experience. I teach three periods a day, and each period is either 80 minutes long (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) or 100 minutes long (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). Also, because of block scheduling, I only see half of my students on any given day, plus my Advisory students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (but only for twenty minutes… except for this week, when it was 120 minutes). Yeah. It’s only by God’s grace that the students have been extremely well-behaved in my class despite our collective and massive confusion over the scheduling. My teaching was definitely a little rusty on Wednesday morning, but I think I’ve now fallen into the same groove that I felt at the end of Institute. In Wednesday and Thursday’s blocks, I taught the vision, big goals, expectations, and consequences of the class, which the students bought into surprisingly easily. Today I taught the essential procedures of the class and some of my students investment methods, which they again bought into surprisingly easily (though my seniors and juniors snickered a little at the idea of scholar dollars).

I know it’s technically wrong to have favorite students (especially this early in the year), but there are definitely a few students who already stand out in my mind. One such student is M., who wrote on her personal goal card that she wants to become a pediatrician and “work hard so that [her] baby will be proud of [her].” The only question that she had for me on the student survey was, “Are you going to teach a lot?” Yes M., I absolutely promise to teach a lot, if it will help you meet those goals. Another student is K., a Dominican 6’3″ softie whose eyes go wide whenever I mention any piece of trivia, no matter how uninteresting. I love it. Yet another student is S., who has me for both Math Lab and Algebra 2, and took it upon herself to become a group discussion facilitator when she discovered that I was teaching the same lesson for both classes. Last but not least, the student who perhaps stands out to me the most is D., who was completely non-participatory during class but then answered the survey question “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you in order for us to work together successfully this year?” with “I love Jesus.” We’ll talk, D., we’ll talk.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that teaching is a parade of paradoxes. Schools are usually committed to improving student achievement but often can’t provide basic supplies for teachers. The same students who can’t go a single sentence without making a grammar or spelling mistake, to the point where their writing is unintelligible, express incredibly eloquent and well-reasoned thoughts when engaged in conversation. Teachers are said to have the most important job in the world, yet a first-year teacher barely makes more than someone working straight out of high school. More immediately, I have loved and been energized by every second that I had in front of my students this week–yet I couldn’t be more thankful for this long weekend and the opportunity that it will afford me to rest, recharge, and hopefully get ahead on planning. Labor Day indeed!

And now for some classroom photos, as promised:

Lots of pennants.

Various posters and such.

Hooray for natural sunlight!


Despite the craziness of being a new teacher, I’ve been moderately successful at making sure that I go running at least a few times per week, and one of my favorite routes these days is one that takes me across the Pawtuxet River in Cranston. I found out today that this river has quite an interesting history: apparently, up until the 1700s, the mouth of the river (where I cross) used to be Pawtuxet Falls and was a spawning habitat for native migratory fish. Then a dam was built on the falls, first to power textile mills, and later to provide drinking water for Providence. The dam has outlived its usefulness, so this summer, the Pawtuxet River Authority began removing the concrete spillway and restoring the local ecosystem—a process that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to observe over the course of the past few weeks.

I often go running pretty late at night, and standing alone at the edge of the bridge overlooking the Pawtuxet has led to several insights about the nature of God, human beings, and the world. Most recently, I thought about the many conditions that I’ve seen the river in during construction—serene and unmoving, bubbly and slow, powerful and churning, etc.—and how, while each is a state of creation that bears witness to God (Acts 14:17), the changes between them were brought about by human hands. I find it truly remarkable that human beings have the power to manipulate the very handiwork of God. And so too, apparently, did King David, when he wrote Psalm 8:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet

How foolish it would be for us to take this great privilege and potency that we’ve been given and squander it on satiating ourselves rather than on magnifying the God of the universe. If there is anything that I want my students to learn from me, perhaps it is that they are created to be immensely significant and powerful, “crowned with glory and honor,” and that they must use this power wisely—for the glory of God and the betterment of their fellow man.

7 Responses

  1. Shona

    I love this post! I have never seen a classroom with college pennants, what a great idea and how inspiring! I’m in Atlanta so I saw Emory and said Whoot, whoot! I consider myself somewhat of a transcendentalist who derives her energy from nature and my three mile walks are when I get to talk to God. I love the fact that you do the same on your runs and I love the Bible verse.
    I am applying to TFA for the next deadline.I just graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in English and am looking to teach ESOL.

    Looking forward to your blog!

    Be encouraged :)

  2. carol

    ahhh i love your blog posts =) they’re such a great complement to ed school. hope i get to see you today and hear this all in person!

  3. You’re a great writer dude, you could’ve been an English teacher easily =) Thanks for the insight.

  4. Great post. You are going to have a fantastic year. Also, thanks for reading my blog. Where did you get all those college banners? I love the format of this blog post, and the quote at the top is hilarious. Keep up your hard work and never, ever, ever give up! Feel free to e-mail me if you ever need anything! My contact is on the contact page of my blog. Oh… and you can edit the “About” page on your blog to give a brief bio of yourself.

  5. Stella

    This post…EPIC. Your classroom pics…INSPIRING. Your work ethic…ADMIRABLE. Your age comment…HILARIOUS. Your message… GOD-SENT.

  6. Sarah

    So excited to see you do God’s work during this school year! Also, G-prov in Providence… love it.

  7. Two stories | Break Every Yoke linked to this post.

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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
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