Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 16 2012

Summer plans, upcoming hurdles, and success stories, oh my

Overheard during a lesson on arithmetic sequences
R: “Oh my gawddd, this stuff is so awesome.”

There is a remarkable disconnect between how much stuff has been happening in my classroom, school, life, etc., and how little I feel like blogging about it. Maybe my desire to write is directly proportional to the amount of sleep I get. In any case, I know that I have friends who regularly read this blog because they’re genuinely interested in how I’m doing (thank you!), so I’ll try my best to articulate what’s been going on in the past couple weeks.

First, some housekeeping. Calendar-wise, there are four weeks left until April break, then another six weeks until graduation. Wait, what? Where did the entire year go? When did I make the transformation from an idealistic but incompetent first-year teacher to a slightly less idealistic but slightly more competent almost-second-year teacher? I guess time flies when you’re managing 120 hormonal, possibly bipolar teenagers every day. With regard to summer plans, I’ve decided to return to NYC Institute as a School Operations Manager, for which I’m simultaneously excited and anxious. Unlike many of my colleagues, I loved my Institute experience, so I’m pumped to go back and be a part of the behind-the-scenes magic (and possibly catch up with my eighth grade math superstars from last summer). On the other hand, I have to head down to the city the day after classes end, which means I’ll basically have no downtime for myself. I can only hope that being at Institute as a staff member isn’t nearly as insane as being at Institute as a CM.

I have two major hurdles left between now and the end of the school year. The first is assembling an assessment portfolio for my certification seminar. It’s going to involve a lot of writing, a lot of scrounging around for old student work, and possibly a lot of Red Bull, but it probably won’t be any worse than a typical college paper or final. The second, which I’m more concerned about, is a formal teacher evaluation by the district. The evaluation system is brand new, which means this year is only supposed to be a trial run that doesn’t affect employment—except, of course, for first-year teachers at turnaround schools, of whom I am one. The fates are too kind. The classroom observation, which is the most important component of the evaluation, is scheduled for May, so in the meantime, my Induction Coach from the state department of education has been walking me through the process and giving me feedback on aspects of my teaching that I can improve.

I’ve mentioned this before, but teacher evaluations (performance evaluations of any sort, really) remind me of the biblical Judgment Day. No, keeping my job is clearly nowhere near as weighty as saving my soul, but I believe the mindset should be the same. That is, whether I’m approaching my principal-evaluator, or the Lord on the seat of judgment, if I’ve been humbly following in the counsel that I’ve been given and not covering up my iniquities (Ps 32:5, whatever that means in the context of teaching), then I have no reason to fear the final verdict. Conversely, if I’ve been stubbornly following my own instincts and letting advice go in one ear and out the other, then even if I think I’m pretty good, I have no idea how I’ll be judged by external standards. Speaking honestly, I think I’ve been somewhere between those two extremes, which is why I’m a little nervous, but I’m praying for peace of mind and the ability to be an effective, compassionate teacher while still conforming to the demands of my principal, district, state, etc.

I’ll close with an anecdote from school. Over the course of the year, all seniors at my school are required to complete a 6-7 page paper that involves researching and advocating for a certain cause, such as fighting sex trafficking or reducing teen violence. As part of the writing process, students select a faculty or other adult mentor to turn to for feedback and advice on how to proceed. Being a mentor is generally a fairly coveted role, reserved for teachers whom students both like and respect (I’ve learned that those are two very different things), so I was surprised when R approached me at the beginning of the year and asked me to be his mentor.

Working with R has been quite an experience. Although his math abilities are second to none, his writing is so incomprehensible that a significant portion of his IEP is devoted to helping him put his thoughts on paper. Furthermore, R comes from a very broken home—his mother (and sole caretaker) passed away when he was 7, so he moved to the DR and was raised by his grandmother until he was 14, when he had to move back to the US. His sister, a college student, currently provides food and clothes for him, while he himself provides for his baby sister, since their father is an alcoholic who frequents bars until 2 or 3 am. I can honestly say that I love R with all my heart. There are times when we’re working together on his paper, long after the last school bell has rung, and I start tearing up because of his dedication and enthusiasm despite his circumstances. When we first met, R wanted to become a pipefitter; now, partly because of my nagging and all the deep conversations about math and science peppered throughout our work sessions, he wants to become an engineer or a physicist, and he’s going to start that journey at community college this fall. I haven’t had too many success stories this year, but I think I can confidently say that R is one of them.

(R also has this sheepish laugh that seeps out whenever I say anything even remotely funny, and he has most hilarious way of saying “oh God, oh God” even when he’s made a tiny mistake. I wish I could pick him up and carry him wherever I go. Is that weird?)

Anyway, the week is done and I’m hungry, so I’m off to grab some dinner. Happy almost St. Patrick’s Day, and to all you teachers starting spring break, have fun and get some rest.

3 Responses

  1. ekim

    awe some post. loved reading about R and your relationship with this student.

  2. carol


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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
High School

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