almost two years ago, i mailed my friend mica a letter. she was about halfway through her first semester of teaching as an ’08 bay area corps member, and i had a feeling she could use some encouragement. i also had a lot of questions. i don’t remember what exactly i asked her in that letter, but i know there was a common theme: how can i prepare myself to really DO this? i was so nervous that i’d be rendered impotent by how passionately i FELT about systemic oppression and the need to change it. my deepest fear was that i’d utterly fail in execution.
fast forward to the last week in june, 2010. although i have yet to stand in front of a real class full of real students with real needs, i have arisen before 5:30 every single day, even on days when i didn’t go to sleep until 2:00 or even 4:45 the “night” before. i have listened attentively to the instruction and advice of teachers who have proven (and are still proving) that, if you’re committed and relentless and meticulous, students WILL achieve to the level you set for them and push them towards, period. i have backwards planned lessons that take me many hours to create, not because the process confuses me or because i procrastinate (like i famously did in college), but because my goal is to use only the best, clearest, richest examples, and provide only the best, most explicit, mastery-achieving practice for my students — none of which can be accomplished with haste.
i am as invigorated as i am exhausted. i am humbled and challenged by the people who surround me. i am so, so proud to be engaging in this work, to be part of this national organization that is hell-bent on taking this country’s education system by storm for the sake of children who are waiting for a fighting chance whether or not they even realize how brutally they’ve been robbed.
i still get tears in my eyes when i see examples of teachers who made a real difference, students whose lives have been transformed within truly great teachers’ classrooms, long-neglected communities where few else dare to make even a footprint, let alone an impact. you know what? i hope i always will. my outrage and my love for these children FUELS me — more important, it focuses me, giving me the strength to continue learning and growing on their behalf.
last week at induction — which, by the way, can’t POSSIBLY have only been a week ago, considering i feel as though i’ve lived months of my life since then — all of the new rocketship tfa teachers had the privilege of eating a home-cooked, traditional mexican lunch at mateo sheedy (my school!) accompanied by many current teachers and, more thrillingly, rocketship families. we, the teachers new and experienced, faced the parents as we all ate together, listening to their stories and advice for us and asking them questions. (side bar: yes, about 98% of it was conducted in spanish, and YES, i have retained a lot of my fluency! WHOOP!)
each and every parent talked about how dramatically their children have improved academically since coming to rocketship from their district school. they talked about the essential importance of strong communication and trust between parents and teachers, and how they wanted us to be unequivocally firm in our classrooms, but equally excited and energetic, since the kids feed off of our attitudes and can sense immediately when we’re down. they told us that our character, patience, and perseverance will be the qualities that ultimately make us successful as teachers. they told us about their children’s dreams, and about their desire to support them in every way they can, which foremost means ensuring they receive the education rocketship provides.
they told us that the best way for us to get in touch with them is to call them, because truthfully, most of them can’t read well even in spanish. they told us that they WANT to learn english and they KNOW they need to, but that they really struggle to find time because they work from dawn until dusk. they told us that although they do not allow english in their homes, they want us conducting our classrooms only in english, so that their children may learn.
they thanked us for choosing to become their children’s teachers.
i’m no longer nervous that i’ll end up being nothing more than a socially conscious young person who has the passion but lacks the execution. once i’m in the classroom i know that i’ll fail, of course, probably catastrophically at times. but i also know i’ll get back up, and that i’ll ultimately be successful. the reason is simple: i need to be. they need me to be. i’ve said it before and i’ll say it for what i have a feeling will be decades.
two years ago, when mica wrote me back around christmastime, she gave me some of the most poignant tfa advice i have ever encountered. don’t step outside the box, run. that’s exactly what i’m going to do starting tuesday, when i meet my summer school kids and immediately begin working to dramatically improve their literacy skills (and life prospects). i’m excited — and ready to WORK.
which is why it’s nice that gorgeous views of downtown los angeles are literally in my backyard for the next 4 weeks (: