on the monday of the last day of institute, i woke from my usual bus coma with a start. the people around me seemed to be really, really concerned about something, and it only took me about two seconds to figure out why.
smoke. black. LOTS.
the street was blocked off. there were at least four fire trucks in the vicinity, maybe even six or seven. we had to re-route. we didn’t know what was actually burning. was it our school? one of our students’ homes? a nearby abandoned building?
some of us sat in stunned silence, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. yoo-jin petitioned other passengers to join him in prayer, if they were comfortable doing so. stephanie called tiffany, our school director, to figure out what was happening AT school so we had a better idea of what was coming.
the weird thing was that once we got to school, everything was…normal. granted, we weren’t allowed to open the windows or turn on the a/c for the first few hours, and only 15 students from my class showed up that day. (“i couldn’t come yesterday because i have asthma, miss!” explained G afterwards. logical enough.)
but yeah. we went on as though nothing strange was happening around us. 3 people died in that fire that day — it made it onto the front cover of the LA times, too — but the teachers at stevenson middle school kept going as thought it were any other day. the need is great. the time is now. fire or no fire.
what a metaphor, no?
the thing is, it’s not a metaphor. it’s the reality that we’re facing. and in reality, rather than feeling totally on my game and ready to rock, i’ve felt incredibly discombobulated over the past three weeks. the 2010 tfa rocketship teachers only had a day in between getting back from institute and starting twelve days STRAIGHT of training and professional development, including a 5-day retreat in the california boonie woods with our credentialing program. (…yeah.) as more and more time, meetings, unit plans, etc. separated me from my experiences with my students at stevenson this summer, old doubts started to creep in again. you’re so young. you only have FOUR WEEKS of teaching experience, four weeks that were riddled with mistakes. you miss home more than you think. etc.
believe me, nobody applies for teach for america with a clear vision of feeling lame/unconfident/underqualified/so tired you’re practically dead. but there i was.
and then i got to visit 13 of my students’ families this week, and i realized for the hundredth time not only why i’m doing this but also why i CAN. when i’m with these precious, brilliant, hilarious, insightful children and their families, i feel a VISCERAL longing to teach, teach, teach any way i know how. kimberly WILL catch up to grade level in reading, even though she ended first grade at a DRA of 10 rather than the target of 18. klarissa WILL improve as a writer, even though the district school her family’s zip code compelled her to attend stifled those possibilities for the past 2 years. noe WILL focus. failure simply isn’t an option for them. the stakes are too high.
as i talked with these families, mostly in spanish, i realized how deeply they already trust in me, without even really knowing me. they are placing their children’s lives in my hands — my inexperienced but loving hands. it’s daunting, and humbling, but also indescribably exciting.
the first day of school is WEDNESDAY. mahhhhhhh!