world on fire

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 09 2010


oh hey blog.

i want so badly for my students to find and use their voices as writers this year, and yet — here is the bitter irony — i have been grasping fruitlessly for my own over the past couple of months. it’s hard to know where to begin; my feelings and experiences have been so varying and tumultuous i have become somewhat mute as a writer, too dazed at times to even attempt sorting through them (for myself, let alone for the interwebs). but i will. a) i need to for my own good and b) 2011 applicants are probably freaking out and i hope to assuage them a bit :)

i’ve been teaching for only a month and a half or so (not even) and i already feel so…hm. let’s see:

- weathered

- exhausted

- enlightened

- surprised (in a good way most of the time)

- validated

- defeated

- encouraged

- powerful

- skeptical

- self-aware.

i could write about our first code blue/lockdown situation, during which i had a moment of unadulterated panic when i realized i would not ACTUALLY be able to protect my children if someone who wished them harm made his/her way into our classroom. (also during which i steadied myself and led us through more practice with the proper nouns song. in all i didn’t play it as cool as i should have, but it could have been much worse!) i could write about the many home visits i’ve been blessed to conduct so far — the generosity overflowing from families living in one-bedroom apartments (“coma, maestra, coma!”); the humility i feel whenever i am lovingly addressed as “maestra” in the first place; the insight i get into my students’ lives, seeing how hard their families are working to make it in this country (and how much harder i therefore need to work to make that possible). i could write about the way my face turned fire-engine red and my hands shook slightly as i held our read aloud book when wendy kopp and the CEO of youtube came into my classroom on a development visit — and how, because i never once actually looked up at the back at the room, it was almost like they were never there at all.  i could write about how baffling it is to work 70+ hour weeks and realize just how much more i still need to be doing. i could write about my first “teaching moment,” when i confiscated “cootie catchers” that said things like “make a girl show you her butt in the bathroom” and “touch a girl’s butt in the bathroom” and inspired me to spend a very serious hour with my children during which i, in the words of a colleague, “got real about sex trafficking.”

but despite the exhaustion, and the oscillating self-esteem, and the moments i realize that my kids really are reaching mastery on something that was confusing for them at first, the only thing that i really want to write about right now is my students as individuals, and small moments i’ve had with them that have made me realize again and again exactly why i am doing this. i’ll start with M.

M is tiny and beautiful. she often wears headbands to school, and (probably unknowingly) sports the most adorable 7-year-old little belly i’ve ever seen. one of her adult teeth in front is clearly trying to grow in but hasn’t had any luck yet. she is usually one of the most enthusiastic participants during our morning launch, and is one student i can ALWAYS count on to get super/hilariously invested in the chants, hand motions, etc. i use to help my kids remember a lot of the grammar concepts we’re learning. one day, M was uncharacteristically quiet, and even somber, during launch. i crouched down in front of her and asked her if she was okay, and she sort of shook her head, but didn’t give me anything more than that. once we got into the classroom and everybody was starting work on their Do Now, i crouched beside her desk and gently asked her again what was wrong. she didn’t say anything at first, but then, with tears welling up in her eyes, told me that her dad hit her mom last night, and that one of them was going to leave, but she didn’t know which one. i listened, and softly asked her a few questions — yes, she was feeling scared; no, her dad did not punch her mom, but used his whole hand and slapped her on the face — then shared with her that i, too, have felt scared before when my parents fought, and that even though it was hard, it ended up being okay, and that she will be okay, too. she nodded her head, and though her tears didn’t disappear immediately, she got back to work. later that day, during 10 minutes of free-write time, M wrote this in her journal:

i teach for M

M is behind. her level of reading and writing skills is currently among the lowest in her class right now, and her home situation makes her that much more vulnerable. i love this child. period. i am beyond grateful for the opportunity to not only be somebody she can trust — somebody who is nice to her and talks to her when perhaps other adults will not or cannot — but to also be somebody who WILL enable her to achieve academically, and therefore to make a better life for herself.

M is why i’m here. my relationship with M helps me realize why i as an individual really am equipped to embody “teaching as leadership.” M is my motivation. i’m at a point right now where i see ways in which i’ve definitely been successful, but i also see MANY areas for improvement, and M needs me to get started right away.

2011 applicants: i have said it before and i will say it again. this is hard, at times even excruciating, especially emotionally (and E-SPE-CIALLY if you choose or are placed in a region that’s really far away from almost everyone who makes up your support system). you will have your own moments of panic, and exhaustion. you will also have your own moments with students like M, if your heart is truly in this. don’t pay attention to the numbers or the prestige/hype of TFA for right now. none of that really matters, when you get down to it. focus entirely on the children. visit classrooms. talk to them. see them where they are. then think about where they deserve to be, and how YOU are uniquely equipped to get them there. good luck! :)

4 Responses

  1. Alexa Rodin

    Maria, I am so inspired by everything you do.

  2. Eric

    Wow. Maria, your passion toward your students is amazing, if I was one of your students I would be so grateful to have you as one of my educators in my life. I know you’re feeling, “weathered, exhausted, enlightened, surprised, validated, defeated, encouraged, powerful, skeptical, self-aware” very beautiful adjectives to describe ones feelings. But I know those kids are feeling, safe, humble, proud, smart, and beautiful inside and out because of you. Reading your blog, made me feel grateful for what I have in life, knowing that other kids are not blessed with the things that I overlook in life because they are the norm things to either have or be accustom to. Thank You, for this reality check. Continue to be an amazing teacher, I know your support team is all here in Texas and you’re in California, but remember we are all here rooting for you. I will leave you with this Chinese Proverbs, “tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

  3. Cathy Civello

    How wonderful it is to see the next generation taking up the torch!

  4. bailey

    i hadn’t read this post until right now, but i wish i had. absolutely brilliant. our little melleroni and cheese is so fortunate to have you and so deserving of someone who loves her so much. miss her and you! see you soon, rooms.

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