with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 31 2011


it’s pretty well known in teacher lore that october is a horrible month.  at least, that’s what everyone says.  students become curious about how definite their teachers’ expectations and purported limits are, and start to test the waters more, behaviorally and also emotionally.  the honeymoon phase starts to wear off and leaves something downright exhausting in its place (reality).  i don’t know if i really had a honeymoon phase exactly, but i can see how now is when the disillusion would start settling in for someone who did.  you start wondering if your kids are making the gains that you expect them to make (especially as a tfa teacher) and whether or not you can really lead them to where they need to be.  you start getting annoyed at the ways tfa has not prepared you for everything you’re encountering (maybe that’s just me).  your administrators, maybe, stop putting on their nice faces (if they ever even bothered) and other members of the school staff start complaining more and more and things just start to look kind of dismal.

all things considered, i think october went pretty well for me.  my kids are so much better behaved now that they understand that they come to school every day, and that i’m there to greet them every day, too.  their understanding of our daily routines has made it a lot easier for them to come to school with smiles on their faces and sit through the day without crying or whining or being visibly overwhelmed.  i am strict with my class (i actually think i rule it with an iron fist) and i am seeing the payoff from that.  although they’re not always perfectly behaved (especially during quiet time), they are angels compared to most of the rest of the school, and they seem to feel safer and healthier in my class than many of the other little kids at our school i’ve seen.  i get compliments on their behavior all the time, from resource teachers, cafeteria workers, and administrators and other teachers, and it’s gratifying because sometimes i worry that i am too mean to them or too hard on them.  but my para has really high expectations for them, too, so she constantly reminds me, in her own way, about 100% compliance 100% of the time (although this TFA-ism is somewhat ludicrous, especially in a pre-k classroom, the general idea that you should expect all of your students to respect and listen to you, as their teacher, is, i believe, golden).

tensions are high at my school for district-related reasons, mostly being that they’re (seriously, genuinely) threatening to shut down the school, but i’m just trying to keep it together in my own classroom and not worry about things outside of my “locus of control” (another TFA-ism).  i don’t want to get into it too much, but i will say that after my school’s TFA cohort had an “emergency meeting” regarding the situation at our particular school, the TFA staff in the room seemed downright shocked and disturbed at some of the things we told them were going on, and, coming from TFA staff members, i think that’s saying something.  however, TFA can’t do much to change what’s going on at the school (know this, if you’re thinking about applying to TFA.  no matter how prestigious TFA might seem to you from the outside, its power is undeniably limited on the inside), which is why i try to focus only on myself and my kids and carrying on like everything isn’t crumbling down around us.

teaching under even the best of circumstances is stressful; teaching at a struggling inner-city school while being scrutinized at every turn and completing a master’s degree at one of the top schools in america is basically insane.  but i do think it’s going all right.  some days feel great; other days (especially sundays) feel completely miserable.  but i do love my kids.  so much.  they are all just so interesting and sweet and strange (in a nice way).  if it was just me and my kids, on an island without professional development saturdays or administrators or other people, then everything would be perfect.  and we would definitely learn how to read before june.

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