After a snow day and two sick days, I’m going to work tomorrow for the first and only time this week (Friday is a professional day – no class!). The time off has given me [way too much] time to think. I had the same calming realization that I had last semester when I took a mental health day – this is just a job. If there is one thing that I resent most about TFA, it is the organization’s determination to make teaching our lives… and the kind of people that join TFA are the type most susceptible to this type of pressure; in fact, they typically had their ‘thing’ in college that consumed them in a similar way.
Having teaching become your life sounds great – it even sounds reasonable, especially for a short, 2-year commitment. If you are going to do it, then you better put your whole heart and soul into it, right? The plight of your kids should keep you up at night, and you should constantly be improving and improving and improving until you are this machine of a teacher that perfectly differentiates to each student and inspires them all to be successful college grads like you. I’m a perfectionist, so the looking-for-ways-to-improve bit torments me without any need for outside prodding. (Dear TFA, I think that’s true for most of us). If anything, my best weeks have been those when I’ve made a huge effort to NOT try to improve anything. I end up doing it anyway, but it comes out more as creative inspiration — “hey kids, how about we take out this magnifying glasses and act like George Washington Carver?!?” – instead of like a depressing and super-unproductive weight on my chest about how I really should have changed out my imagination center 6 weeks ago.
What am I trying to say? Who knows. I guess I’ve realized that the more confident I am, the more at peace I am, the more freaking rested I am, the HAPPIER I am, the more interesting things I do after school and on the weekends, the more I just sit back and enjoy the crazy things my students say…the better I am at teaching. I know it was my perfectionism and drive that got me into TFA, and those are the qualities that they manipulate so well. But I would argue that it is my calmness, my general curiosity about so many different things, my stubborn belief in the good side of just about everybody, and my love for getting to know other people and kids that are my saving grace in this job, and they need to do more to nurture those qualities on a regular basis. If I can be a happy, patient, curious, positive person in front of these kids for, what, 6 hours every day, then I’ll be doing a damn good job, if I do say so myself. So stop making me feel depressed and guilty, Teach For America.