A Tar Heel in Tulsa

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 17 2013

Well, look at me!

After thinking that I might not post again this semester, here I am writing just a few days later.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I have learned from the TFA experience. It’s a question that is going to come up in job/school interviews and casual conversations for the next several years, I imagine.

I know what I don’t want my answer to be:

1) Teaching is HARD. (duh? or, even if that’s not obvious to everyone, I’d hate to think that I never learned anything past what was evident on the first day of school.)

2) Teaching is HARD, but if you just let the kids inspire you, you will become a superstar teacher that single-handedly makes a difference in the achievement gap. (First of all, this sounds like every other TFA person ever – see “the TFA essay” referenced at http://edushyster.com/?p=1418. Also, I don’t feel like a superstar, so this storyline doesn’t seem authentic to me. Lastly, though I still believe in the importance of putting strong teachers in classrooms, I’m now more convinced that it takes a lot more than that to make headway in the effort to improve our nation’s schools. I’m not so cynical that I don’t think it’s a problem worth trying to fix, but I think we have to be extremely strategic about how we promote progress in schools. Let’s not leave out any necessary ingredients and expect the cake to turn out all right.)

3) Teaching is HARD, and I wish I had just lived in Spain after college. (No…though I might say this some days, I don’t think this is true.  I also just don’t believe in having huge regrets.  Besides that, I love Tulsa and I’ve gotten to know a lot of seriously great people (ages 4 and up). That bears repeating: seriously great, unforgettable little people and big people.)

So what is my answer?

I think a big part of it has to do with setting reasonable limits for yourself.  You have to know when you’re being lazy and need to push yourself (and accept constructive criticism).  At the same time, you also need to find your upper limit–the maximum you can realistically expect from yourself that particular day, given your particular circumstances– and then defend it.  Who else will?  I remember something said in a sermon I heard last semester along the lines of, ‘treat yourself with the grace, kindness, and forgiveness of a grandmother towards her grandchild.’

I’ve also learned some nitty gritty stuff about bilingual schools, which I wholeheartedly believe in as part of our fight for social mobility through education and great educational opportunities for disadvantaged students, as well as our fight against xenophobia in this country. Empower kids with language and expand their social comfort zones, and there’s no stopping them.

I’m sure other things will come to mind as the semester goes on, but that’s what I have so far.

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