Musings of a veteran teacher joining TFA

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 20 2012

First full day of Induction

I was pretty tired last night with the moving into the dorm rooms, going to meetings and figuring out the lay of the land.  First, they lost my affidavit for teaching in Philly, so I’m going to have to print one off, sign it and find a notary republic somewhere that’s around here (aka NOT school) to have it signed.

Last night, I saw coworker Tim O’Shea who asked to speak about Veronica Richards as a student at Northwestern and Veronica was there to speak about how he made an impact in her life.  I saw both of them earlier and chatted with them both.  Veronica looked very professional with the exception of her sparkly gold lame’ shoes with five inch heels.  The point was moot, really.  I told her she looked great and even teased her about the shoes, but she shrugged it off as she does.  Let me tell you, Tim blew the audience away about how he had heard about Veronica before he had even met her and how she challenged him to be a better teacher.  It was a very moving speech.  Then, Veronica came up and blew the audience away with her honesty, her clarity, and her take on teaching and teachers.  She was amazing and I was so proud of her!  So many teachers wanted to talk to her afterwards and I was so impressed with her casual mix of  attitude and seriousness that is so her.  I said bye to Tim as he’s going to Chicago and told him I’d look him up when I’m supposed to visit in March for my photo conference.  I felt very lucky to know both of them and I was a coworker of Tim and a very short-term teacher of Veronica during her incoming 9th grade year at summer bridge.  She’s always been precocious, although I’ve always known that you needed to be on the ball with her.

Last night I met a whole lot of people who were as excited as me becoming a part of the organization as I was joining it.  That’s an amazing feeling.  I really feel that the people I’ve known from TFA that I’ve worked with really have shaped my ideas in a good way.  Sometimes I get the whole “drink the Kool-Aid” type of mentality, but that isn’t why I appreciate those people.  They have been hard workers, every one.  Every one has had the student’s best interests at heart.  I may not have appreciated every single one of them as an individual, but I did appreciate the effort they regularly made.  Sometimes, me joining TFA has not been as positive as my educational background led from a traditional certification in teaching.  Those traditional teachers sometimes have had negative responses or no responses at all for me joining.  And, that’s ok.  I did this for me (see my previous post).

Today was a harrowing day, not because of the activities we were doing specifically, but because of the heat.  I have no idea how hot it was today, but I know that I was sweating in places that surprised me.   Today was a reflection of community and diversity.  I’m starting to get to know the lovely ladies of “Sandtown”, which is the group I will be with for the next two years breaking down and analyzing all the different things TFA is asking of us.  I have been asked to give advice already, which is fine.  I’ve tried to calm the nerves of people jumping in with both feet.  It seems like the idea of diversity in a classroom and what works with students all boils down to how much one cares to make a relationship with students.  However, you can say it over and over again, but until you actually experience it….

Baltimore TFA groups got an opportunity to go to different schools in the different neighborhoods, talk to staff members and students.  One thing that really hit me is the students last night (Veronica included) and the student today (one young eighth grader that was nicknamed Doctor Brown) we so appreciative of teachers who showed they cared.  Not by being easy or being good friends with the students, but to push to find that relationship that would cause a student to excel.  It really was great to see, and it made me happy that kids are feeling lucky to be taught by teachers who wanted them to succeed.  I was at Booker T. Washington in Bolton Hill.  I’d been through there driving to a friend’s house, but never really stopped and walked around.  When we were done with visiting the school, our task was to walk around and talk to the community members.  I started off by myself, and ended up chatting with a volunteer fire fighter that had lived there for 19 years.  I wandered and talked to a reverend, who really was proud of the charity work she had done with her church.  I walked into her church after meeting up with other TFA and chatted with one of the young ministers who was so pleased that she could tell us what their church did.  If you were wondering, I went to Bethel.  I was really impressed with the sense of community in that area that every single one of the people I talked to had.

I think there’s a bit of disconnect with Northwestern because of the location it’s in vs. the kids that go there.  But for now, I’m going to table that discussion.

We then took public transportation together back to John’s Hopkins.  This was eye opening for a lot of the newbies, but I found it entertaining. I would’ve found a different way to go to meet back, but they told me that that was cheating.  Ah well.  I found that even though a lot of people find the people of Baltimore to be combative, the trip on the subway and bus weren’t that at all.  Some people complained about how many of us there were, and it was obvious we were a group as we were walking around in skirts and dresses and guys in khakis and polo shirts.  It was pretty obvious we were doing something.  But the friendliness of the newbies and the willingness to talk to anyone really put most people at ease.  It was a great thing to behold.

I was going to go over what I did next, but I feel like I already stated it with the diversity earlier.  In some ways, I don’t understand why there is conflict about being diversified.  I understand that who we are has some biases based upon where we were, who we are, who our family is, what our education is, etc.  And, being a teacher is trying to strip those biases away that could be detrimental to the students.  Let’s put “good” in between “being a” and “teacher”.   But most of these teachers are so very young.  And those thoughts and concerns are quite pressing at an earlier age.

Speaking of age, I thought I would be the oldest TFA inductee here.  Not so much.  I have met a wide range of people here.  One woman is at least 45 and I’m being generous with her age.  There are definitely less males than females. Meh, such is life.

At the very least, I’m feeling reflective of my teaching. I also came up with a new way to start my classes.  I want to know who the student’s role models are and then hopefully have them tell me the qualities of those role models so they can think about them for themselves.  I even have a tricky question of asking them that if they have children (or when, but I’ll leave that out), what qualities do they want their kids to have.  Hopefully, it’ll get students to think about where they are coming from vs. going to.  I hope I can remember to put it into action.

Anywho, it’s 9:22 and I’m tired from sweating most of the day.  I’m also trying hard to be reflective and supportive of everyone around me.  It’s been ok so far.  Tomorrow is another day.

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10 years teaching, trying something new and exciting!

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June 2012
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