Soft Eyes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 10 2011

No Excuses!

I refuse to let this blog languish into nothing like so many of the ambitious TFA blogs before me. REFUSE. I am consistently amazed by how little I find worth saying at the end of the day, when my days are longer and more packed with stuff than they’ve ever been. I can’t in good faith blame exhaustion, either. I’m busy and dog tired, sure, but compared to most of my Institute compatriots I’ve gotten off pretty easy. My amazing co-teacher and I manage to get almost everything nailed down well in advance, we have an adviser who is supportive and gives us a lot of freedom, and I rarely find myself having  to go to bed any later than 10:30 or 11pm. I hate the early wake-ups, but my hours are as close to civilized as they can be, given the circumstances. I’ve even managed to make it through most of Different Seasons on the weekends. So why the lame showing?

Well, in order to write, you have to start somewhere, and this whole experience is so big and busy and barely contained that most times when I sit down and try to write I can’t find a place to begin. Much easier to call Mike and tell him about my day in a roundabout way, at which point I’ve made some sense of it, but have no desire to retell it. Also, and I think this may have a lot to do with why all the other TFA blogs are so quiet, is that there is just a LOT of what we colloquially refer to as “drama,” and no one wants to put that stuff up on the internet. The tricky thing about drama is that, when you’re concerned with it, it swallows up everything else going on in your life and you find it impossible to talk about anything else. Drama is murderer of perspective. While I want this blog to be an honest record of what I believe will be two very important years of my life, I don’t want to record my thoughts on “Can you believe so-and-so did THIS?” or “I can’t BELIEVE they made THAT decision and I have to go along with it.” I don’t want to give such things more room to grow and breathe.

So what HAS been going on in the two weeks since I last updated? Great things. Terrible things. We lost at least two, maybe three students (this next week will tell). At least one was lost to “drama,” of the particularly vicious heartbroken teenage variety. It bummed me out. I wish I could march over the kid’s house and shake them: “This stuff that’s keeping you at home? It does not matter. You will be embarrassed and mystified that you ever could have cared about this in a few years. What’s going on in our class DOES matter and you are MISSING it and the class is worse off for your absence.” But other than a polite phone call there’s not much we can do.

But the kids who do stay? They’re amazing. They get better, every single day, even when I watch the lesson I painstakingly put together fall flat on its face. Somehow they figure it out, and incorporate it into their work, and the work is better for it. Just a few weeks ago they were shy, uncertain, incapable of giving on another feedback more substantial than “I liked how you wrote about a cat.” Now they fall over each other to share, read loudly and confidently, and really push each other to improve. Mike and I decided most of the improvement can be attributed simply to the act of sharing. They really do support each other, but I think deep down it’s a desire to one up the other guy that’s doing the magic: “Well, if she can do that, I DEFINITELY can, too.” It’s a pretty great thing.

We’re having a reading on Tuesday night for their friends and family and some TFA folk. The unit plan called for us to have a class reading on the last day, but that seemed dreadfully lame to me since most of what they do in class every day is listen to each other read. So we got special permission to open up the school in the evening and printed up some invites and by God we’re having these kids read their stuff to the public. I didn’t know if they’d be into the idea, but they seem really stoked. I knew it would work when I was leading the kids to lunch and a boy from another class started walking next to S, who batted her eyelashes and coyly invited him to the event. SCORE! It’s such a little thing, but no one’s ever really given them a shot at something like it. I’m tremendously proud of them and I hope our little open mic night help them see how proud of their own work they should be. I will definitely be updating about how it goes down.

I just wish I could shrink them all down and put  them in my pocket and take them back to Charlotte with me. I’m beyond ready to be done with dorm life and institutional food and the hyper-structure of Institute, but I feel like kind of a sleeze walking away from these kids. One of my students wrote me a “shout-out” in which she expressed hope of being in another one of my classes, and I felt like dirt. I’m having Mike send me a giant box of books and lit mags and will be doling them out this week along with personalized reading lists, mostly out of guilt because I won’t be around. I never would have imagined feeling this bad about having to walk away.

One of the books Mike found as he was boxing them up was the collected writing of Nietzsche. That would have been a nice parting gift, huh? “Peace out kids, here’s some Nietzsche. You’re on your own now, suckers!”

One Response

  1. juliannect11

    we are predictable blogger quiters! haha

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