As a teacher, winter break has always served as a time of reflection for me. For people in general really, everyone is looking forward to the new year and reflecting on the year(s) past. I always see lots of Facebook and Twitter posts about New Year, New Me (which is actually quite annoying). This winter break I spent a lot of time on idealist.org, indeed.com, and other job sites, working on cover letters and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life (or the next 2-3 years). I would like to share several things that stick out to me.
1. I love working with kids, and I am willing to dedicate my life to helping children, families, and communities receive equality in education, housing, etc.
2. I don’t think the classroom is the place where I will most effectively be able to realize #1.
3. I love Cleveland and want to be a part of helping the city grow (especially in regards to education).
4. I could also see myself living somewhere else, but feel that I must address this longing to return to Cleveland now or else I’ll always feel it everywhere I go.
I’m very happy I decided to stay in the classroom beyond my two year commitment. However, I do not see myself returning for a fourth year. My first year of teaching was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Sometimes I didn’t want to return the next day let alone the following year. It is an emotional roller coaster like I’ve never witnessed before. My second year was much better because I had the swing of things, but I was also pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. Again during my second year, I wanted to continue teaching but also got discouraged at times and wanted to stop. I really wanted to be able to say I taught beyond two years to all the people who reference that as one of the reasons they’re anti-TFA. I also wanted to see my kids who I began with in 6th grade graduate from 8th, continue doing Girl Power after school, and coaching soccer. Also, I wanted to experience life in Houston as a teacher. Done with my master’s and done with my TFA ACE sessions, MTLD meetings, etc.
So I decided to stay. I’m glad that I stayed because this third year has provided so much clarity for me. There are so many things wrong with the way schools are run (which I noticed in Institute, and will write about in a later post), and I do not feel that I am most effective or fulfilled in the classroom. I can point the finger at administration and parents, but what I really want to do is help families and students. PERIOD. My 17 year old college self thought that being a teacher would allow me to do that, but the saddest realization is that it has not. At least not on the scale that I would like.
I have to pause and say here that I know I’ve made a difference in the lives of a few students. I’m overjoyed to see what happens to Leonela, Silvia, Christian, and Cruz. I know some students are going to be amazing…but I’m equally worried about what will happen to Amador, Jesus, Esmeralda, and Naim. And of course Hector from Institute. Every time a student succeeds 10 more fail. And perhaps I’m a failure because I’m not in the position to help (enough). What I’ve realized is that there is much more at play before students even walk into my classroom, and I can only control what happens within my four walls, but I want to do so much more. Maybe its the compassionate Virgo in me, maybe its because I drank the TFA Kool-Aid, but either way I want more. I also have a strong desire to help my hometown. (As I type this it is currently 21 degrees in Cleveland and 41 in Houston.) I would love to work for Harlem Children’s Zone, I enjoyed Charlotte, and I like Chicago. But I feel that every other city can wait. To better explain this, I’ll share something I wrote recently:
“I have never looked upon my decision with regret; however, I have always looked forward to my return. I always remained hopeful that a position would emerge which would allow me to bring my talents back to Northeast Ohio. Serving Cleveland occupies my thoughts and conversations. New friends in Houston and old friends from high school or college can attest to the love that I have for my city. Discussions of politics and friendly banter about sports somehow ends up with me explaining my passion for helping communities and families and my desire to return home to pursue this act. I read somewhere, “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” While I enjoy Houston, I feel an intuitive pull tugging me back to my hometown.”
I hope this wasn’t rambling. If you’re in your 1st or 2nd year of your TFA commitment take time to clear your mind and follow your heart. Whatever profession you are in take time to ask yourself if this is really something you want to do. A 25 year veteran teacher’s advice to me was, “Get out while you can.” I don’t want to look back 20+ years from now and regret what I’ve dedicated my life to. Nor do I want to drag my feet to work or live for the weekend.
I know unequivocally that I am dedicated to children. I am ready to find exactly what position I would be happier and more effective in. I’m also ready for a change of scenery and if I am able to follow my heart back home that’s great, if not then I’ll follow wherever I’m lead (to a job lol). What I’m 100% sure of is I’m glad I applied to Teach for America in August 2009, and I’m glad I taught beyond my two year commitment.