8 Things Being an Adult Has Taught Me
I have been a teacher for 14 weeks now. FOURTEEN. My gawd. Like, whet? Whew. It may not sound like that long to you, but Gooood ggawwwwd. (*insert screams of shock here*)
Now that my small freakout is out of the way, I guess I should share some things about this journey with you. So, here are some things I’ve learned over the past 14 weeks.
Thing 1: Having a social life takes work. Every morning, I interact with 20 little round faces starting at 8:00 am. At 2:45, I’m interacting with 22 different faces. By 3:30, I no longer want to talk to people. Maybe I’m just REALLY introverted, but in real life, I don’t have the patience to smile at anyone else. So, I go home, hug Baby.MeltingPot and Papa.MeltingPot and literally just crash under some covers and the light of the television. I’ve had too many people wanting my attention all day to really voluntarily give it to anyone else at this point. I used to really think I liked people. However, nothing scares me more than having to leave work and go interact with more faces, even if they are over the age of 14. I. JUST. CAN’T.
Thing 2: You have to be extremely confident in who you are to teach other people about finding who they are. Please make no mistake that teaching is also about helping students find who they are. It may not be one of the standards, but it is definitely a part of the package. In order to do that, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have to be happy with it, but you have to be comfortable with it. The confidence that I have found in myself over these last 14 weeks has been pretty surprising. I had no idea that I loved my blackness as much as I do, that I love my feminine characteristics as much as I do or my masculine characteristics, for that matter. I don’t mind sharing parts of my journey with my students, because I’m proud of the journey. Now, some things just aren’t for them. But, for the most parts, my students get their questions about me answered. Because if they are going to trust me to help them with their education, they are going to have to know me.
Thing 3: There is no actual book that tells you if you are teaching “the right way”. This is a ‘go by your gut’ profession. Yes, there are standards to meet. Yes, you need to assess your students to make sure they are understanding the concepts, but standards are not a curriculum. It is up to the teacher to come up with different ways to make learning those standards engaging. That is a challenge. It’s a challenge that I currently have a love/hate relationship with. You also have to incorporate lessons that can’t be measured into that standards-teaching curriculum you design. Sure, there are resources that other teachers have used and posted on the internet for you to buy or “borrow”, (Thank God for Teachers Pay Teachers, really!) but in real life, there is no resource that guarantees your students are going to be engaged. Every single classroom is different. Every single student in every single classroom is different. So, what works for Mr. Carmichael in Des Moines, Iowa is probably not going to work with Ms. Johnson in Detroit, Michigan because none of those students are the same, these teachers aren’t the same, and the experiences of the students are not the same.
Thing 4: Standardized Testing Sucks. There’s really not much more to say on this subject. Except, ew. I thought this when I was a student and I still think it now that I’m the teacher.
Thing 5: Children are people. You would think that this is a rather easy concept to grasp. However, I can assure you that it is not. I, myself, sometimes need a reality check to remind me that these babies are more than just someone sitting in my classroom. They have a life story, they have a history that they are still writing, day by day. I have to acknowledge that. It is my job, as the adult in the room, to notice when something is off and pull them aside and make sure they are okay. It is my job, as the facilitator of their learning, to utilize examples and stories and information that pertains to their lives, their interests and their stories to help them get engaged. It is my job to ensure that my classroom, and the campus that it sits on, is a safe place for every single student that it inhabits. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. This is the hardest job. It’s hard because kids say triggering things. The nicest kids say the meanest things and sometimes don’t even understand why it’s mean because they are conditioned to think its normal. Not always. But sometimes. Kids who have no idea what anti-black racism is say things that are, in fact, anti-black and just smile in their black teachers face because they are conditioned to think that it’s just normal to feel this way. It’s a hard world to live in. As an English teacher, I’ve learned that it’s never been more important to teach students the power that their words hold. It’s never been more important to teach students that it’s not always about “what they say” but also “how they say it”.
Thing 6: The education system is actually working. Contrary to popular belief, the education system in America was not created to actually educate it citizens. It was created to keep its women and children busy and to create nationalists. It was a created to teach kids to grow up loving their country. It has never been about students gaining knowledge that is going to help them be successful in life. So, when we talk about failing schools especially in “high-risk” areas, understand, the school system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It is creating people who actually believe that the Europeans who came to this land were not murderers, rapists and thieves, but heroes who came and claimed something that didn’t already belong to someone else. But that’s a whole different blog post. Let me continue on here. The education system works hand-in-hand with the criminal (in)justice system to keep Black and LatinX students in their grasp at a higher rate than anyone else. That’s the reality of it. The School to Prison Pipeline is a real thing, and is killing spirits just as much as gun violence is killing bodies. The amount of policing students that happens on a daily basis is alarming. Administrators are more concerned with whether or not this young mans shirt is tucked in than they are with him passing all of his classes. Being in compliance seems to be more important than actually being in class. It’s scary because it’s true.
Thing 7: Teachers are still people. That means they still come with problematic views, myself included. We still need to be corrected and taught. More importantly, we still need to be open to learning. We still need to want to gain perspective. We still need to be able to take criticism when it’s coming from a loving place. We also still need to be able to live. We still need to be affirmed. We still need a lot of things. We are not perfect.
Thing 8: This list is never-ending. Because I’m willing to admit that I still have so many things to learn, I’m willing to stop this list here for now. The reality of it is, this list is going to continue on forever.
However, the reality also is, I have grading to do. So, 8 things down, infinite things left to learn. Maybe soon someone will teach me how to manage having a career and a family.
TFA with No Justice Journey?
“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
– Harriet Tubman
The homepage for Teach For America is an interesting one.
As a student of the English language, it’s a great sales pitch.
As a member of “Education 4 Justice,” a pre-corps development program that prepares Teach For America (or “TFA”) Corps Members to teach in low-income communities different from their own backgrounds, I look at their sales pitch and know it’s a lie.
Sure, the basics are real: “You’ll teach for at least two years in a low-income community.” Logistically, it’s truthful.
But it’s the next part that is not just false, it’s a dangerous lie to tell “… where you’ll show students what’s possible when they work hard and dream big.”
There are several issues with this concept that are dangerous to both those students taking that future Corps Member’s class, as well as to the corps member and their expectations.
The TFA rhetoric that we must show students “how to work hard” implies that they aren’t already doing so or that they don’t know how. This condescending view of students in low-income areas is extremely common in middle-and-upper class neighborhoods, schools and places of higher education. This idea that ‘hard work’ can create something out of nothing neglects the fact that often in low-income communities there are multiple forms of oppression stacked against a child even before birth.
Education 4 Justice was teaching future teachers these things! Education 4 Justice was a program that allowed future corps members from all backgrounds, lifestyles and cultures to recognize their privilege and their oppressions. In doing so, the program brings a level of understanding and awareness to the corps member with a realistic understanding of what lies ahead, not a skewed and overly “happy” expectation of success for their future classroom.
After TFA’s low applicant numbers caused them to reprioritize their programming, things like diversification and in-depth trainings about educational equity seemed to take a back burner to getting those numbers back up. As an incoming corps member, I have so many questions about why an organization whose employment is based on a certain level of sensitivity and diversity training would cancel programs that address those particular issues.
For example, if you’re applicant numbers are down, why not better prepare the applicants you have coming in (through programs like Education 4 Justice) and work to establish a more genuine connection to regions? If you have low applicant numbers, why not look at the regions where TFA isn’t doing well integrating into the community and consider cutting regions indefinitely? If the genuine goal of TFA is to bring about educational equity, then why not be more conscious of the success rate of the teachers that you’re putting in the classroom? Seems to me that the TFA system is working harder and not smarter.
Not only was Education 4 Justice teaching corps members amazing lessons with immeasurable value, it was the answer to a lot of the criticisms that TFA received. When I think about the fact that no future corps members will go through this program, I’m enraged. Not only is this program’s cancellation a disservice to corps members, it’s cancellation is a disservice to TFA itself.
More importantly, though, it’s a disservice to the students who are going to have to attempt to learn from a corps member who can’t understand the community they have stepped into, because TFA didn’t keep the programs to teach them how.
If there is one thing that we as 2015-2016 E4J members learned in the final culminating event, it’s that we need to keep fighting. We learned that there is no running from oppression. This program’s cancellation is indeed a form of oppression. This program was starting to awaken people about the histories and realities of education and the oppressive systems that are set against people of color, especially people of color in low-income neighborhoods across the country. These are the same communities that Teach for America’s Corps Members enter. To think that they don’t need to be aware of those realities in order to teach the members of the community is both oppressive to the community and a disservice to the Corps Members.
Education 4 Justice taught us that in order for movements of actual pure justice to continue, a fight is not an option, it’s a requirement. We decided we will fight, regardless of the setbacks, because this is what the communities we will serve have done. What type of educators would we be if we didn’t continue on as they do?
So, while I’m still enrolled in Teach For America and gearing up for institute and my first year in the classroom, until this program is returned and those who have made this vision happen are reinstated, I will not be referring anyone to the program and definitely won’t be speaking about it without the acknowledgement of it’s shortcomings and the removal of one of the best programs I’ve ever experienced.
I will document my Teach For America experience quite intensely and will be brutally honest for the sake of future corps members. I will not do what the organization does and hide behind flowery language and promises of success. I will be honest so that people don’t enter this program thinking that they can “show a child how to work hard” or that they can leave feeling as if they “saved a community”.
On an extremely personal note: Here’s to some people who have shown me themselves, myself and the type of person I want to be for my future students and family. I owe you a thank you that I could never put into words. Here’s my promise that I’ll be fighting for and with this beautiful group of people to expose the truth about education, but I will do so by manuevaring through the system. Thank you for loving me and teaching me unconditionally, openly and wholly. Gratitude is the only word that could possibly describe what my heart feels for you all.