Midwest Love Affair

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 08 2012

oo3. It’s the final countdown…

Whoa! Hey, everyone. Sorry for not writing in nearly a month. This have been…well, things have been crazy. I know I must sound pretty sappy/crazy when I talk (er, write) about how I am nowhere near the same person I was when I left Scranton on June 2nd. Only a little over a month has completely changed my whole life AND outlook on life.

Tomorrow is the first day of the last week of Institute…and I’m totally at a loss for words. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, this has been the most difficult experience of my life. Yes, I’ve been frustrated and upset to the point of tears at least twice a week. And yes, I am going to miss Institute so very, very much. Why?

1. Institute has helped me to feel like a “teacher”. I went through 5 years of college. Roughly 2.5 of those years I spent as an education major…learning how to be a teacher. My university was great, the faculty was great, my fellow teachers in training were wonderful…but it just didn’t work for me. I was lazy. I goofed off. I didn’t learn or read or plan or prepare nearly as much as I should have (or was instructed to). The result of those things was that I had a terrible experience student teaching and truly felt like teaching wasn’t for me. It just wasn’t something I was good at. Thankfully, I applied to TFA hoping that even if I wasn’t an “A” teacher, I could still make a difference…and was accepted.

In only 4 weeks (since the 5th is still to come),¬†Institute has taught me HOW to be the teacher I thought I “just wasn’t”. Sure, some of it is talent…but so much of being an effective teacher comes from little details and technical aspects of planning and execution that I had never learned in college (or wasn’t paying attention when it was taught!). I now know how to write a kick-ass lesson plan AND how to execute it effectively. Even when my execution is off (as it more often than now is), I understand what I did wrong and how to change it for the next lesson. For the first time in my life, I’m not terrified of my students. I’ve learned how to create and implement a classroom management strategy that works. I was such a doubter…until I tried behavioral narration…and it worked!

I should also mention that Institute has not only provided me with the information and resources that I needed to learn how to teach, it has nestled me in a community of professionals who teach by example. I credit my CMA, CS, LS, and all of the Institute staff at my school for helping me to realize exactly how to teach and lead in the classroom. I now understand what TFA means by “transformational change” and placing students “on a different trajectory”…because I AM that student who has been transformationally changed. I came into this experience hoping, wishing, and praying that I could just survive it. Not sucking would be an added bonus. But I’ve watched myself (as if through an out of body experience) rise to the challenge. I’ve lived my whole life feeling that I was lazy and incapable of accomplishing anything I started. Now, I know that when pushed to my limit, I won’t fold. I’ll work harder and succeed. Again, this is all due to the amazing staff at my school. My CMA and CS especially, have set high expectations for me like no one else ever has. At one point, after my CMA explained what I needed to do, I said “Oh, no pressure.” He responded, “No pressure at all, because you’re going to do it. That’s it.” At that moment I realized how important it is for ME to have high expectations for my own students. For me, knowing that someone believed in me and my abilities without a doubt, has made a world of difference.

2. I’ve met some of the most amazing people here at Institute. Once again, perhaps I went into this experience with the wrong attitude. I didn’t expect to make friends. Acquaintances, maybe. But not friends. And yet, here I am, trying to emotionally prepare myself for the goodbyes that are inevitable at the end of this week. I’ve met some of the most amazing people here in Tulsa. Like, really, AMAZING. Each person has a unique story and strengths. They’re all leaders. And I can see each and every one of them changing the world for the better. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have even been in the company of such brilliant minds. And the fact that a few have actually become close friends is just mind blowing. I am forever grateful for the advice, tough-love, not-so-tough-love, and fun times that I’ve experienced over these past few weeks. I am a better person because of these amazing people.

The only terrible thing is knowing that many of the friends I’ve made will be off to different regions at the end of this week. I’ve made some good friends from Kansas City, but some of the people I’ve become closest with will be heading off to Miami or Charlotte or staying in Oklahoma. I’m going to miss them terribly, but I know that they’re going on to do amazing things…so I can’t complain too much. Also, it’s pretty cool to know so many people from all over the country now. Before leaving Scranton, I was very much tied to eastern Pennsylvania. Now I feel like I truly have ties to every corner of the US. My world has just gotten a whole lot bigger…

3. Maybe this should have been number 2, since it ties into #1. But that’s okay. Bare with me! For the first time in my life, I feel like a leader. I can’t shake this amazing feeling that comes with the knowledge that I am now a member of a national movement to change the destinies of a whole generation (and generations to come!).

The story of self I drafted for Induction and Institute talks about how I’m not a leader. I never have been. And I didn’t think that I ever would be. I had convinced myself that I could be a follower and still make a difference. So I was here, a part of TFA, to show that world that followers could “be the change” too. That belief hasn’t changed. I still truly believe in the power and capacity of each individual to make a difference. But Institute has helped me to realize that maybe I was wrong about myself. Maybe I AM a leader. No, scratch that maybe. I am a leader. And I can continue to be a leader. More than anything, Institute has been about me growing as a person- professionally and internally. I’ve been able to ignore my insecurities for most of my life. Occasionally (er, most of the time?) they’d be apparent in every day life…but that was okay. It was just me. For the first time EVER, I’ve had numerous people (or everyone…however you want to put it) tell me that it’s NOT okay. And yes, these people told me about all reasons why I should feel confident. But I know those things. I hear people tell me those things often. But I don’t believe them…I don’t see those things in my self. THAT’S the problem. So, what was different about Institute? It was probably the tough, critical, love. It was explained to me how my lack of confidence and inability to believe in myself is negatively impacting the achievement of students. Yeah. Let’s all read that again: because I devalue myself, I am devaluing my students. Whoa. Talk about things that I never wanted to hear.

It’s so easy for me to get down on myself. All of these negative thoughts are so internalized that I too often assume that I am the only one I’m impacting. But to think that every time I shut down it impacts my performance in the classroom…and that poor performance impacts what/how my students learn…and that performance plays into their overall achievement… Suddenly it just got real.

Please don’t think that this epiphany completely changed my self-perception and lack of confidence. It’s something I struggle with all day long and will most likely continue to struggle with for the rest of my life. BUT, now I’m painfully aware just how much my attitude impacts those around me. And I refuse to allow my perceptions of myself to hinder the success of my future students in any way.

I’ve realized that my main goal for my students (aside from academic achievement and the ability to become effective communicators) is for each and every one of them to realize just how important they are. I want them to know that I care about them, but more importantly, that they are absolutely deserving and worthy or love and respect….from others, but also from themselves. After having to reflect on this vision during one of the Institute sessions, I realized that this is my goal for my students because it’s something that I’ve never truly felt. Even this summer, I can see the potential and greatness in each of my students. I want them to see that in themselves. Me teaching about the achievement gap and encouraging them to succeed and even providing the tools to succeed will mean nothing if they don’t believe that they 1) can achieve and 2) are worthy of achieving.¬†After years and years of not knowing what I wanted to do or how I could impact the world in a positive way, THIS is my passion. THIS is what I need to do…for my students, but also for myself.

After writing all of this, I’m hesitant to post it. It’s…kinda personal…and probably way too over-dramatic. I need to get this all out there though. This experience, this month, the moment…it’s so important to me as a person, a teacher, a leader, an advocate for social justice, and probably a million other things I can’t think of right now. When I look back, it will have been this time at Institute that began molding my into the person I’ve become.

So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.

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