Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 29 2013


There are times when I love being here, and there are times when I hate it. There are times when I manage to stay positive and there are times when the negativity, stress, pressure, and frustration can start to win me over.

For the past few days I’ve been feeling more of the latter. My reasons for this are completely immature and more than a little ridiculous, but it is what it is, and whatever it is is making life rough. Things with my students have improved only marginally. I still don’t know how to teach them. I’m fairly certain I’m the most-struggling corps member in my CMA group, at least according to the evaluations we received on Friday. My CMA wants me to have a co-teacher because I’m having such a hard time. I know this is just another means of support, and I’m truly grateful for it, but it’s hard not to be ashamed at the notion of being the one person here who can’t get it together. Many of the other CMs in my group have made amazing, amazing strides with their students. I admire these people but am also jealous of them. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion and I try my hardest to keep it at bay. But I can’t help but wonder – if I had fewer students, who were older and more well-behaved and less academically behind, what kind of teacher would I be right now? How would I be developing differently? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing?

My frustration is that whenever I voice just a tiny bit of this to people involved with TFA, I feel like I’m made to feel bad about thinking such a thing. I guess these thoughts aren’t part of the “high expectations, no excuses” mentality I’m supposed to have. Some people here would think I’m almost giving up on my kids by lowering my expectations. This hurts. I’m not, and would never, give up on them. But sometimes when your kids average a 40% on the beginning-of-the-summer diagnostic exam you just have to refocus a little bit.

TFA has an interesting strategy of heaping lots of praise on certain individuals who are seeing great gains. It’s inspirational in some ways, because it’s so nice to see people just like us achieving so much. But it can also be hard sometimes. I feel bad enough myself that I can’t control my classroom, that my kids aren’t learning, that my classroom is “apathetic and unruly” (according to the TAL rubric). I feel bad enough myself and I don’t need constant reminders of it.


I know this sounds melodramatic and I feel melodramatic, so I’m trying hard to just shut off the internal dialogue about it and focus on what I can do to improve. It’s exhausting to constantly reel in my thoughts and try not to focus on other peoples’ journeys. I went out with a bunch of TFA friends last night and though I was able to forget about all of this for a few hours, it all came rushing right back, and I have that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. The Houston Pride festival is this afternoon and I feel too stressed to be able to go and enjoy myself, even though I’ve planned all the lessons for next week so I don’t have that much more work to do this weekend.


I think this is the part of Institute that breaks people down. The psychological part. I’m fine with the physical part; I take physical wellness very seriously and I think I’m doing fairly well with that so far. But the psychological part is throwing me for a loop. I feel like there’s a constant environment of competition and comparison; maybe there isn’t, maybe this is just me making things up, but for some reason it seems ever-present. Everyone is eager to tell really positive stories about their students. I know that this isn’t the full picture. Yet it’s hard not to wonder, why are things going so well in their classrooms and not mine? It reminds me of the guilt-vs-shame conversation I had with a friend at the end of college. It’s okay to feel guilty that things aren’t going as well as you want them to. But the slide into shame, into being ashamed of yourself and what you can’t do, is a slippery slope that never ends well.

I’m trying my hardest to hold on and not get beaten down. I want to relax and just make this feeling stop but I don’t know how. I’m hoping that this weekend will give me a chance to just sit back and reflect a bit, a chance to keep things in perspective, a chance to take a break from the endless loop of thoughts about how I’m not good enough and I’m not doing enough and I’m not trying hard enough. I want to make a concerted effort to just stop but that’s harder than it sounds.

5 Responses

  1. houstonheart

    thanks, all, for the feedback & suggestions! I really value all these perspectives; as I said before, Institute can be very isolating so it’s always refreshing to hear from the “outside world.” Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to comment. I truly appreciate it.

  2. B

    Be thankful. You have the opportunity to struggle now and learn to be okay with struggling.

    I was like you. I asked myself all the same questions about why everyone else was doing so much better.

    Maybe they are. They probably aren’t. It doesn’t really matter because none of you are really teaching right now.

    Based on your post, you are reflective and self critical, which are crucial traits for a good teacher. Only thing is if you let them go too far they can destroy you.

    Before September, read two books: The Power of Positive Thinking and Mindset. If you can internalize the message, you can save yourself from the type of negative self talk you’re displaying right now.

    This will be the easiest part of your journey. You need to consider that.

  3. Meg

    But I can’t help but wonder – if I had fewer students, who were older and more well-behaved and less academically behind, what kind of teacher would I be right now? How would I be developing differently? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing?

    Just a couple notes on this – I can vouch for experience that having an Institute classroom of 10-15 kids might seem easier in the short run, but will do nothing to prepare you for your classroom in the fall.

    In terms of the kids being better behaved or not as far behind, a lot of their behavior probably has to do with your classroom management (and please don’t take this as a criticism, classroom management is SUCH a struggle and honestly not one of TFA’s institute strengths). It doesn’t matter where you’re teaching, whether the kids are on grade level or not, how old they are, or whether they’re poor, if the teacher cannot manage a classroom, they’ll misbehave.

    In my experience, the people that struggled the most at Institute tended to struggle less during the year. While it’s easy to look at someone with 10 or 15 institute kids and think they have it so much easier, you’re all likely to be in similarly difficult situations come fall, and you’ll be far better off if you don’t walk in to your classroom never having faced more than 15 kids at a time.

  4. tlmerrie

    I think your experience is pretty typical of how many people in teaching feel these days and your sentiments echo my own. I am not TFA, but we are all being influenced by the new reforms in education and its hard not to internalize them. I assume you are at institute and just beginning, but even if not, please remember that you should not judge your insides by someone else’s outsides. In my experience, lots of those enthusiastic new superstar TFA’s will be freaking out at the start of the school year. Teaching isn’t something you learn to do in a week or two. Anyone who is claimed to be making strides with their students after such a brief period sounds almost suspicious to me.

    When you get to your new school I hope you will be able to surround yourself with veteran teachers who will mentor and support you and who are not hindered in their thinking by trying to adhere to TFA’s expectations. Teaching is hard. Lots of people acknowledge this but it often seems to be superficial acknowledgement.

    Just hang in there and find your support where you can get it. I look forward to reading all your posts; the best teachers I know are very thoughtful and sometimes quite hard on themselves. Keep sharing.

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Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

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