Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 07 2013

midpoint reflections

Fourth of July weekend has brought many realizations for me, some comfortable, some not-so-comfortable.

Institute forces an incredibly short-term mindset. Faced with the challenges of this lesson plan is due tomorrow so I can’t do anything til it’s done and I didn’t buy enough ribbons for this circle activity so now I have to go to Target at 10:30 PM it’s exceedingly difficult to sit back, take stock of where you’re at, and just sit with the challenges of self-examination.


I chose to leave Houston this weekend for precisely this reason. I wanted to step back – to take a deep breath – to really force myself to think about where I am and where I want to be.


I left for Austin on Thursday after our sessions ended, and though I usually listen to This American Life on long drives, I just took the three hours to think about how things have been going so far. I spent the next two days eating lots and lots and lots of food with friends, swimming in Lake LBJ, going for a boat ride, reading things having 0% to do with teaching, and – my personal favorite – watching Hercules while doing TFA work, wearing a Snuggie, alongside two close friends. I watched fireworks from the top of Mount Bonnell and cried as I watched them, thinking about the ways my life is so very different than it used to be, thinking about how many changes – scary, unknown, exciting changes – lie in store. I drove up and down hills and marveled at the way my ears popped with only a tiny change in elevation. I laid on a dock in the sunlight and read about genetic counseling. And in those two days I thought. A lot.

I don’t know if I have any illuminating, enlightening reflections to share. But here are a few.

1. I’ve been doing a pretty half-assed job of teaching so far. I’m not just being some weird perfectionist. I haven’t gotten sucked into the TFA crazy. I’m not being hard on myself. The truth is, I’ve been working incredibly hard, but putting in lots of worktime doesn’t mean you’re working on the right things. I think about the most high-impact things I could do: small-group tutoring, a better use of Academic Intervention Hour, Saturday school. I am doing none of those things. I’m not even practicing my lessons enough (which means that when I finally get the students to have more positive/constructive behavior, I can’t even really deliver the new material in an understandable way, so they’re definitely not learning anything).  I’m sort of spinning my wheels. And I know it. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’m panicked about my outcomes when I should be focusing on my process. And I don’t necessarily mean the process of teaching in the classroom, though that’s important too. I mean my process in general. What I spend my time on. The ways I think about my students. The ways I speak about my students. Where I focus my mental energy. What I choose to give up for TFA, what I choose to not give up for TFA. My actions so far haven’t been very aligned with my values. I know my outcomes will come with time, the kind of time that only makes sense after you’ve been trying hard at something difficult for weeks and months and years. So now is the time for process.

3. I need to act boldly. Some things have been going so well. Some things haven’t. Institute is this sort of cocooned space, a space for trial-and-error, success-and-or-failure. I’m not taking enough risks, so I’m not giving myself the chance to really see what works and what doesn’t.


I’m not trying to sound negative, because I don’t think this means that my first half of Institute has been a failure at all. In fact, this post is precisely why it was successful. It’s given me additional context, a lens through which I can view my future teaching decisions. But – as one of my favorite quotes says – what’s the point of anything if you’re not going to let it change you? Unless I allow all of this…my students, my CMA, my mentors, my fellow CMs, my collab…to change me, then why bother?


I was pleased with myself that though I spent time thinking about teaching while in Austin, I didn’t think of the negative stuff. I didn’t worry about my lessons, or panic about the awful red boxes all over my tracking data, or have any negative self-talk at all. Instead, I realized…I miss my students. I miss the TFA adults. I miss getting high-fived every morning, as juvenile as that sounds, because sometimes that’s all it took to get me feeling just a little bit better about the day. As frustrating as my students are sometimes, behavior-wise, I miss them dearly.

I drove back yesterday and spent the day taking care of errands, just little things that needed to get done to keep my life moving along smoothly. My future roommate and I signed our lease and got the keys to our apartment! Things are feeling more real every day. I know I’ll be sad when Institute’s over, but I’m excited to dive into real life, so to speak. Or as real life as you can get your first year of teaching. Last night I went out to dinner with a big group of girls who all teach at my Institute school with me. It’s always nice to get off campus, to see people in a non-teaching context, and to take advantage of Houston’s amazing restaurant scene. I woke up today feeling refreshed and ready to dive back in. I’m going to head to the gym and then finalize/practice tomorrow’s lesson. We’re planning on doing small-group tutoring during Academic Intervention Hour in the hopes of connecting with students on a smaller scale. I hate that my struggles with classroom management are preventing students from learning (and I know for a fact that this is happening). I know it takes time to learn classroom management but I don’t think my kids can afford the delay in actual learning that takes place.


I made a poster for my classroom that says, Actions become habits. Habits become character. Make good choices. Though my kids clearly have a long way to go in terms of internalizing this, I’ve been thinking a lot about it personally, especially after having a great conversation with a TFA friend last night about it. I know that Institute doesn’t really resemble first-year teaching at all, and that I’m just trying to stay afloat here so I shouldn’t worry about being perfect at all. But something to think about: the little choices I make here, my actions (or lack thereof), are a precursor to the choices I’ll be tempted to make next year. If I’m too nervous to call parents now it’ll only make me nervous to call parents next year. If I’m tempted to skimp on content execution practice because I’m tired, I’ll be tempted to do that next year too, because it’s hard to break habits. So I guess for the final two weeks of Institute, I want to train myself to make the kind of choices I want to make next year. Grit. Perseverance  More than just showing up and going through the motions. Finishing strong. I’m halfway through Institute but only about a third of the way towards reaching these goals. I’m not worried or panicked about it, but I know it’s something I need to work on.

One Response

  1. Hi there,

    I stumbled across your blog posting and was instantly sucked in. You have many of the same fears I did before my first year of teaching. I could say that it gets easier and not to worry, but it doesn’t… Some of the challenges you face now will become little blips on your radar down the line, and then you’ll have a whole new set of struggles staring you in the face… Just take one day at a time and realize that we’re all in this together. Definitely lean on your colleagues for support and don’t hesitate to ask for help (it’s definitely not a sign of weakness–trust me, I learned the hard way).

    I also struggled with classroom management when I started. This may seem harsh, but you need to hit it hard the first day and don’t let them get away with anything. They definitely need to know that you are in charge… but don’t scare them (haha)… Just make sure that you are always clear and consistent with your directions and expectations. I teach fifth grade in an urban school and have learned to use a program called Whole Brain Teaching. It is AMAZING at instantly gaining students’ attention and has very clear-cut and easy to understand “rules”. Check it out! You won’t be sorry. ;)

    Your first year will be filled with trials and tribulations. I wondered many days that first year if I was successful at all or if my students even heard the words coming out of my mouth… Kids are resilient, they’ll be fine and so will you. Like you said, Persevere and finish strong! Good luck! :)

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

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