As the days of Institute wind down, I am struck by a feeling of wistfulness, of all things – the gentle nagging feeling that comes when you already miss something you’re still in the middle of.
As odd as it is to say, I love Institute. I really do. It is the best, most deeply fulfilling thing I have ever done; from all its wrenching difficulty I’ve emerged even more grateful to do what I get to do every day.
At this point I will pause and say: I love being here, and yet I still don’t know how I feel about certain things that I do or TFA does; take this as more of a loving an experience holistically than a loving an experience for every single piecepart.
Friday afternoon, the unthinkable happened: I had unstructured time. To be fair, it was kind of supposed to be structured, but for a variety of scheduling reasons I spent about a four-hour block with my CMA group…in the middle of that, there was an hour of unstructured time and though I’d heard other groups used it to break off and take naps or whatever, we just stayed with each other. Talking, getting to know each other, getting to know our non-TFA identities.
In a previous post, I’d written about the sadness of leaving college in that it felt like the last time I would get to be around people who had watched me grow up. I’d worried that in the future, I’d have to emerge as a “fully-formed adult” and no one would ever again see the growing-up process. I now know for a fact that I was extraodinarily mistaken. Life is one long process of growing up and along the way, there are hundreds of mini-processes, there for other people to be a part of if you let them in. My CMA group has watched me grow up, in so many senses. We were there for those shaky, terrifying first few weeks as teachers and this I know for sure: no matter what we do or where our lives may lead us, we will always have the vulnerability and closeness that comes from sharing such a wrenchingly personal experience.
Friday evening, I went to happy hour with people from my school. I was initially reticent about going – I’m pretty introverted, and it always feels a little odd to be in an alcohol-present situation with mentors and adults I look up to. I’m glad I went though. It was nice to talk to people on a more informal level, plus it’s always a good idea to unwind from the week among people you really like. I think these sorts of events will become a big part of my social/professional life in the fall so I’m grateful for the chance to get used to them now. Saturday, I ran teacher errands, spent some time at my new apartment getting work done, and had a wonderful afternoon at the pool with a TFA friend (a weekly ritual that has kept us both sane). That night I went over to a Rice mentor’s home for dinner (with a bunch of other Rice students/alumni). It was wonderful to see old friends. I always find it a little odd, though, to go back into my “old life” and interact with people who haven’t been at Institute and haven’t seen the craziness of my TFA journey so far. As they said, there is nothing like going back to something that hasn’t changed to make you realize how much you’ve changed. I think this will likely be a feeling I experience a lot next year (especially hanging out with my Rice friends who will be seniors) and so I want to get into the mindset of how to handle that feeling in a healthy way. At the end of the evening, someone looked me right in the eye and said, “We just want you to know we’re really proud of what you’re doing.” I teared up (of course) because I forget that I’m doing something really hard. Really, really hard. And the most I can hope to do is just do my best and try to handle it gracefully.
Sunday morning I went to church with a friend. Yes, I’m Jewish and fairly religious/observant, but God is God and I still like opportunities to learn and appreciate the way other religions worship. It was my first time at this particular church (affectionately referred to as “hipster church” by my Rice friends) and I loved it. It was socioeconomically diverse, sexually diverse, and – best of all – RACIALLY DIVERSE. Yes. Churches are the most segregated social institutions in America (moreso than public schools and neighborhoods, which are already absurdly segregated) so being able to worship alongside individuals of all racial/ethnic backgrounds was incredible. It was also super-welcoming. I’m definitely going back. I’m not going to describe the entire sermon, but one aspect of the experience I really appreciated was that for the first time in a while, I finally felt good enough. TFA has a way of intentionally, purposefully making me feel like I”m never good enough. I completely understand why they do this – in order for teachers to feel compelled to work relentlessly to improve, they have to constantly feel like they have so much more work to do. I understand this and yet I struggle with it, too, because it gets pretty exhausting after a while. Being able to spend an hour and a half feeling like who I am and what I’m doing is absolutely good enough was an exhilarating and liberating experience.
It’s also nice to remember that there’s a whole metric outside of the TAL rubric along which to measure my life. In the isolated, single-minded world of Institute it’s hard to remember this sometimes. If you let your self-worth be determined by the strands of the TAL rubric you will never be good enough, you will never feel good enough, you will never even feel that good enough is possible. But the other stuff…like being a good person, choosing the path of justice/peace, purposefully creating a life in the image of God…that stuff’s possible. And better for the soul.
The weekend was mercifully less stressful than previous weekends have been; I’m only teaching two full lessons this week and most of the week is taken up with post-summer-school testing. My focus this week will be on transitioning from Institute to my apartment/new life. I want to move lots of stuff on weeknights and just generally get my head in the game – my district-specific training starts the Monday after the last Friday of Institute so I won’t have much time to get my life together.
I’m full of feelings, which I’ll save for a later post, but for now I’m just grateful for the little bit of respite these past few days have been; it’s given me more time to reflect and take stock of the really beautiful parts of Institute.