Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 18 2013

and in the end…

I suppose it’s always easier to say goodbye to someone when you’re mad at them or have treated them badly; it hurts less and feels like a natural conclusion to an experience that was negative anyway. My CMA warned me ahead of time that was a possibility for how students might view their last day of school. Many of them have been sad and disappointed that I’m not teaching here next year. As off-task and distracted and unfocused as they are in my class, they’re learning things – more on the growth they made later – and from conversations my CMA has had with my students, it’s clear that they know I deeply care about them.

Just like it’s easier to break up with someone after a fight or a cheating incident or something than it is when you’re just slowly growing apart, my students took today to basically behave as poorly as possible. Several of them came to school in distinctly non-dress-code outfits (complete with lots of skin showing) and as I walked them to the office to call their parents, they proudly announced, “We don’t care about today! It’s the last day!”. I don’t blame them. After all, every year on my last day of school I basically felt the same way. But the TFA staff members working at my school had admonished us to teach right til the very end. Our kids are far behind and need every hour of instructional time they can get. I don’t think my kids believe that. They honestly don’t realize how behind they are and at this point in their lives, they lack the sense of urgency to make the most of every moment. Part of this might be a developmental/maturity thing – they’re sixth-graders, after all – and part of it might come from previous things they’ve been told about their potential, or their future, or other stuff like that.

Even though I tried to brace myself for the bad behavior it still caught me off-guard. Things started off struggling in the morning and just went downhill from there. We had a session in the morning about building a positive classroom culture, when two teachers emotionally shared stories about how they got their students to not only be good students but also genuinely good people. Rather than just following the rules, their students actively reached out, helped others, stood up to bullies, etc. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when these stories were shared…I guess that’s what we’re here for, really, to teach students how to be good people, to give back to the world around them, to help make this strange and scary world a more beautiful place in whatever way they can.

I couldn’t help but contrast that idea with my current students now. Sometimes – especially this morning – they just have so much attitude. They’re rude and defiant and condescending and blatantly apathetic and yet I love them anyway, even though it hurts when they so clearly do not feel invested in their own learning. Or at least that’s what it feels like sometimes. That investment (or lack thereof) is pretty much completely on me. I know that three weeks is far, far too little time to build culture and investment and a vision and big goals and all of those things. But at the end of the day, I still feel like a failure in some respects. And though I try not to take their behavior personally, I still do. I know they don’t mean to be rude to me because they’re bad people or because they don’t like me or anything like that. In the moment, though, when a student is giving me straight attitude, it’s hard to remember that.


After the session I just went to an empty classroom and looked out at the gray drizzle and cried. Sometimes it’s hard to feel so much. I was sad to leave my kids, worried for them and their futures, defeated by the students who made negative growth over the summer, angry at a school system that has produced students so absurdly unprepared for what the world will throw at them. I struggled to find the hope amidst such a literally and figuratively gray day. Things got a little bit better as the day went on and by the time I taught (the last period of the day) I was feeling okay about things. My kids were pretty much crazy, of course – who wouldn’t be? The last 45 minutes of summer school is bound to be a bit of a circus. I actually managed to get in some teaching before I gave up and just let the kids talk amongst themselves while I went around and told them about their progress over the summer.

Let’s talk numbers.

My kids averaged a 22 on their diagnostic test (as in, 22%) and got to a 44 on their summative assessment. Our class met 40% of its growth goals for the summer. Only four students (out of 30) made negative progress, most by just one or two points. Five students met over 70% of their growth goal, with the highest student meeting 92% of her growth goal. She raised her score from a 44 to a 74. I am definitely not someone who only cares about numbers, but I have to admit…I felt like I was teaching my students absolutely nothing, so the fact that they managed to internalize some of the information and raise their scores feels a bit miraculous.


Things ended the way they always were, I suppose, with my kids running around the room and enjoying the last few minutes of the day. As they realized the progress they’d made, they made little signs for themselves (“I PASSED!” or “I PASS” for some confused students) and taped them to their backs. On the board, I’d written: Big Goal: 100% of students on-track to take Algebra I in 8th grade. Someone taped up an “I PASSED” sign over it in a rather poetic sense of pride. It’s funny; my students were absolutely ecstatic with their progress…almost to the point of feeling like it had just been bestowed upon them rather than their specific actions leading to progress. They’re still learning to tie actions to results/consequences. I don’t think the lesson has sunk in yet. My favorite sign of the day was taped to the door; I only found it after coming back from dismissal to begin the classroom cleanup process. FYI, our homeroom is named William & Mary (all homerooms are named after colleges). The sign read, “MARRY & WILLIAM PASSED!”

like I always say, sometimes you just have to laugh at the little things.


I hung out with a few of my students at dismissal before the ran off to their parents and siblings, happy to finally experience summer for real, leaving me sitting under a little archway wondering how things were moving so quickly. The rest of the day was weird. Too many feelings, too many unspoken wishes and worries and regrets, too much left on the table and not enough revealed. I was teary the entire rest of the afternoon and I can’t even point to why. Some sadness at missing my students, but also just an overwhelming sense of emotion at having finished summer school and made it through such a wrenchingly difficult experience. Some fear, over the impending sense of real-life-hurtling-at-me now that the Institute bubble is about to burst. Some worry that the friendships and relationships I’ve made will struggle taken out of the context of living on the same campus. And a whole lot of joy, not in leaving summer school, just in knowing that I did an incredibly difficult thing and made it through to the other side.


Tomorrow we’re doing a community building activity at school (with parents, students, and other community members) before taking the afternoon to wrap up & reflect. Friday is basically all reflection. I’m trying not to think about how sad I am that Institute is ending, that the incredible and deeply genuine people with whom I interact every day will no longer be such a part of my life, or at least in the way they are now. I don’t want to feel so much so I’m just going to put that off til later. One transition at a time.

It’s late so I’ll sign off here. I still need to draft thank-you notes to the various TFA staff members who have been extraordinarily gracious and kind to me over these past five weeks. I certainly haven’t been an easy corps member to work with – too much crying all the time, that’s for sure – but I hope they know how truly grateful I am for their generosity of time, spirit, and warmth.


Something that’s been on my mind and in my heart a lot over these last few days: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou



2 Responses

  1. G

    ^^^This…100% truth

  2. DC Chillin

    Get yourself mentally ready. I don’t know anyone who didn’t find the school year immensely more challenging than Institute.

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

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