Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 10 2013

October Sky

“Black October.” “Sucktober.” “Awfultober.” I hear these phrases all around me, and even TFA is passive-aggressively sending me emails teaching me how to distinguish between the “normal October blues,” disillusionment, and depression. I know that many people do deal with these issues, and that they are completely subjected to the difficulties of dealing with administration, parent/student issues, systems which may or may not be efficient, evaluations which may or may not be fair, overwhelming lesson plans, etc. When I was first thinking about TFA I read these blogs backwards and forwards and was terrified of October (a full two years before I would even experience my first October as a teacher). These experiences and true and real and there is a story that needs to be told.

I have a story too. I’m writing this because I hope that somewhere, some prospective TFA applicant knows that not all Octobers are horrible; on the contrary, some are beautiful in so many ways.

Yesterday I sat out on the cafeteria deck, on a rickety picnic table made by our school’s No Place for Hate group. Houston weather has finally turned and there’s just the slightest hint of fall crisp in the air. I listened to Bon Iver and wrote a formative quiz and watched the wisps of clouds float gently over our quad. I met with my Instructional Coach and was ever-grateful for the fact that she is a part of my life. I met with a student and wrote more quiz and couldn’t believe how lucky I am to have this job, this opportunity, this life.

My October has been wonderful. I’ve had two intense observations so far. One was a surprise, from my Dean of Instruction, who evaluated me on a pretty intense rubric. I had nightmares about it over the weekend (he evaluated me on a Friday and I didn’t get the feedback til Monday) and woke up crying because I was convinced I’d done poorly. But I didn’t. So many of the things I struggled with during Institute (behavior management, promoting positive culture, sense of urgency) have completely turned around. My Instructional Coach told me I’m ahead of where I should be at this time, and when she asked me how I’d been growing so quickly, I just told her that having a sense of humility is the most important thing.

My second observation was a surprise as well. The Dean of Middle School and the Dean of High School popped in right before lunch, laptops in hand. They have never been in my classroom and I was visibly flustered. They were apparently choosing random classrooms around campus so they could norm observations about classroom culture and peer-to-peer interactions/accountability. Luckily, my students were finishing up group work and were about to share out. It was one of my favorite classes, with students prompting each other to stay on task even if I didn’t remind them to. My heart was overflowing when I got to share the deans’ feedback with the class after lunch. “100% of students were engaged and on-task.” “Students were engaged in respectful peer-to-peer interactions.” “Students were enjoying themselves.” I have worked so hard at this, yet in the end, it’s my students who really create our environment.

That’s not to say that October is all sunshine and roses. The daily grind of six hours of sleep, constant lesson planning at night, stressful weekends (taking care of all the things I couldn’t get to over the week), watching the sun rise and sun set at school all in one day, surprise observations, and an ever-increasing bar is just beginning to wear me down. But I am re-invigorated with every solid lesson. Every life conversation with a student. Every “click,” when students finally understand what a thesis statement is. Every moment when I’m 100% sure this is what I was meant to be doing. This is where I was meant to be.

Earlier this week, I led tutorials after school outside, in the gorgeous weather. A bunch of the boys I teach started an impromptu Frisbee game in the quad after tutorials finished. I joined in (in my dress and tights, but hey, gotta build those relationships) and I found myself laughing more than I have in weeks. I think the boys were a little impressed that I knew how to throw/catch, probably because all I do all day is talk about inferences and behavior-manage.

It reminded me of those Kansas evenings, the ones in October, when I would play soccer with my dad and laugh til my stomach hurt. And here I am, age 21, playing Frisbee in the quad of a school with no buildings and dreams with no limits. My life has worked in such strange and mysterious and wonderful ways. I am here. I am happy.

That day, the October sky was glorious. I have never seen a more beautiful sunset.

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

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