Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 04 2013

“Sometimes, you have to leave your family behind and grow up.”

This was said by a student today, as we delved right into the heart of one of this unit’s Essential Questions. What does it mean to grow up? What happens if/when you realize your views are different from those of your parents? Can you grow and stay the same at the same time? 

To start off the Persepolis unit we did a quick agree/disagree and my students came up with the following:

“My family is the most important thing in my life. I would never leave them behind.”

“Your family can give you advice because they’re older and have been through the same things you’ve been through.”

here’s the one that hit me the hardest:

“Sometimes, you have to leave your family behind and grow up. I love my parents but they did not lead successful lives and they want me to be successful. I know that I will need to leave them behind and go to college in order to do that and fulfill their dreams for me.”


this was actually said. no joke. my kids blow me away sometimes. I didn’t get into what it means to be “successful” or anything like that, I just let it be, and so we moved on with class but the words are still itching just underneath my skin.


On this dreary, dark November evening, I’m struck by the experiences of the last week, by the thoughts swirling around, by the anger and sadness and disillusionment I’ve been feeling lately. Not in a bad or unproductive way. Just in the way that inevitably comes from realizing the enormity of an issue and the only faint hope of some sort of solution.

We went on a TFA field trip to a fancy private high school, a school that’s widely regarded as the best private school in Houston. I’ll spare you the details because they’re kind of stereotypical & what you’d likely expect. Plus I want to protect the confidentiality of everyone involved.

Overall, the trip was inspiring; it showed me the level of rigor of an eighth-grade classroom and the creativity/joy/passion those kids have in their English classes. But it was also horrendously saddening. I came to school this morning so frustrated with my kids, the ones who won’t sit still or take out their independent reading books, the ones who give me attitude and bring their friends down and joke about how it’s cool to not care. I know that a lot of it is just a developmental/maturity thing. God knows I was certainly not at my best in 8th grade. But it’s still endlessly frustrating. I see the mountain my kids have to climb to compete with their more-affluent peers. And the climb seems more and more impossible every day.

Today I spent $25 of my own money to buy books for my kids from various libraries’ super-cheap-book-sales. I love doing it but it is so maddening. After the school visit I calculated – if just one family spent one percent of their high school tuition on books for my kids, I would never have to buy books for them again. I want to not be bitter about it but I don’t know how to forget about things like this.

I am trying, in my own way.


I want to have more joy and passion and excitement and curiosity in my classroom. I’m starting a creative writing group – Words with Friends! – next week. 8 students have already expressed interest. I can see my highest kids slowly wilting in the back of my classroom each day because I struggle with differentiation and my school doesn’t put as much weight on differentiating for the high end of the spectrum. I need to fix this.

We’re going to do more projects that require multiple forms of intelligence. No more just bubbling in scantrons. We’re going to do authentic reading. No more excerpts on excerpts on excerpts. Gradual decrease in teacher dependence. Gradual decrease in guided notes. New organization systems. Accountability. I’ve been thinking through these things for the past three weeks (2 review weeks + 1 test week = lots of time to self-reflect) and I’m excited to put them into place.

There are times when I am scared – so scared – that I am not the teacher my kids need, that I am holding them back from becoming who they could someday be. But I’m trying to outrun this fear. I only give into it for a few minutes each day before reminding myself that we do not change as we grow older. We just become more clearly ourselves. 

4 Responses

  1. Lallabrigida Cooper Singleton

    As a special needs high school teacher for eight years, and tutoring, at a Youth Interactive Learning Center, after school at risk middle and high school students I too wanted to guide and impact my students the right way, having fears, for some of them graduating and going out into the world, unfocused. Just like you, though, I had my fears, letting, those fears drive me to pro-activity through use of discussion groups and interactive role play, as well as help through transition resources. What I noticed with my students is that they appreciated the extra attention I paid to them. I am sure your students do as well though they may not outwardly display this to you, but seeing changes no matter how little was always an inspiration to me that I was making a difference.

  2. Le'Mia Tyree

    Hi I really enjoyed reading this post. I work for DC Public Schools and I have been thinking about letting my kids write for 15 minutes before the lesson begins. I want them to do what I did and reflect on their current situations. Like you, I believe that you become more aware of yourself the older you get. I look at things that I wrote in the past and I say “wow” to myself.

  3. Helen Somanji

    Omission please!! I mean to say tough issues do not last but tough people do.

  4. Helen Somanji

    This is an incredible support you give to your students. I hope I will pick up this passion from you. Continue to be strong the Lord God will strengthen you. Tough issues do not last but tough last. So keep up. Your story has given me the picture of what I should expect if I become a Corps one day as I anticipate.

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

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