A new semester. I stepped in my classroom on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks. I inhaled the Glade air freshener scent (“Aw MISS, why your room always be smellin’ like TREES?”) and breathed in the feeling of new.
This break was all that I needed and so much more, days spent in the small-town sunshine and nights spent planning my vision for second semester. I drove around my little hometown and basked in the calm, milked it for all it was worth, til I came back to sparkling skyscrapers and all the beauty of Houston downtown.
I was fortunate to attend a TFA retreat for four days before the beginning of school. It was incredible. I don’t want to say anything specific, but it was the time & space I needed to think about all the big-picture things I knew I needed to think about, plus so many things I didn’t even realize I needed to think about. My school teaches me how to teach. TFA teaches me how to think and be. I know there are so many different TFA experiences out there. but my experience, with TFA Houston, has helped me beyond words.
I put in a request to continue teaching 8th grade ELA next year. I love my kiddos. They’re the perfect age. Just young enough to be scared of my teacher-stare, just old enough to begin developing some self-awareness and empathy. We talked about the achievement gap yesterday. “We know racism didn’t end with the 14th Amendment. In what ways do you see it continue to affect society today?” “I mean, we’re at this school. Why aren’t there white kids here?”. We’re heading full-steam into To Kill a Mockingbird beginning tomorrow. I forgot how much I loved that book. I put a sign on my door. Entering Maycomb, Alabama, 1933. We have a “Meet Maycomb” bulletin board to track alllll the characters, and I’m putting together a little tissue-paper-tree (complete with knothole) for Monday. I have some solid guiding questions for each day set up. I live and breathe what I teach, and I cannot believe I get paid to do what I love.
Our campus retreat was Tuesday. My push to reduce student dependence on guided notes is being adopted by the rest of the 8th grade team. I’m considering helping coach the middle school girls soccer team. I got observed today and it was noted I’m continuing to grow quickly, but that my commitment to humility is helping me stay grounded. that’s something I want to try to keep forever, not just my first year of teaching. My kids have not done a multiple choice drill-and-kill in over a month. But because of increased authenticity and rigor their state testing benchmark scores were among the highest in the district.
Authentic English Instruction: 1
Lifeless Test Prep: 0
Today we had a spirited, lively, and civilized debate on whether or not it’s appropriate to use the n-word out loud if it is written in a historical text. All three of my classes (total 8th grade makeup is 25% African-American, 75% Hispanic) voted no. I went back and forth on this issue dozens of times in my head and am appreciative of the Teaching Tolerance website for helping me navigate that particular dilemma. There is so much good, all around me, and in moments like these all I can do is just breathe it in.
That’s not to say everything’s perfect. My mentor teacher, the heart and soul of our team, moved to a different grade and we can already feel the absence. I miss her. My work-life balance is not getting off to a very solid start. The team of boys whose paper-football-ring I intercepted at the end of last semester and starting to test my limits again, to see what they can get away with. I continue to struggle with anxiety about evaluation. but there is so much hope, and so much life, in this work I do. I went rock-climbing with school friends on Monday night. and the next morning I ached, because my arms did things they weren’t used to, and I realized. That’s what this teacher-ache is. I wouldn’t feel it if I wasn’t growing.