Quick PSA: Institute is over (womp womp). Actionville, USA for the next two weeks-ish before SC beckons. In the meantime I can be found sleeping, or eating food that did not originate in a dining hall. PTL.
I do not cry. OK- clarification. I do not cry in front of other people. I cry alone. I hide in bathrooms, bedrooms, and hallways, and I sob. I did not cry while saying goodbye to my friends at GW. I cried after, when I was out the door and safe in the confines of the hotel bathroom. If I’m crying in front of someone else, it’s probably because I’ve been sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted (hello, recruitment), or I’m with the people who I hold closest to my heart, and will continue to be related to and therefore required to talk to me even after witnessing my ugly cry (thx, Katie). I’ve cried at institute, duh. Alone. In the bathroom.
Except. So. I had to read this post, my reflection on my institute experience, to my CMA group. 10 fellow math teachers, and 10 of my favorite people I met at institute. It was totally casual. Us just sitting in a circle of desks sharing our reflections. We were supposed to write down our thoughts first, but most people didn’t, so they just talked off the cuff. I had written something, but if I try to just talk I ramble, so I read that post. Totes cas. It was just a lil’ something I had cranked out during a session the other day. It had classic rabram sassy quips interspersed so that it wouldn’t seem too emotional. It was very matter of fact. Just the truth of how I was feeling. I did not expect to cry halfway though. I did not expect to keep crying though the rest of it.
When I say I did not expect to cry, I mean like beforehand I would have said that there’s a better chance of a pig flying through the classroom window than of me breaking down in front of a group of people who I only sorta knew.
Except I lost it y’all. I had no idea what to do! I’m sitting there trying to read but my voice is cracking and high and squeaky and I’m just like what on earth do I do now?? It all went downhill when I had to say out loud, “…but I can’t do that.” My heart broke in that moment and I immediately felt myself choking up. “Just keep reading, Rach. You have another minute left. Keep. It. Together.” OH I did everything except keep it together. I started bawling. And then I tried to keep reading and it was this painful squeaking sound and I could only focus on the words on the screen and GOLLY I was practically having an emotional break down in front of a group of relative strangers.
BUT alas. There I was. Sitting in a public school in the middle of the ATL sobbing my heart out to a bunch of friends I had made four weeks earlier. HOW THINGS CHANGE.
We played a game in class this week. I attempted some sort of version of Cranium but with math. I split them up into four teams. I let them pick their team name.
“Okay, guys- I’m going to go around the room and you’re going to tell me your team name. Got it? Group one…”
“Diamonds of Atlanta”
“OK- group two?”
“Alright- group three?”
“Ms. Abram…you know those are all strip clubs, right?”
“OKAY CLASS NOT COOL EVERYONE PICK AN ANIMAL INSTEAD”
My institute experience has been a battle between my head and my heart. What I know, and what I feel. I know I need to narrate two seconds after giving MVP instructions. I feel like that’s stupid. I know my students can meet my highest expectations. I feel bad punishing them until they meet them. I know I need to move on from college. I don’t feel like it.
How do I take what I know, and what I feel, and somehow combine them and turn that into actions that most effectively better my students lives/the world?
I knew I was going to have students with harder lives that I could imagine. I’ve been told that, over and over. My head knew it. I could recite the numerous challenges I knew I was going to face at institute. My heart, however, was unprepared. I’m super sheltered and maybe somewhat optimistic at the core. I didn’t really believe that I would have students that faced overwhelming challenges – I couldn’t fathom the idea that those challenges actually existed in the world, and that there were children who woke up to them everyday. The harsh world was something crafted in movies and news stories…it didn’t really exist. Fun fact: it does.
There is a couple split between my Coordinate Algebra B class and the Coordinate Algebra B class next door. Sally and Samuel. I’ve changed their names because apparently that’s what we do over here at TFA. They are 16/17 years old, taking this class as one of their final requirements for graduation. They “should” have passed the class back in their freshmen year, but clearly that didn’t happen. It might be because Samuel can’t read. It might be because Sally gets overwhelmed in the large classroom setting and needs 1:1 instruction after class to understand the material. Maybe it’s because Samuel doesn’t really get addition. Or maybe it’s that Sally struggles to add negative numbers. Who knows. These are my students – these are our students. They are the future of our country. Presently speaking, they also share a three year old son and a few days ago Samuel was arrested.
I like to think that I’ll be the one to put the stop in the cycle of poverty for my students. I’ll help them defeat the perpetual path that swallows American youth growing up in low income communities. I look at my students and I see their future – and I want to change it. I want MY KIDS to be the Ivy League students that the bratty spoiled white girls (like me) are bitter about getting into Harvard when they were rejected (personally it was Tufts but alas). I want Sally and Samuel to go to Harvard next year. I want to take care of their child for them for four years so they can go have that college experience that I adored. I want them to have every opportunity possible. But I can’t do that. I’m leaving today. I’ll never see them again. I can let them know how much I love and care about them, and help them believe that the sky is the limit, but I’m leaving. My ability to have an impact on their lives exponentially decreased over the past 24 hours.
I feel like I need to save the world. I know I can’t. I know I need to focus on the little wins, the little problems, the handful of students I do have, not the thousands and thousands that I don’t have. I still feel like the whole world is sitting on my shoulders.
I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I know I have a better grasp on this whole teaching thing than I did a month ago.
I know I’m going to cry when I say goodbye. They’re the least academically gifted, most obstinate, most talkative bunch of kids I’ve ever met, and I adore them with all of my heart. We have a love/hate relationship. A few of them probably think I’m “doing too much.” I don’t care. I want to do more! I want to stay. I can’t stay. I don’t want to say goodbye to another place, another community, another home that existed in the finite time and place that is Atlanta Institute 2014.