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Balance

NB: you should watch that video from the last post first but I guess I can’t make you if you don’t wanna

TFA, and much modern teaching scholarship, believes in the power of the pod. They love group projects, and class brainstorming, and whole lessons dedicating to sharing identity trees and stories of self. We’re encouraged to change the arrangement of desks from a grid to groups of 4, allowing students to face each other and talk about the WHY of the material at hand.

They’ll understand it faster in group. They’ll learn better. They’ll be more engaged. They’ll become smarter.

A month ago I was snuggled up in my seat on that bandwagon. But now, I’m having a horrible time trying to balance everything I have learned from that video (you should read the book too!) with all of the TFA kool-aid I’ve been supplied with.

I am extremely introverted. On Myers-Briggs tests, I typically scored between 90-100% on the introvert/extrovert scale. I hate crowds, small talk, and strangers. I love (shocker) hiding behind my computer screen to share my thoughts, primarily because it gives me the extra time to think about what I’m going to say. I can draft and redraft and google synonyms and definitions and I am at peace.

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As I begin to plan out my classroom, I often think about my likes and dislikes as a student. Now, I have tried to look at my experiences as an introverted student.

I had seven classes each year in high school. Teachers were required to give personalized comments on report cards after the first and third quarters. Every year, seven out of seven teachers would comment something like this:

“Rachael is a delight to have in class. She demonstrates solid understanding of the material on tests and quizzes. I wish she would participate more in class.”

(Except in Contemporary World History Honors. Then she’d make a comment about how my DBQ grades were “improving,” but still include a jab about my perpetual silence in class.)

I hated group projects. Nothing caused me more anxiety in high school, or college or life in general, than the phrase “find a partner.” No. Let me work alone I understand the material by myself I don’t want to deal with anyone else.

I hated speaking in class. The only question I ever asked was, “may I go to the bathroom?” Thankfully I was rarely, if ever, called on in class. If a teacher had cold called me and asked what I thought about chapter whatever, I would have clammed up, mumbled, and shared a mishmash of hastily chosen terms.

I wanted to sit alone, and work alone. I wanted to listen to the teacher lecture about the Ming dynasty or polynomials, and if I had a question, I would flip back in the book and figure it out myself.

Those comments on my report card made me feel like something was wrong with me. Was I supposed to speak in class? What if I didn’t have anything to say? Did I need to participate in class in order to be successful? I was getting an A in the class without participating, so how would that help?

I don’t ever want my kids to feel like that. They and you and we and all of us are perfect exactly as we are. I don’t want to convince my kids they need go become extroverts to be successful. You are a valid human being just the way you are right now. Don’t change.

How can I help my kids believe that if I’m constantly shoving them in groups and making them tell me their deepest life stories on the first day of school?

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Abnormal

After talking to others and many of my TFA pals (yes look I am social be proud everyone), I’ve gathered that thus far I’ve had an atypical Teach for America experience.

Most CMs hate institute. It’s known as six weeks of sleepless misery, and in fact there are countless blog posts and articles written about how to survive institute. Just google “how to survive TFA institute” and you’d think I spent the summer living in the 9th circle of hell.

I loved institute. Loved my school loved my kids loved my collab loved the structure.

Most CMs teach a class of 5-10 students at institute, often in a different subject or grade level than what they’ll be teaching in their region. So then, once they leave institute, they have classes of 30+ kids and they struggle with behavior management. They also likely now teach 5-6 periods of the same class a day, so in total they’ve got around 150-180 names to learn and papers to grade.

I taught 25-ish students Coordinate Algebra over the summer. So I should be better prepared, yah? Same number of kids, same subject, same grade level.

HAHAH no. My school has four, 90 minute class periods. I teach three of the four. I teach three different classes: Algebra 1, Math 1, and Probability & Statistics. Every night I will prepare three lesson plans for the next day – three different homeworks, three different tests, etc. Most of my friends (yes I have friends) have 1-2 preps. Like they might teach six classes a day, but it’s all biology and so it’s one lesson plan. They have one prep. I have three. THREE.

Also, my classes range in size from 8 to 13 kiddos. That’s all. They’re nuggets and I love them already. I’m so excited to have small classes – it’s just the total opposite of what I was expecting. I get to meet the freshmen this week at orientation! EEK what goobers.

ALAS so if you need me I’ll be busy googling “how to survive TFA life.”

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Hi.

I have realized that my Facebook is filled with Buzzfeed articles, my Twitter holds all my sassy 2 a.m. thoughts, and my Instagram just documents any food I’ve eaten. While all of this is useful information, if you’re wondering what’s actually going on in my life, you can’t find that out unless you talk to me. And I know that if I have to text someone to ask how their life is going, there’s a 0% chance I’ll ever ask. And on top of that, I’m about to spend the next two years running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Meaning if you do send me a text or happen to have a rare sighting on me on gchat, I’ll likely just send you my token I-don’t-have-time-for-this response: “it’s stressful and exhausting but so rewarding!!”

So hi. Here’s what’s happening in my life. Writing helps me process it and think about what I am doing and it also allows me to update my mom without having to find time during daylight hours to call her (sorry mom).

You can scroll down and read about my institute/induction experience. I obviously recommend you start at the beginning but clearly I have no control over that.

Professional development (aka orientation/work) starts tomorrow. School starts on the 18th. I have a beautiful apartment and a shiny new car. I don’t have a bed but shh who’s counting.

P.S. These posts aren’t all as depressing as the one below this, I swear. This is just bad timing. Starting a new life is scary, y’know?

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DC to SC

It’s over.

I move to Florence, really officially this time, on Tuesday night. In 72 hours from this very moment I’ll be in new staff orientation with my school district.

This is terrifying.

In an attempt to soothe my mind and heart, I chose to spend the last week and a half hopping across the country to see many of my beloved friends from college. The ones I miss all. the. time.

I spent a few days in Louisiana, a day in Dallas, a night in Hartford, and now I’m sitting on the end of a weekend in DC. I’m crying on the couch.

It’s been wonderful, yes. It’s usually pretty great, until everyone is getting ready to leave, and then inevitable question pops up.

“So, when am I going to see you again?”

I don’t know. I don’t have any idea. It’s not tomorrow when I run into in the lobby of our apartment building, I can tell you that much. It won’t be next weekend, next month, and so if we’re being 800% honest here there’s a pretty good chance it will be at least next year.

I get a lot of, “I’ll come visit you I want to meet your students!” I smile and invite them to stay anytime. “I’m only an hour and a half from Myrtle Beach! We can drive to see the peachoid!” (I don’t mention that it’s three hours away). But I can see the truth. I live in the middle of nowhere. The closest airports are relatively small, making flights expensive. Everyone gets to be busy. It’s too close to Thanksgiving, too close to the holidays, too busy at work, too expensive, etc. I know. I’ll probably use the same excuses.

I came back to DC thinking everything would be exactly the same. I don’t have any idea why I thought this, but I did. Spoiler alert: it’s not. I’ve been gone for two months and I feel like this city is an alternate universe. No one lives in the same place anymore. My friends live in areas of DC I didn’t realize existed. I go out and run into a handful of people I know, unlike the times where I couldn’t walk 200 feet without running into a cloud of GW students I loved.

I thought I could just walk in and sit in the same chair in the same place in the same apartment with the same people and everything would be the same. You don’t realize how much everything changes. They don’t want to hear a story about your kids for the 1,000th time. They don’t want to listen to me whine about Willow Pape. I don’t want to discuss whether or not I’d read Monica Lewinsky’s biography. I have no opinion in the “Is Hillary a lesbian?” debate.

My friends, well, they’ve found new people to fill the holes I left behind. I’m gone. Why did I expect them to leave the hole I left empty until I walked into it twice a year? No. That was dumb of me. The world moves on and it changes and mine did too. I have new friends.

I just wanted to pretend for a while. I wanted to pretend like nothing has changed when in fact, everything has.

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Limbo

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.

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The Beginning

THE PAST: I recently had everything I know and love ripped from my arms. I am/was devastated. Some people call this experience “graduation.” I’m still in denial and refuse to refer to it at all.

THE PRESENT: I am sitting in a living room in Jacksonville, Florida trying to compose what Teach for America calls a “story of self.” They want 5-7 minutes about a challenging experience, and how I overcame it. I’m sure that my peers/future friends will have inspiring tales of how they overcame racism, sexism, cancer, death, poverty, etc. Real challenges. The ones you can talk about for 5-7 minutes, that will probably inspire a book or a movie or the founding of a non-profit.

I’m writing about when my ex-boyfriend broke up with me. I am a white, female, heterosexual. I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve been in private school since kindergarden. I’ve always been either on grade-level or above. I never found school to be hard. My health, and the health of all my immediate family members, has been stellar. The only thing I can possibly turn into a motivational story is that I grew up in a liberal, Jewish family in the heart of the conservative Christian south. But even then, it wasn’t that bad. I brought latkes to school and taught my friends how to play dreidel and that was that. I am so lucky that I have grown up in this manner.

THE FUTURE: I’m moving. I’m moving to a low-income community in South Carolina, where I know no one. If we’re being totally honest, I still don’t really know why I’m going. I just feel like I’ve been so absurdly #blessed that I need to give back. I need to pay back the universe for everything it has given me. I need to go inspire someone to love the Pythagorean theorem as much as I do, because they don’t have a math major for a father or a mother who taught them square roots in the bathtub in third grade. I need to get out there and do something with my hands because I’ve spent the last four years in an Ivory tower (tehe get it?) and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a consulting firm cubicle calculating how to make the rich richer. I want to make a difference. I need to make a difference.

I’m leaving for training in Florence, SC tomorrow. I am an emotional disaster due to that earlier thing I mentioned at the beginning (not the ex-boyfriend, I got over that). I think I’m currently on that part of the roller coaster that rapidly accelerates downward and it feels like you’re going to crash into the ground and burst in flames but you just have to trust that they hired a great engineer to design it and it will pick up once you get to the bottom and then you’ll be fine and have the time of your life.

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