What Teach for America Taught Me (And Why You Should Apply)

Greetings college seniors, recent graduates working unpaid internships at non-profits, and idealistic career-changers! This is a friendly reminder that the 4th application deadline to join the 2013 Teach For America corps is January 11.  In light of that fast-approaching date, I want to address a few lessons I learned about jobs, working, and getting better at working at your job from my time in TFA.

There’s a lot about teaching itself that was terrible and painful. There were parts of it that were satisfying and uplifting. A lot of folks who did TFA would likely say something similar; a lot of them might say something different. But the organization trains and deploys several thousand idealistic people each year to try and untangle the Gordian knot of poverty, class, race, and politics that undergird educational inequality in the United States. It’s difficult to summarize what that’s like in a single story. What I will generalize about is this: teaching taught me a lot about education, but it simultaneously taught me a lot about how to approach complicated problems, including the problem of having a job that was very, very hard to do well. Here are a few lessons I’ll share:

Sometimes in life, you are miserably, soul-crushingly bad at something. Own it.

I was desperate to get out of school at 4:30 p.m. one cold, dark Friday in February during my first year teaching. My principal had asked me to check in with her before I left for the day, so I collapsed into a chair outside her office to wait while she finished another meeting. The clock ticked by. Other staffers with more pressing matters came and went. Finally the door opened and my co-teacher and I entered. It was 6:30 p.m.; I’d been at school since 7:30 a.m.; and I wanted nothing more than to make it home and forget the disastrous lessons, the screaming middle schoolers, and the late nights that had consumed the week.

“The children in your class are not getting what they need,” my principal began, and proceeded to tear apart every element of my teaching from how I incentivized silent reading time to the worksheets I spent hours writing from scratch every night. Moreover, she said, “I’ve talked with your students and they don’t respect you.” The takedown lasted 30 minutes, and when I got into my car, all I could do was scream and sob, because she was right. I was trying really hard to teach my students well, but I was doing a really bad job of it. 

The first thing I had to accept was that even though I thought I had the methods for doing things right in my class, what I was doing wasn’t working. I was banging my head against techniques that weren’t right for my students because I didn’t know what else to do. Despite the unpleasantness of having a boss keep you late on a Friday evening to tell you that you’re terrible at your job, I had to accept that at that moment, I was terrible at my job.

Fast-forward to the beginning of the next school year. The same principal rolls into an afternoon class with the district superintendent to show him how I’m using the iPads she’s provided to me. She appoints me to the school leadership committee. She brings visitors to observe lessons in my classroom.

I got better as a teacher. (I was not great, but acceptable.) But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without first accepting just how bad I was. That ability to reflect on my own shortcomings is an invaluable professional and personal asset. It requires the humility to ask for help, and the willingness to abandon methods that I thought would work, but don’t. Because no matter how hard I may be working at something, I can accept the fact that I may be doing a terrible job at it, and need to start over.

To get better at something, you have to measure.

One of the suggestions in the TFA application materials was to include measurable results on your resume. How much did you increase sales? How many more email subscribers did you sign up? How many doors did you knock on? This is a decent suggestion for crafting a resume for any job application, but the larger point in the education context is that you have to be able to make decisions based on evidence. One of the most powerful forms of evidence with which to make decisions is data. You know, numbers and so forth.

On a certain level, this could seem like a stupid lesson. The business made more money during April than it did during March? Great. You’re doing it right. Your boss can make a data-driven decision to not fire your ass in May.

The more important skill is to measure the right variables in a situation, interpret the data, and then recognize correlations. Good teachers atomize their teaching so they can do this measuring on a daily basis. Let’s say I teach a lesson on adding fractions using counting blocks. At the end of the lesson, I’ll ask a short question similar to one students practiced on during the lesson. After class, I’ll count up the answers and see if most of the students got it, if only some of them got it, or if no one really understood. If most of the class could do the problem on their own, the likely connection is that the way I taught it worked. I can move on to the next lesson. If a lot of students didn’t get it, I need to re-teach the lesson, and I need to teach it in a different way. Gathering data like this on a regular basis lets a teacher know if what he or she is doing in class is working.

Teach a lesson day after day without measuring the results of what you did that day, and you’re likely to have bored students who are ready to move ahead and frustrated students who haven’t understood the past month of what you’ve taught. Bored and frustrated middle schoolers tend to throw things. The point being that if you really want to get better at something, measure what you’re doing at regular intervals, and change course. Measure again and adjust course again after that. Repeat until you’re ready to retire.

Innovating or experimenting  means failing over and over and over.

Even when you’re ready to admit that you don’t know how to do something well, and even when you’re ready to count, measure, and correlate your way to getting better, there’s a special mindset necessary for sussing out exactly how to fix a problem. Call it tinkering; call it experimenting; call it innovating. It means trying different approaches over and over, even if you never find the right one.

I taught 7th-grade English for two years to students with wildly different needs. Some arrived in my class reading on or above grade level. On average, they were a two and a half years behind; some were four years behind. Much of my teaching experience was about trying to motivate, convince, and cajole students into buying the idea that paying attention to basic directions about how to think, read, and write was better than chattering away to the person sitting next to you.

But what’s ultimately more important for middle-schoolers is reading at home, on their own. Here the correlation is strong and stark. Of the 8th-grade students who scored in the top one-quarter on a national reading test 2011, 36 percent read for fun almost every day. Of the students who scored in the bottom one-quarter on the same test, a mere 8 percent read for fun almost every day. To succeed as an English teacher, I had to get my students reading outside of class.

One basic tool for holding students accountable for reading outside of class is a “reading log.” This is essentially a paper where a student tracks what he or she read, for how long, and how many pages. I made dozens of different reading logs over the course of two years. Some were multiple pages long with stars and pictures of books, and gave students ample room to write responses to what they read. Some had lots of instructions at the top for how long to read and how to write about the books. When I wasn’t getting enough writing back from students, I squished blank lines together and made the spaces smaller. With less room to write, some students wrote more.

Later, I created an web form for students to type in their reading logs online. Students gamed it by saying that they were sure they had submitted it the night before. I changed the form to time-stamp when they hit submit. I took down the form when students gamed the system again by typing the same responses day after day (some did the same on paper). Even with the form deleted from the Internet, students still came in saying they had used it the night before.

I collected young adult books for my students to read and built a sizable classroom library. I made Amazon wish lists and asked friends to buy a few titles. Family members sent me books in the mail, scoured sales at public libraries, brought me bags full to take into school. I interviewed students on the kinds of TV shows they liked, the sports they played, if they liked scary stories or funny stories—all so I could make recommendations on what book to borrow next and read at home.

Whenever I spoke with a parent, I talked about reading at home. I told them it was just as important as working in class. I made suggestions for The Hunger GamesDiary of a Wimpy KidTwilight. It didn’t matter, I said, just read a book!

I pirated ebooks and posted them online so that students with iPads and smartphones could download and read them at home. Eventually, I just gave print books away.

And after two years trying everything I could to get kids to read more at home, the reading logs showed that my students were doing less than 20 percent of the reading I wanted them to do. If I was still in the classroom, I’d have spent every week since August tinkering with different ways to get my students reading. It’s unlikely I would stumble upon an explosive, eureka-inducing solution. I’d just keeping tinkering away, trying to invent a new combination of conditions that will get 7th-graders to read their way into that top quartile.

I left the classroom after my two-year commitment, and while I now work for an education nonprofit, my job is in a low-income middle school very similar to the one where I taught, and my days are spent supporting teachers and students. The project I work on is new, so I am simultaneously the best and worst employee to ever have my current job. I tinker and measure and tinker and measure. I accept that some days, I’m terrible at what I’m doing. I’ll get better at it, and I’ll use the same lessons to get better at whatever I do next. Now go finish your application.

 

See also: “Teach for America Burned Me Out”

Andrew Plemmons Pratt is a 2010 Teach For America alum. He lives and works in Washington, DC, writes about education and technology at appratt.com &@appratt, and reads for fun almost every day.

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34 Comments / Post A Comment

Vicky (#2,266)

I would love to hear from someone who did TFA and didn’t leave after two years.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Vicky Do those people exist? Serious question.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

@aetataureate My boyfriend’s sister did TFA and still teaches at that grade level in a charter school (though she moved to be in the city where she grew up). She did take like a year off traveling after TFA, so not sure if she reeeally counts.

bellajay (#2,896)

@Vicky I did a program that is very similar to TFA (alternate route to certification, two-year teaching commitment in a high-poverty school, eight-week summer training before your first year and weekend training during the school year) and I worked with several TFA teachers. I stayed a third year at my school (a public high school in Jackson, MS) and I’m now teaching at another traditional public school with identical demographics in a different city (DC). And I think this article is spot-on in terms of the way the author describes his experience, as well as what he took away from it in terms of job lessons.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@Vicky I only know one TFA alum who is still teaching- but after his two year commitment was up, he left the public middle school where he had been teaching and got a job at a private all-male secondary school. He’s teaching the same subjects and the same grades, but now he’s got a classroom full of well-behaved boys who apparently make the job much easier.

Everyone else I know who did TFA is not even teaching anymore. Some of them are in education. But they aren’t teaching.

@Vicky It’s certainly the case that a lot of folks do leave teaching after their two years. The most current data I know of indicate that about 52 percent remain in teaching (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2047211,00.html). Some stay at their placement school, others move to different schools so they can work in different cities, neighborhoods, or professional communities. And I would wager that many of those who are still teaching would point to similar lessons about the necessity of measuring to improve performance and the power of rapid iteration to test many solutions to hard problems. One of the reasons I wanted to write about job lessons is that I think some of these ideas are applicable in the classroom, elsewhere in education, and in many other lines of work.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

“Sometimes in life, you are miserably, soul-crushingly bad at something. Own it.”

Um, but what about the kids who end up wasting a (usually very important) year with a shitty teacher?

I feel that this piece is indicative of a deeper problem with the TFA system – it’s very focused on the experience of the teachers (You’ll learn so much about yourself! It will change your life!), often to the detriment of the students.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@ciphressinchief Agreed 100%. Teaching is REALLY HARD and no one is very good the first year (or few) that they teach. So I don’t get HOW TFA could possibly be there for the benefit of the students (as opposed to the benefit of the privileged college graduates who participate). This piece gave me a headache.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@Hey Ash I have never done TFA – but did a volunteer program in another country after undergrad – which shares some of the similarities in terms of the “personal change” and the recognition of the impossibility of changing a community, or school, etc. I told my organization my job was useless, they should stop putting volunteers there, and that I was doing it to the best of my ability, but that was really not that well. To do it well, one needed to be involved in the community in the way a 1 year volunteer-ship is not. There is still a bright-eyed recent grad doing it. So annoying. Do programs like this do anything other than make (mostly) white (mostly) middle-class (mostly) female (mostly, although in my experience 100%) cis-gendered people feel good about themselves?

bellajay (#2,896)

@Hey Ash I’ve been teaching for five years, and I’m with you both that teaching is incredibly hard and first-year teachers are pretty much awful. However, in a lot of districts where TFA places, they aren’t taking the place of a seasoned, competent veteran–they’re teaching a class that would otherwise be taught by a long-term sub or someone who cannot pass the Praxis (which you really should be able to pass in order to teach a high school subject–I can’t speak to lower grades). I’m not a TFA alum, and I definitely have issues with TFA, but I have worked with TFA teachers who were truly excellent, and often the most competent teachers in their school (even with only one or two years of experience). But, let’s be honest, most people graduating from education programs are not interested in teaching in high-poverty settings.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@Hey Ash I am a teacher. I didn’t do TFA, but I was pretty bad and it was really hard my first year. This was a universally expressed sentiment. Other teachers, who had masters degrees when they started teaching, told me terrifying stories about their first years, too. It’s really a job you learn by doing. Unfortunately, someone has to be the first class.

The way in which I think TFA *might* be good for schools, is that it is an affordable way to become a teacher and attracts successful, hard working students. In my state, licensure generally means a masters, which is a professional degree and costs a ton of money. It didn’t seem worth it to make 32k a year (I am not licensed – I teach at a private school). We do need affordable ways for people to enter education.

If TFA students STAY in teaching (a big, apparently rare “if”), the types of people who end up staying might be hugely valuable teachers. The pay scale in teaching does not often attract the top percentile of college students.

That said though, I am not a big fan of their program.

katieeitak (#1,964)

@ciphressinchief Yeah, it is definitely a bummer for kids to spend a year with a teacher who is not excellent at his job, but that is hardly a phenomenon unique to TFA teachers. I had so many awful teachers throughout my education, many of whom had decades of experience.

There has been tons of research on this and it’s hard to get anything completely conclusive, but in general TFA teachers have proven to be at least as good if not better as veteran teachers in the schools in which they work, measured both by standardized testing of the students and supervisor evaluations. The reason for this is that TFA has a far more rigorous selection process than some random teaching college and also corps members are provided with intensive professional development throughout their two years.

Also, problems with education in this country are bigger than what happens in a single classroom and most corps members use the personal/professional development they gain from the experience to go on and work in education in some capacity (like the author of this piece) so it’s not an entirely selfish endeavor and students do actually benefit from it, though maybe in a more abstract manner.

@ciphressinchief I’m all for testing our unseasoned teachers in richer school districts, but I fear that proposal would meet the same fate as the suggestion of busing white kids to black schools (riots, whining, surprise outbursts of racism from otherwise respectable middle-class liberals, etc.)

WhyHelloThere (#1,398)

@MissMushkila

The way in which I think TFA *might* be good for schools, is that it is an affordable way to become a teacher and attracts successful, hard working students.

I think that would make sense if TFA were conceived of as an alternative licensing program for people who were going to pursue a career in teaching. That’s not what it is, though. TFA assumes that its participants are much too smart and good for a career in teaching. Instead, they’ll teach for two years and then move on into more worthy careers in things like education policy. Then they can use their two years teaching in disadvantaged schools to give them credibility when they make recommendations for education reform. But they’re not actually going to spend their careers teaching. That’s for little people.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@WhyHelloThere Well said! TFA is a last resort for a lot of people and that’s too bad for the kids they end up teaching. It would be a lot more legit if TFA was in ALL schools, not just the bad ones.

deepomega (#22)

“If I was still in the classroom, I’d have…” mhmm. I’m sure.

@deepomega why so way harsh tai?

deepomega (#22)

@Logan Sachon I mean, I’m sure Andrew is great, because I know many people who have done TFA and had very similar experiences and they are great! He learned a lot, no doubt, both about himself and about teaching! But it is intensely fucked up to make teaching about what the teacher gets out of it. Not, like, in a pay-and-benefits way, but in a “why in the hell are we letting people who don’t know how to teach do this” way. Not Andrew’s fault, but still an enormous problem.

katieeitak (#1,964)

@deepomega Lots of people coming out of teaching colleges have no idea how to teach. Lots of people who have been teaching for 20 years don’t know how to teach. I went to public schools and had so many horrible teachers I never understand why people think this is unique to TFA. This dude was trying to be better, got better, and is still using the lessons he learned to help make the US education system better. What a douche!

deepomega (#22)

@katieeitak The difference is that people coming out of teaching colleges might actually stick around long enough to let the things they learned be used to teach kids. And, yeah, shitty long-duration teachers are a problem too! (Talk to me about teachers unions.) ((Don’t do that, actually.)) But, do you think the kids in his class benefitted as much as he did?

bellajay (#2,896)

@deepomega I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I agree that we as a society need to have a conversation about why we structure our school systems so that the kids who need the best teachers often end up with the least-experienced, most-overworked teachers in the country. But speaking as a teacher, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that some of the reasons I enjoy teaching are not necessarily about children. I like interacting with people daily, I like having freedom to plan my lessons and projects, I like that every day is different, I like that I feel challenged all the time. Of course I’m doing it for the kids–but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that I’m doing it for me, too.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@deepomega I don’t know, a teacher who collects and gives books away, talks to your parents to encourage literacy in the home, worries about and strives to improve performance, etc. sounds like he’s probably making a good impression and impact.

deepomega (#22)

@bellajay That’s totally fair! I guess I meant more that this is ONLY about the teacher – the only benefits to the kids that are mentioned are those hypothetical “future changes” I mentioned above, and I guess the implied fantasticness of the non-profit work he’s doing. His interaction with parents/kids is good, but then again he admits that the data showed it not working and that the principal wasn’t super impressed. So the benefits mostly went to him, not them. That’s my problem.

@deepomega Valid point–this is mostly about about me. I wanted to write about a few of the many, many things I learned about in TFA–namely, how a challenging job distilled a handful of skills that I’ll keep plying as I work in education. I also learned an immense amount about the real challenges of teacher training and retention, literacy instruction, the relationship between endemic poverty and educational access, the barriers to innovation in education, etc. Those just seemed like they deserved separate posts, rather than getting shoe-horned in with what is admittedly a more personal narrative.

@deepomega Yo I hear your criticism but, maybe not you specifically, but most of the people who say these kinds of things are not the ones who think teachers should be highly paid professionals. So we are supposed to get super-motivated, super-well-trained people with graduate degrees to do a super-difficult and draining job, really well, for $35,000 a year AND no job security? How does that happen exactly?

Also, sad to say but most education research shows that teacher quality explains only about 30% of the variation in student outcomes, at most. Having someone who is at least trying is probably better than the alternative (either nothing, or someone who doesn’t give a shit) so we can say that TFA, while not perfect, is at least Pareto-improving.

mlle.gateau (#417)

@deepomega I’ll throw this out there. In my own experience teaching, students learn a lot more from teachers than just the subjects they teach, including attitude. When I started teaching (with no background- I was a long term sub for two years), I thought that the least I could do was bring energy and enthusiasm to my work to show my students how passionate I was about learning, so that maybe they would get a little of that for themselves. I wasn’t the world’s greatest teacher, but caring and working at it count for a lot. Life is hard for first year teachers, and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be in a TFA environment. I think that sort of unrelenting willingness to work at improvement is an important thing to bring to students, and I say that very sincerely.

Beyond that, I don’t think it’s possible to learn how to teach in any other way than going into the classroom and trying it. A lot of teachers even outside of TFA leave after 1-3 years of teaching for all sorts of reasons, but most agree that their education courses weren’t really helpful in terms of practical experience.

Do I think the students benefited from Andrew as much as he benefited from his experience? I don’t know. Classroom chemistry is tricky. I had students and classes that did better with me than they did with their original teacher, and I had classes and students who would have picked their original teacher over me every time. It’s thirty relationships, plus the group dynamic. So it’s hard to say, because there are a ton of variables at play.

I’d also say that I don’t think it’s “intensely fucked up” to talk about what the teacher got from teaching. This is a short conversational piece about the author’s experience, not a detailed essay addressing his comprehensive role as a teacher. Also, I don’t think feeling like a failure motivated the author, I get the sense that feeling like he was failing his students was what drove him to work harder and try new things, which would mean that the students were at the center of this. They motivated him to find new ways to teach and new ways to think about classroom management. So, from where I’m sitting, while this is a discussion about the author’s experience, that experience centers around what he did (and did not do) for his students.

Blondsak (#2,299)

I’m happy for Andrew and glad TFA taught him these lessons, but just want to say to everyone: once you’re done reading this, make certain you go read Adi Elbaz’s TFA essay (“Teach for America Burned Me Out”) that is linked at the bottom of this one. It’s truly a must-read for anyone considering applying to the program.

@LO Hi LO—In large part, I wrote this in response to the essay you mention, “Teach for America Burned Me Out.” I think that story is a perfectly valid response to what sounded like a very hard teaching placement, but I was disappointed by its conclusion that TFA was, for Adi, nothing but a negative experience. As I said, there are as many stories of TFA as there are folks who have done the program. And many had a challenging experience that left them resolved to keep working on problems like educational equality, poverty, and college access. I attended the organization’s 20th anniversary summit in February 2011, and there were 11,000 people there—at that time nearly half of the entire alumni population.

As for this post being all about my experience, and not necessarily about the kids or the impact I had on their education, fair enough. I focused on my experience because I wanted to write narrowly about how teaching in a challenging school shaped my outlook on certain job skills I think are important.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@AndrewPlemmonsPratt@twitter Hey, I liked yours too! I wasn’t being snarky when I said I was glad for you! I just really enjoyed the dual perspectives and wanted those who didn’t read Adi’s to read hers too, s’all. As for your essay being a lot about you, well, it’s your essay, I say you’re free to discuss whatever aspects you want to. It seems obvious to me that you tried really hard for the kids too, not just for yourself.

@LO Roger that! And thanks.

PreachTeach (#2,907)

I have to admit, when I read deepomega’s snark, I totally concurred. It seemed on point.

But upon reflection resultant from reading the comments, I have changed my opinion. Education is one of my baseline passions.

I am someone who absolutely hated school (all aspects of it) who wet-dreams about innovative teaching methods that make learning fun. I read an excellent brief history of modern education, which shows where we are coming from (and how we got here).

One thing that absolutely astounded me as a young adult once I gtfo of school was some perspective on just how BORING school made subjects that were actually interesting. A brief stint as a returning student to a subject which is the most fun-assed subject in the world was likewise taught with all the vim and vigor of the whiskey-dick of a life-long drunk on the skids.

And it wasn’t really “the teachers’” fault, as humans we adapt to the (pre-existing) conditions in which we find ourselves. We adopt to the law of the land, we’re not as a species cut out to be trail-blazers so much as conformers. So we’d better make sure that the systems/relationships/etc. in which we find ourselves automatically and unthinkingly adapting to are fundamentally sound.

This requires a certain amount of trailblazing — also endemic to our species.

Learning is muthafuckin’ fun. The shit is fun, in fact, it’s the shit.

So why was I bored out of my ever-lovin’ skull (even as an adult, in the most fun subject I could be studying?) Because supa fun education is not the norm yet, it’s elite and expensive, yo. And still it’s the exception (plenty of shitty expensive “elite” schools out there, too.)

However, it’s cusping (potentially, and (almost) almost certainly).

So, upon review, I am going to change my first response and “like” this article. Big-ups on promoting what you can get out of teaching and making it seem (well, not fuckin’ fun, pretty miserably hard it sounds) but rewarding personally. Enticing. For making it seem like a cool thing to do. For you.

Enlightened self-interest has to be a base-line, because nothing else is actually sustainable. I know I’m no fucking saint. And I know most of us aren’t. But I am pretty self-interested and to connect that to a healthy whole and community is a good thing.

So Andrew, you are doing a good thing here. Not just encouraging people to be self-interested cunts (yep, I was kind of leaning towards that on a first read), but to be self-interested people who give teaching a go, because the net-value of that actually is likely to be high for all of us, as a society. Not just you (whoever you are) on your career path.

Teaching — teaches you things.

And learning…….. should be waaaaaaaaaaay more fun and interesting. OMG when I got dropped from the gifted programs into regular class because of cutting too much. Jesus, people. We can do way better institutionally to make the shit fun/engaging/interesting/exciting.

I actually love learning on line, sometimes from like 13 year olds (but always from people who are sharing knowlege for the fun of it to be helpful). They’re like…. yeah, and this is cool, and this is cool, and then you can do that!

Learning is fun. Duh.

PreachTeach (#2,907)

Oh, and since this is the billfold, that continued education stint was FAR from cheap, I am still paying for it. And what I learned is that if you can make a subject that exciting that dull, there is something terribly terribly wrong with the way that we have learned to deliver information.

Combine that with a certain minimal savvy on the subject I took (which translated well to other subjects which I continued learning on my own), and the fact that I only completed half the program, and budgeted it to include tax breaks, it was overall worth it.

But really in not-insignificant-part because it was an eye opener to just how bad so-called formal education actually really is. That was was the real education I consider myself to have gotten.

Mary Vause (#3,033)

Hi Andrew, hopefully you’re still reading the comments on this, I know I’m late but I just came across your article the other day and loved it so much I had to come back and leave a post. I have been teaching for 4 years and I am constantly amazed by the similarities in teachers’ first year experience. The first year sucks across the board! Granted I am not in exactly the same kind of “combat zone” classroom situation that it sounds like you were in, but I am at an urban Title I elementary school with a pretty challenging population and a lot of the difficulties you describe resonate with me. That first year is a struggle, whether you’ve been through a formal teaching program or not. And then, magically, the second year gets better. I was surprised at the negativity in some of the comments because you’re not responsible for the shortfalls of Teach for America. Granted, I do think they should provide in-depth student teaching experiences before sending participants out into the field (student teaching was by far the most challenging and useful part of my teacher education program, and what I fell back on whenever I felt overwhelmed that first year), and I think TFA should make more of an effort to find participants who are interested in teaching long-term. But nonetheless it’s a very valuable program that locates highly motivated and dedicated individuals and connects them with children in desperate need of some motivated and dedicated adults in their lives. I think you sell yourself short about not having a positive impact your first year. Maybe your classroom management wasn’t developed yet (whose is that very first year?), but I’m sure you made an impact on at least some of those kids by encouraging a love of reading and by diligently pouring blood, sweat, and tears into your work with them. Kids notice when the adults around them care, even if they don’t know how to show it. My classroom management has come a loooong way since my first year, but I still have lots of room to grow. Which, as you discussed in your article is really what teaching should be about: constant growth, constant reassessment, and being open to new things when what you’re doing isn’t working (which inevitably it sometimes won’t). I think dichotomizing teachers as “good” or “bad” hurts the education system because really it should be about the varied gifts that different teachers bring to the table, and about accepting that some lessons that you try are going to suck but it’s okay as long as you learn from it and make the next lesson better. And then in all that experimenting inevitably something awesome pops up now and then and you hit a home run with your kids and can almost see the light bulbs lighting up above their heads, and you incorporate that innovation into your teaching from then on, and you have an awesome day that makes all the tough stuff worth it. ANYWAY in closing, I just wanted to say that even as a first-grade teacher I am with you 100% on the reading logs and trying to figure out ways to get my lil monsters excited about reading and reading every night at home. And even in first grade they try to be slick like your students were and turn in the same sentences week after week on their reading log haha. And I was up late many a night that first year as well creating worksheets from scratch :) I’m glad you are still involved in the education field. Children (and teachers) need inspiring and dedicated advocates in their lives.

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