Dear Mr. Rubenstein,
Hi. You don’t know me, but you can probably guess a lot about how the way my first year of teaching went when I tell you I am a 2007 Bay Area corps member. As I’m sure you are painfully aware, I didn’t receive any of the “reality checks” that you are clearly so adept at giving to new corps members. Now that I have been exposed to them, I really wish that I had been given these tools earlier. As in, a year ago.
Now, here’s my quandary. According to TFA, my first year was just fine because my students met their Big Goals (I teach 2nd grade). But when I think about what happened in my classroom on a minute to minute basis, I know I have a long way to go before I’m a truly effective teacher. At least, effective to the level that I want to be. By the end of the year, most of them would be quiet long enough to do their work at least, but it took 7 of the 9 months I had with them to get there. Their behavior on the playground was atrocious. (I try to tell myself that that was due, at least in part, to the culture of my school and not just my classroom.) I’d say that basically the reason they met their goals is because I forced them to. And some of them really hated it.
But, given that I am a Teach for America corps member, one of my strongest points is reflection. So, I’ve spent the first 2 weeks of summer mulling over all of this in my head. That’s when I discovered your blog and your workshop videos. Suddenly, everything makes sense to me. When I think about days (or even just lessons) that went well, I realize that they went well because my students were behaving. Why were they behaving? Because I was teaching. Like a real teacher. I wasn’t standing there telling them how awesome they were and how I knew they could do it, looking into their highly skeptical eyes. I was showing them that through their own accord they could do it, and that’s when the turnaround really happened in my classroom. When my focus students passed one (that’s all it took!) quiz, they were suddenly hungry for more and their success helped the entire class make quantum leaps. I didn’t make that connection until now.
So why has nobody bothered to tell me this before? Why did I walk into my classroom on the first day of school feeling like all I had to do was challenge my students to meet some (rather arbitrary) Big Goals, and they would be fine? The short answer is because that’s what TFA taught me. Your point on your blog is right. Everybody at institute had awesome experiences as corps members and that’s what they want you to do, too. But it’s not as balanced as it needs to be. I hope that TFA will do some of that reflection that it’s so famous for and even out the scales.
But even if they don’t, I have to say thank you, Mr. Rubenstein. After spending an hour watching your workshop, I now feel a great urge to re-do my entire (yes, all of it) classroom management system. I’ll spend some time thinking about what I want my teacher persona to look like (since right now it’s pretty schizophrenic.) And on that first day of school, I’m going to do something totally crazy: teach them something.
So thank you for starting your TFA blog. I look forward to reading your posts in the future.
Bay Area 2007