A month ago today I was on my way down to the Rio Grande Valley from Houston, Texas following a rigorous and intensive crash course on how to teach students mathematics with passion, rigor, and vision. I came to Texas with a lot of veal and confidence in my ability to have an impact on the lives of students here in the valley. I was confident that I could handle the cultural differences and be able to adjust easily being 1350 miles away from home and anything familiar. I was anxious and determined to meet people and find a group of amazing people to call friends. I was committed to the cause that is TFA: “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” Then institute happened…anyone that is familiar with the way that I work, I am continuously doing something. I hate having free time and when I do have free time, I find something to fill it with. I work well under pressure and have an exact color coordinated system that keeps me on top of deadlines and completely organized. Institute challenged all of this. I came in cocky and arrogant, thinking that my training in college was enough to make me prepared to be a Teach For America teacher. I had student taught and done very well. I had multiple high caliber job offers that boosted my confidence in my mindset for education and my personal ability to teach.
Lesson Plans: This is the one aspect of institute that almost made me quit. I have never quit anything in my lifetime and have never honestly considered it an option…the first Wednesday of institute, not only was it an option, but it was quickly becoming a reality. I was drafting an email to Clarksville, Tennessee to ask if a previous job offer was still available to me, I was messaging my Cadre leader from the valley to provide me a reason not to quit, I was packing my bags. Thursday came and went, Friday came and went, the weekend came and went…all without much sleep and a bag packed by the door. We were working on our lesson plans for the first week of our class – I was teaching an Algebra II recovery class. In college we wrote a few detailed daily lesson plans, but mostly it was unit outlines and basic procedures to follow through the day, which we had weeks to prepare…in Houston, we had hours to prepare extremely detailed, scripted, goal oriented, rigorous, dissected lesson plans. During my student teaching, I didn’t have a single lesson plan with more than 200 words, the lesson plan template provided had nearly 200 questions we had to address in our lesson plan. Due to my success in student teaching and my lack of planning, I saw this exercise as a complete waste of my valuable time – when your averaging less than 4 hours of sleep a night, every minute is valuable. It was due to this, in addition to other tedious, what I saw as pointless, exercises in rigorous and thorough planning.
Somehow, by the grace of God – and some amazing friends I know He put in my life – I stuck around long enough to meet my kids…WOW! They were kids…not aliens, not wild creatures I couldn’t understand, not lifeless zombies incapable of doing work, they were just kids. And they were pretty amazing! I quickly began developing relationships with my kids and tried putting off planning and just winging it as much as I could in order to prove to my CMA (advisor) that I don’t need to spend all that time planning, I’m that good.
My two out of four weeks in the classroom I never completed an INM (Introduction to New Material). My students were taking their exit tickets (formative assessments) without any practice or preparation, and they were failing miserably. I realized quickly that I was not the best teacher at my institute placement school, in fact I was borderline the worst. My students were engaged and I was making relationships, but my students weren’t making any progress towards our goal of understanding the mathematics. It was at this point in time that I realized I needed to change my mindset and take all that I could out of the experience and best meet the needs of my students. I still struggled to appropriately plan and put enough time into preparing to teach my students, but I am learning to purposefully prepare and invest time into my students achievement.
After I changed my mindset, I began to work diligently to invest myself in my students learning by purposeful planning and I saw the results. Students were passing my exit tickets, they were participating in class – answering my scripted questions, I could see the light bulbs coming on and understanding and confidence developing. By the end of my summer school session, my students were two points away from meeting our goal of 80 percent mastery. I had no students fail the course and all left my classroom a better mathematics students and more knowledgeable of how mathematics impacts their lives, but more importantly how they impact their lives.
This experience has been incredibly humbling and has set me back to understand that being a teacher can be easy and you can be a “good’ teacher by just doing the minimal – I have the talent to show up to class and get things done, but I want to be a great teacher, I want to transform my students and alter their path. I want them to reverse the cycle their community has been stuck in for centuries. I am still struggling to purposefully plan and understand that there is a purpose behind all the assignments that Teach For America has me do…they have been there, and have rocked it! I should probably learn from them.
I have been in the valley one month and am excited to say that I am still working on developing the strategies and habits to ensure that I am prepared for my students success in my classroom. I am not a quitter, but I have learned that I am also not as hardworking as I have always thought I am…I am an easy and convenient work, but I am transforming myself into a hard, determined, and purposeful worker.