Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 27 2012

what I didn’t know.

I’ve been wondering for a while if I should unleash here on this ole blog. I worried about the consequences of my carelessness and fretted about the fact that my bosses, my peers and any other curious onlooker could read this and judge it in any way they wanted. But after today, I think it’s necessary.

I believe in my kids. But I do not believe in my school.
My school is in serious trouble. Morale is low. Test scores are lower. And I hate myself for even bringing this up, because Oklahoma state testing is shamefully easy and I do not believe in the NCLB-spurred frenzy of multiple choice mania, narrowed thinking, teaching to the test and then being humiliated when scores have barely budged or, in some cases, lowered (which proves that the test is a good indicator of learning, right? HELL NO. OPEN YOUR EYES, BUSH.) Accountability is nonexistent. To this point, it is actually someone’s job to run classwork between the classrooms and the kids who have been sent to ISC for tardiness or bad behavior (which, I should mention, must be BAD in order to warrant ISC). A woman shows up at my door and asks for work so that she may run it to the kids in ISC so that they may complete it so that she may return it to me so that I may grade it and their grade will go up and everything will be great and perfect. What message is this sending to our kids????? That throwing chairs and beating the shit out of each other is fine, because some adult will take care of it and my grade won’t go down because Ms. Y HAS to give me work because if she doesn’t then I get to complain to the administrators and my mom and she’ll be in trouble for failing to help me with my grade. I’m tired of excuses, I’m sick of being a crutch for them. There is no concept, in any corner of the building, that decisions have consequences. And nothing saps motivation like realizing with a sinking feeling that no matter what academic standards are covered, growth as a human being with character and values and responsibility is not being acknowledged.

It breaks my heart. There are 47 days left of school. Today I told them that I didn’t want them to go to tenth grade, that I would miss them, that I felt like a mama hen watching her chicks fly. But really I am terrified for them.Tenth grade isn’t tracked, so they’ll be in non-remedial classes. The pace won’t be slowed for them. I’m so scared. What have I done for them?

I feel like I am a toothpick in a cupcake holding the plastic wrap up. I’m faltering. I wonder sometimes if my school would be better shut down. If we bussed the kids to different schools. Or if we kept them and had the state take over.
We are getting plenty of publicity–and it’s good. The superintendent wrote an article pleading that the state does not take over our district schools, mentioning that 29 seniors from my school are currently taking college classes. That should be enough, right? That 29 OUT OF THE 750 KIDS IN MY SCHOOL ARE TAKING A COLLEGE COURSE SO EVERYTHING IS FINE, JUST FINE I SWEAR!?. You have got to be kidding me. I am part of a ruse. I feel used. I feel like I exist, sometimes, just to fill a gap in teaching that raises test scores slightly so that the state has no reason to take over. That if maybe ten to twelve teachers weren’t at my school, it would go to shit just long enough for a cry for help to be heard.
Our kids are struggling. I wonder how they can be saved. I wonder if it has anything to do with me. I wonder if they are learning because of me or in spite of me. I wonder where the answer lies–in education policy, in charter schools, in social services, in government, in common standards, in education colleges across the country, in decentralization…in our kids?

Forgive the pessimistic, floundering post. A year ago today, I started drinking at 8 am as part of a longstanding college tradition involving a parade, a finished thesis, and a tootsie roll. I didn’t know just how bureaucracy can destroy a child. I didn’t know how many cries of help I would need to field before I felt able to answer them. I didn’t know the intricacies of a system that single-handedly and methodically fucks every one of our neediest kids. I didn’t know–and I was lucky.

3 Responses

  1. Wess

    Naw, you’re lucky now. Now, when you find hope and let yourself (force yourself to) believe in it, you’ll have found hope in what sounds like the bleakest of situations you’ve faced.
    That feeling is much cooler than it sounds (even though it’s still way more fleeting than you’d like it to be).

  2. well done.

    by that i mean well written… not a sarcastic comment on the present state of your school. clearly.

  3. Kayla

    This post is the most accurate description of what I experienced as a corps member that I have ever read. I often feel that instead of empowering me as an agent for change, my experience in the corps caused me to lose hope about solving educational inequity. It was a lot easier to “fix” the problems when they were just statistics in a textbook and not the realities of my 14-year-old students who were already destroyed by an overrun bureaucratic machine. I could “focus on my locus” (and however many other overly-optimistic TFA platitudes are roaming around out there) all day long and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference when there was no support at an administrative or district level. As much as I hate to say it, and as much as I tell myself that ignorance really ISN’T bliss, I often wish now that I had never joined TFA so that I could still be the hopeful, idealistic person I once was.

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