Blue Suede Shoes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 17 2011

The New Start…

It’s a new [school] year, and I am hopeful. I am looking forward, but also giving great consideration to the past year and all my flaws and failures, both personal and professional. Was I the best teacher I could’ve been last year? I don’t think so. Was I the best friend? Probably not. The best daughter? Seriously doubtful.

I was stressed out, especially first semester, and burned out. I didn’t take care of myself very well, physically, mentally, or spiritually, but if I was good at one thing, it was being able to hide that. A fellow TFA-er at my school was surprised the other day when I put my head down during our lunch break, commenting that I usually show “no weakness.” But here’s what it was like last year: I wore myself out, didn’t take a single day off, then got sick over breaks when my body finally felt like it was allowed to. I stayed up late, woke up early, and slept in till noon (or later) on weekends to catch up. There were Saturdays I spent nearly the whole day in bed. I ate granola bars, if that, for lunch, maintaining a one-effective-meal-a-day diet most days of most weeks. I skipped band and church, the things that made me happy because I thought I didn’t have enough time to go. (But really, it would be wrong to say I skipped church, because that would imply I still went at all after school started.) I should make it clear that none of that was TFA’s fault. I was completely new to teaching, and had I not had the support of TFA, I likely would have been a lot worse off. (I suppose you could say that had I not joined TFA, I wouldn’t have been in a first-year-teacher situation either…)

The year is already getting off to a better start. My students are better behaved (whether that’s second-year aura, as David put it, or merely that they are more mature than last year’s bunch is open for debate, but either way, I’m not complaining), and that is one huge boon. I feel so much happier going to work. I need to plan ahead more so that I do get to sleep more than I currently am, but more than I ever was last year, I am excited.

It is – and always has been – the students who motivate me to get out of bed every single day. And some days, it isn’t even the students I teach. It is the tiny girl in my freshman homeroom who is unfailingly polite and gave me a hug the second day of school; it is the sophomore teaching himself Mandarin through Google and C-pop YouTube videos who wrote me a letter in Chinese; it is the senior on the swim team who didn’t even hesitate to offer to translate for a recently-arrived student from Vietnam before his math class tomorrow. It is the freshman boys who sheepishly tuck in their shirts when we stop them in the hallway; the juniors who asked for help on writing business letters and who walked over to me in the parking lot just to chat; all the children who smile back when I say “Good morning.”

I find myself being a more positive presence in the classroom because there is so much positivity in my hallway and school overall, among both students and staff. I’ve been thinking about the Lao-Tzu quote, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” I have let go of the teacher I was, the one who wasn’t necessarily operating from a place of love, and I think I am slowly becoming a teacher I would want to have. Though the old me reared her ugly head today last period, I know every day is a new day, and that it is not too late to get my students back on my side. Twice the number of students this year means twice as many assignments to grade, but it’s twice the opportunity to impact students’ lives, too.

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