Here are excerpts from the writings of Emily Farley '08, Meaghan Petersack '08, Kit Tollerson '08, and Sarah Zaslow '08.
By Emily Farley ’08
(Editor’s note: To protect the identity of students, initials have been used instead of their names.)
School starts at 8 a.m. When the bell rings at 7:55, however, there isn’t a student to be seen in our hallway. Cohen’s vice principal makes her daily announcement: “Teachers, class has begun. Please step into the hallway to welcome your students to class.” Dutifully, I stand by my door. F. wanders in, hoping to take advantage of the early-morning lull to fit in some free time on the computer. Still, I wait by the door. The flood of students starts slowly, with crowds of black- and green-poloed high schoolers wandering the stark hallways in groups. Their mission? To avoid entering a classroom until the very last minute.
I take attendance at 8:15. By 8:15, there are a handful of rowdy boys in my classroom, talking about the latest school drama and paying careful attention to the activity in the hallway. I remind them that their job is to come in, sit down, and start the “Power Up,” our daily warm-up exercises for which they receive a grade. “But the hallway be poppin’, Ms. Farley! I’m about to, OK? All right, all right!” I submit attendance, with more than half of my first period class marked absent. By the end of the period, the majority of them will be in class, having been chased into the room by administrators and security guards patrolling the hallways.
My daily fight to get first period settled and on task is one of the biggest hurdles of the day. My struggle is complicated by the other miscellaneous tasks of first period – homeroom paperwork, the morning announcements, and the daily “Word of the Day,” not to mention the assorted surveys and studies that researchers ask teachers to carry out in homeroom classes. Finding time to teach content in first period is difficult. I keep the lessons as short as possible, but I usually squeeze in the day’s new lesson between the daily tasks of checking homework, welcoming late students to class, and marking each student “late to school” as they arrive.
By 9:15, Cohen High School has settled into its daily routine. With first period under way and most students having gone through the high security check at the school’s entrance, the security team is on duty in the hallways and most students are in class. Students who misbehave in my class are subject to the “three strikes” rule. Three warnings and I send them out of class, either to the discipline office or to “chill” in the hallway. Sending students out of class is my biggest weapon. Class is a social opportunity, and most students resent the embarrassment and the isolation of leaving the classroom. The only thing they dislike more is me calling their parents and explaining their behavior in class to their families.
Second period begins at 9:36. First period leaves my class in a stampede, while my second-period students trickle in quietly and get to work. It is with a sense of relief that I begin second period. With only one more class to go before lunch, I know that the morning – and my math classes – are almost over for the day.
Second period is uneventful, mostly because the class is small and the students in the class are relatively well behaved. The bell rings at 11:12 to bring the freshmen to lunch in the cafeteria.
I teach only freshmen. The freshmen at Cohen are part of the Cohen Health Sciences Academy, a high school academy that is in its first year. To distinguish the freshmen from the green-shirted upperclassmen (who are not in the academy), the freshmen wear black. They eat lunch together and have all of the same teachers. This helps me to know most of the freshmen at Cohen, regardless of whether or not they are in my classes.
With all of the freshmen gathered together in the cafeteria, lunch is the best time to speak to students outside of class. If my schedule allows, I spend time in the cafeteria talking to students about their class work, their attendance, their personal lives, or their interests. Getting to know each student helps me to handle him or her in the context of a larger class. Any leverage I can gain helps – knowing that a student is on the football team, for example, lets me call on the football coaches to keep him in line. Ditto for the drill team, the dance team, or the band.
Third period, the class immediately following lunch, is my off period. I spend much of my time preparing for my afternoon classes or tracking down materials and resources for my classroom. When other teachers are out of school – which is the case every day – I am sometimes asked to cover their classes. The days when I cover an additional class during my off period are my longest, and most unbearable, days at school.
I teach reading in the afternoon. The curriculum that I teach is a highly scripted, district-mandated program that is billed as an intervention program for students who are years behind in reading. The students spend each day working on the classroom computers, completing class work in their notebooks, and reading a book that is on their reading level. My role in this class is mostly a coordinator role. I structure the classroom rotations and oversee most student work, but my input into the lesson is minimal. I am a disciplinarian, a facilitator, a provider of grades and of materials, and the person “in charge.” Otherwise, the class runs without me.
One afternoon hurdle is the daily school snack. Now that school runs until 4:30 p.m., students receive a snack at the beginning of fifth period. It is my job to fetch the snacks from the cafeteria and distribute the snacks to my fifth period. Our school “snack procedure,” as it’s called, is a source of endless headache. Students in my fourth period will take the snacks if they are not hidden in my locked cabinet. Students in fifth period complain endlessly if they do not get their snack, and upperclassmen come to my door throughout fifth period to ask for an additional snack. A day without a snack-related incident is a day with an uneventful afternoon.
When the bell rings at 4:30, I take 10 minutes to straighten up my classroom. I erase the board, clear junk out of desks, and make sure that every snack wrapper has made its way to my trash can. With a chance to breathe, I check my school e-mail, often to learn that we have received new students or that a meeting has been moved to that afternoon.
After organizing my things, I make a run for the door. Ten hours at school is more than enough for me; I opt to do the rest of my lesson planning and grading at home, rather than stick around my classroom after school hours.
The best part of the daily routine is this: Each morning, life in Room 245 goes on regardless of what catastrophes happened the day before.
By Meaghan Petersack ’08
It is December, and this is the first opportunity that I have had to really sit down and reflect on my classroom and my experience thus far as a Teach For America corps member. Throughout my time at Princeton I researched child welfare and education policies, but in just three months of teaching I have learned more about the education system, the challenges in struggling schools, and the incredible young people those policies aim to help, than I ever could from any book or article in Firestone.
I have the privilege of teaching 19 kindergarten students at the Arts and Technology Academy public charter school. All of my students (as well as the vast majority of students at the school) are African-American and receive free school lunch. The school is located in northeast Washington in a struggling and sometimes violent community. My commute to work from my apartment in Eastern Market is a mere 10-minute drive but in the span of such a short distance, the “district” transforms from safe and clean historic capital hill row houses to an often unsafe, high-poverty area dotted with public housing projects. The difference between my home community and my school community was perhaps best expressed in the innocent meanderings of one of my kindergarteners.
A female student in my class one day asked me if one of the other white teachers in the school was my sister. When I replied no, she asked, “Well then, do you live in the same country where all of the people look the same?” I tried to explain to her that we all lived in the same country, but she gave me this look that seemed to say, “Ms. Petersack, let’s be real, we do no live in the same country.” My assistant (who is African-American) and I pressed this student further and asked her if the two of us could live in the same neighborhood. She replied confidently, “No, because Ms. Allen is brown and Ms. Petersack is white.” While this might seem like simple kid-talk based on lack of knowledge about the world, it actually reflects quite accurately the world in which this student has spent her life thus far. Everyone in her neighborhood looks like her, and there are no people that look like me in her neighborhood. This spurs the rather logical conclusion that people only live near others of the same race. And to a large extent in D.C., this is very true and reflects not only racial but also socioeconomic differences among people in different neighborhoods (especially those on either side of the Anacostia River).
One of the hardest parts of being a teacher in a low-income community thus far has been seeing the effects of poverty on the daily lives of my students. They have seen relatives locked up, heard gunshots outside of their homes, experienced living with a parent with a drug or alcohol addiction, spent very little time outside of their immediate neighborhoods, and worried about money and food as their parents experience unemployment or foreclosure. I feel the weight of their experiences through my daily interactions with them and their families and sometimes powerless in my ability to help them break that cycle of poverty.
However, within the course of an average school day, I also am inspired by the ability of my students to leave some of their home-life challenges at the door and experience incredible academic and social growth. I have a number of students who entered kindergarten without having gone to pre-kindergarten and absolutely no knowledge of their numbers and letters and very little ability to interact positively with people other than their immediate family members. In particular, there is one student who was very shy at the beginning of the year who was ashamed of his inability to write his name like the other kids or name the letters of the alphabet. I spent time working one-on-one with this student, sent home learning tools, and emphasized to his mother the importance of him learning after school. I also paired him up with a more advanced student in the class. This particular student has experienced significant growth in just a few short months. He now interacts regularly and positively with his peers, has improved his language abilities, loves learning new things and is eager to practice them even outside of school, and has caught up and even surpassed where he needs to be at this point in kindergarten. It has been a highly rewarding experience to be a part of this student’s individual growth and to think that he might be able to beat the odds against him, given a strong foundation early in his school years.
Reflecting on these past few months, I think about the growth my students have made as well as the growth that I have made as a teacher. There have been many rough days when I have doubted my abilities as a teacher and felt frustrated by the obstacles to success. But I always manage to rally from these moments because I know that I can do better, that my students deserve better, and that I have an incredible opportunity to significantly change the trajectory of their education and their lives by giving them a solid kindergarten foundation. In these past few months I have gained a newfound respect for all of my own elementary and upper-school teachers. It is a highly demanding job that comes with few of the company-financed perks of many of the other jobs that can await Princeton graduates. However, it comes with the one essential and, I would argue, unbeatable “perk” of getting to know incredibly bright and loving students and helping them to achieve great academic gains.
By Kit Tollerson ’08
Looking back at my first several months in the classroom, one thing is certain: Teach For America wasn’t exaggerating when it described how challenging it is to be a first-year teacher. The organization’s refrain during the admission process and at our five-week training program over the summer was that teaching would be the hardest thing any of us had ever done. As one of my roommates who is also a first-year corps member put it recently: They sure got that right.
The job is physically, emotionally, and intellectually draining. Physically, it’s tough to switch from a college schedule of sleeping in late and pretty much controlling what you do and when you do it to waking up at 5 every morning to make it to daily 7:15 staff meetings and then working straight through until dismissal at 5, only to go home and lesson-plan or grade. Emotionally, it is rough to come face to face each day with kids who have been failed by the American public education system and feel incapable as a fledgling educator of doing enough to catch them up. Intellectually, it is mind-numbing to crank out lesson plan after lesson plan and grade papers, homework assignments, quizzes, tests, etc., which are nightly activities that also eat up weekends – at least until you learn how to squeak out a work/life balance.
But, in addition to being the most taxing experience I have ever been through, these months have also been the most rewarding.
It may be hard to believe, but teaching is actually a rush. Some lesson plans bomb, sometimes I articulate concepts poorly, and some behavior redirection is futile. But the look on a kid’s face when they first grasp something they’ve been struggling with is like a jolt of pure success. And even if they aren’t all true, hearing “Mr. Tollerson, you the best teacher I ever had” from a fourth-grader whose class I briefly taught science or “Mr. Tollerson class my favorite, he real strict though,” which I overhead one of our notorious seventh-grade behavior problems say, gives me a simultaneous sense of accomplishment and purpose. And that is what was entirely missing from my brief detour into finance during the summer before my senior year. Working at a hedge fund in Connecticut, I pulled in big bucks crunching numbers in Excel, but I could not answer the question, “What am I doing?”
I am a couple of months into my first year as a social studies teacher at Arthur Ashe Charter School in New Orleans, where I teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grade, in addition to supporting the fourth-grade teacher by working with those students who are the farthest below grade-level in reading. Our school had the lowest test scores in both English and math of any elementary school in the city last year, when we still were named New Orleans Charter Middle. Now, we have a new principal and assistant principal, both of whom are products of New Leaders for New Schools, a program that trains, places, and supports principals in urban school districts. Most of our staff is in its first year at Ashe, although only two of us are first-year teachers. (The other first-year teacher, also a TFA corps member, teaches kindergarten.) Our goal is to turn the school around and transform it into a model school over the course of the next few years.
Coming down to New Orleans, I had expected to teach high school social studies at a school run by the Recovery School District, the city’s public schools that are currently under the supervision of Superintendent Paul Vallas. As a public-policy major at Princeton, I chose social studies because it was closest to what I had focused on in college. I wanted high school because I thought I’d be able to teach more sophisticated material to older kids. But Teach For America was very clear that we should be flexible about the placement process. So it was not a total surprise that despite being admitted into the corps as a secondary social studies teacher, I am teaching fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders.
Being a first-year teacher is a trial by fire. Whether people arrive in the classroom after getting a master’s in education or through TFA (or any of the other programs like NYC Teaching Fellows or teachNOLA that train and support teachers), many of them quit, especially in urban school districts. Yet it is common to overlook the fact that retention rates are generally poor for first-year teachers and attribute the fact that some TFA corps members drop out to inadequate preparation by TFA or insufficient support from TFA once corps members get inside the classroom. When I was thinking about applying, I heard a lot of second- and third-hand horror stories about how TFA throws its corps members into impossibly difficult situations and then leaves them high and dry without support. (I probably heard more of these stories than most people because I had an on-campus recruiting job with the organization when I was a senior.) What I was hearing did worry me. So I spoke with a friend from high school who was part of NYC Teaching Fellows and he told me the following, which I think is true: Nothing, absolutely nothing, can adequately prepare you or anybody else for their first year of teaching. So while in a very real sense you do get thrown into the deep end as a first-year TFA corps member, being unprepared for your first year in the classroom is intrinsic to teaching, not unique to TFA.
My students had a range of reactions to Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. Unlike the RSD schools, Arthur Ashe was open on Jan. 20, 2009, and we had a relatively high turnout, considering the events of the day. (I’d guesstimate that around 75 percent of our students showed up.) All my students had learned about the civic significance of Obama’s inauguration the previous week in social studies – a lesson that was superfluous for some, but instructive to many. And the day was dedicated to observing the ceremonies, highlighted by a schoolwide assembly at which we listened to Obama’s inaugural address on the radio. (We had hoped to watch via the Internet, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, experienced technical difficulties with our video feed.) From watching my students react as they listened to the speech, discussing the matter for the last several months, and leading a variety of lessons and discussions on the topic in each of my social studies classes, I’d say that the students at Arthur Ashe had reactions ranging from unbridled hopefulness and enthusiasm, to cautious optimism and joy, to tepid interest and relief, to complete and total apathy – which in some cases may have been feigned and in others was probably sincere. For the most part, though, I think my students are excited by and passionately supportive of the new administration.
There seems to be a unanimous consensus among the student body that George W. Bush failed the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. My students despise the 43rd president of the United States, and their hatred is so vehement that being called his name is considered a serious insult. Without exception, they all believe that the Bush administration should have done more to assist them, their families, and the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. So I think it is safe to say that a substantial portion of the day’s excitement was linked to the fact that the reviled Bush administration had ended. At our schoolwide assembly my students jumped out of their seats and cheered when the radio announcer informed us at 12 p.m. that despite the fact that Obama had not been sworn in yet, the second term of George W. Bush had officially come to a close.
Identity politics were definitely at play in my kids’ preference for Barack Obama over John McCain and their mostly enthusiastic support for the new president. But the extent to which identity politics were a factor varies in degree. For instance, when asked, my fourth-graders struggled to come up with a reason why they preferred our newly elected president to his general-election opponent besides the fact that Obama was black like them. By contrast, for the most part, my seventh-graders could point to a stance or several stances on major issues like the war in Iraq that they agreed with. Interestingly, though, on the issues, most of my students supported Sen. McCain’s positions. This became apparent after an activity in which I allowed my students to discuss and vote on the candidates’ stances on taxes, the war in Iraq, and health care before revealing which presidential candidate held which position. In all my classes except one, my students voted in favor of McCain on two out of the three issues by wide margins. And in a similar activity on Inauguration Day, all three of the classes I held that day voted against the stated positions of the Obama administration two out of three times when presented with his stance and a contrasting stance on the financial crisis, troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These activities have caused something of a stir among my students and generated a lot of questions, but seem to have no effect whatsoever on their political preferences, which to me is a testament to the power of identity politics.
I certainly believe that Jan. 20, 2009, was a day that my students will remember for the rest of their lives. Whether excited or apathetic in the moment, I think they know and deeply understand that the fact that their mostly white country has elected somebody who identifies with them racially is a huge, huge deal.
(Full disclosure: I am half black, half white, and a member of the Democratic Party.)
By Sarah Zaslow ’08
(Editor’s note: To protect the identity of students, initials have been used instead of their names.)
TFAntastic! (Posted by Sarah on June 21, 2008)
I’m teaching summer school at Reagan High School in Houston. The school’s claim to fame is that Dan Rather went there. … The school is really nice – way nicer than any public school I’ve ever seen. Every room has an LCD projector, a document camera, a computer for the teacher ... wireless access all over the multi-building campus ... and a “Learning Theater” which is just what it sounds like. The school’s also in Houston Heights, which is a really nice part of Houston …So why is TFA there, you might ask? Apparently, they bus the kids in from other parts of Houston. There’s a really sad sign right across the street from the school’s front gates that says “Treat our neighborhood like you would your own! Don’t litter!”
I teach fourth-period ninth-grade English. I have six students, all of whom failed ninth-grade English. But they didn’t fail because they don’t know the material, they failed because they skipped class too much, and some of them have already started skipping mine, which is really disappointing. They’re a tough crowd because I get them after they’ve already been in two or three other classes that they also failed for ditching, and they’re really bored and tired by the time they get to me. I even tried giving them crayons and candy, but nothing doing. …
Anyway, my kids are smart and well-behaved, and I’m just plugging along trying to keep them from being too bored. I’m not a great teacher, but I’m not terrible either, and I’m gradually getting better. I have three more weeks of cold showers, cockroaches, and retiring to my trusty couch at 2 a.m. and then I’m heading back to Denver.
TFA Tales of Triumph! (Posted by Sarah on June 28, 2008)
This week, there are two. Tale the First: I have lunch duty. I stand at the gate as students leave, and I am there to greet them as they re-enter. Reagan High has a dress code which is strictly enforced to reduce gang signs and other disruptions. Students wear maroon or white polos, no jeans, black or tan slacks instead. One of the gangs, cleverly, decided to “represent” by wearing black undershirts – gangs, I’m realizing, have infinite resources and endlessly innovative strategies for “representing” – and so now black undershirts are banned. So it’s the end of lunch and these three toughs are moseying up to my gate, smoking and littering and eating popsicles (don’t laugh! They were intimidating, strutting along with their popsicles!) and I realize the obvious ringleader has on … a black undershirt! I think, oh, shoot. I really don’t want to tangle with this guy. But I have to! I am the Gatekeeper (not officially or anything, that’s just what I tell myself to make 45 minutes in the Houston humidity bearable). He speaks to me –
“You hot, miss?”
“Sure am,” I reply with a friendly smile.
“You want a bottle of water?” he asks, gesturing with his cigarette-adorned hand to the popsicle man who parks by my gate at lunchtime.
“No, thanks,” I smile. “Say, are you guys planning on going back into the school?”
They nod – they got summer school, yeah.
“'Cause you know,” I say, “you know you can’t go in there with a black undershirt. You gotta take it off.” Another friendly smile.
“Awwwwwwww, miss,” he says, “these shirts look stupid without an undershirt.”
“I'm sure they do,” I say, “but you maybe should have thought of that when you got up this morning and picked out your undershirt. I need you to take it off.”
He said he would, inside, but I stood firm! Finally, he took it off, right there, without even taking off his polo, which suggests to me some element of practice.
“Thanks,” I said, big smile. “You look fine, and it’s only for a couple of hours anyway.”
That’s me, the Gatekeeper, laying down the law and stopping gangs in their tracks.
(Note: The student in this story may or may not have actually been in a gang. Additionally, this Tale of Triumph was followed the next day by Vignettes of Vicious Failure: The Gatekeeper was defeated thrice by young, delicate, black undershirt-wearing female students. Oh, well.)
Tale of Triumph No. 2: My students are pretty smart, pretty good at reading, but their critical thinking and analytical skills are lacking – and so is their writing. So for the past few days we’ve worked hard on OERs – open-ended responses – paragraphs they have to write on the Texas standardized test. They don’t like them. Getting them to write, I’ve been warned, is like pulling teeth. But for some reason, they write for me. For a whole class period, they wrote – first analyzing quotations, and then putting together a whole response. This day also happened to be the day I was observed by four people – the last of these a very intimidating administrator who was there, in part, to judge me on the pacing of my lesson and my classroom management. F. and E., my two fastest students, started to finish their OERs early. But I needed them to keep working! I was desperate. I sidled over to E.
“E.,” I said. “Are you done? Yes? Well, OK, we’ll be writing another one of these tomorrow.” Her face fell. “But if you start it now,” I said, “and you finish early tomorrow, I’ll bring you … a poem.” I don’t know why I said it! What kind of a reward is that, for plugging through another boring essay? As soon as I said it, I thought, oh no, she’s going to laugh at me. But she smiled excitedly, got out a fresh sheet of paper, and started looking for quotations to use in her book.
F. looked over, like “Hey, what about me?” and I said, “I’ll bring you a poem, too, F.” And he started to work on the next essay. Insane! Amazing! (Apparently, I was so worried that I would forget to bring them their promised poems that I sleep-talked about it – so my roommate tells me. But I remembered! The next day, I gave them Shakespeare’s “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.”) …
I only have two weeks left here (exciting!) and yesterday was TFA Day, to mark the more-than-halfway point. It was highly celebratory. We stood around, bleary-eyed with exhaustion, in crumpled suits and skirts, sadly eating popsicles before drifting back to our dorm rooms where I, for one, collapsed and did not revive again until the next morning.
The Final TFA Tale of Triumph (Posted by Sarah on July 14, 2008)
Let me set the scene: It’s the last day of summer school. I teach the last period. And it’s the last 25 minutes of that period. My kids all have three other classes, and in all three of their other classes, they’ve been eating candy and watching movies because that’s what teachers do on the last day of summer school. Not me, though. My lucky kids were reading and discussing a poem, “Bike Ride with Older Boys.” (To be fair, I let F. bring his guitar, and he and one of the other TFA teachers who plays guitar jammed for the first half of the class period. So it’s not like they didn’t get to have any fun. Anyway, reading poetry is fun. Right?) While we were discussing, a few teachers awkwardly entered my room, conferred, and removed posters and other supplies. I was a little annoyed, since we were trying to run a class here – me, F., E., and G. To their credit, my kids gamely discussed the poem – which involves imagined rape – in front of these strangers.
Then came the difficult part. I wanted my kids to write their own poetry. Getting kids to write under the best of circumstances is a trial; getting them to write poetry usually involves both incentives and severe consequences which are firmly and repeatedly stated. Getting them to write poetry on the last day of summer school in the last 20 minutes of the last period … suffice to say, I don’t know what I was thinking. They stared at me like I was crazy. I instructed them to get their pens and pencils ready. I wrote up on the board what each line/stanza should contain in order to be modeled after the poem we had just read and discussed. I came back toward their desks and, oddly, their faces were still fixed with the “you’re nuts” stare that I’ve come to know and love.
“I’ll write one, too,” I said. “OK?”
“OK,” said E. suspiciously.
“OK,” I said, “now we’re all going to write. Here we go!”
I started writing. E. looked at G. G. looked at F. F. shrugged and flipped his guitar over so that he could use the back of it as a lap board. G. looked at E. and she shot him a look that said, “I guess she’s serious.” I watched out of the corner of my eye, and a few minutes later, they were all writing. Wow!
We’d all been writing for a few minutes when 10 TFA teachers trooped into my room like a herd of mammoth and descended on the remaining classroom materials, foraging through them like a herd of starving mammoth. It might have been humorous if it hadn’t been so irritating – the teachers kept shooting me glances like, “Is she going to stop us? No? OK, OK, guys, keep going!” Just like high schoolers, really. My kids looked at me, perplexed, but I just shrugged and went back to writing.
A few seconds later, my kids followed suit.
By the last five minutes of class, all the teachers had cleared out (taking everything that wasn’t nailed down with them), and my kids had produced some poetry. Well, not G. G.’s really shy and pretty under-confident, so he crumpled up the few lines he’d written and refused to let anyone read them. But E., F., and I all shared our poems. And now, since I’m really proud of my kids for writing and thinking about poetry right up until the bell rang, and also because I think their poetry is pretty good for high schoolers, I’d like to share it with you. The poems are reprinted with the authors’ permission:
ABC Bridge (by E.)
Crossing that bridge was an awesome experience.
It was Saturday night and I had just
drank three Monster Energy cans.
Midnight, the wind hit me gently
And the sky was clear and pitch black
With the moon half sized and little stars
I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was
right, but I didn’t care
I went for it anyway.
The only thing in the back of my mind was
It was scary.
But my adrenaline told me to keep
As my heart said, “Are you crazy?!”
Yeah, I’m afraid of heights
But if I hadn’t crossed that bridge
I wouldn’t be talking about it now…
F’s poem, as I might have expected, didn’t really follow the directions. Plus, the little punk thought it would be funny to title his poem the way he did because I had instructed that the title be the name of the event or decision about which the author was writing.
The Event (by F.)
I’ll admit that you’re beautiful
But the words would never come
out of my mouth
It’s my guitar that did all the talking
But it was foreign language to you.
I don’t know why you didn’t understand
The chords were simple
The E minor, C, G and D
Then it went to an A minor, C to B
Any musician would know what it meant.
Too bad you weren’t one.
It was good note to end upon, pun intended. The summer was long and difficult; it wasn’t all encouraging budding poets and stopping gang warfare single-handedly. One of my students failed my class after I’d done a great deal to try to help her catch up after missing many more days of class than she was really allowed to miss.
But I did confirm what it is all TFA’ers are supposed to believe: that kids can behave, though they sometimes choose not to, and that every student has the potential and the right to learn.
I have one week off to “relax” (read: find an apartment, a car, get a haircut, go the dentist, read books on teaching, start writing my rules and procedures for the first days of classes…), and then I have to start training again, this time in Denver. I report to my school on Aug. 13.