Thursday, June 26, 2008

A victory over Teach for America insanity

The percentage of days when I walk out of class smiling instead of wanting to hide and cry is increasing even though I still start each morning sick with worry. Most of my students know a few things they didn't three weeks ago, and they're nailing the concepts even when their math and problem solving skills fall far short. My kids and I may not be anywhere close to proficiency, but we're moving in the right direction. Still, there's still a nagging little voice in the back of my mind asking if I'm really strong enough and brave enough to pull this off.

That voice went from a whisper to a shout Wednesday evening when I got my official placement. Apparently, my tentative categorization as a physics teacher meant nothing: they wanted me to teach anatomy and physiology full time. Given that I haven't had the subject since high school, purposely avoided it in college since I found it to be the only dull area of biology, and have forgotten most of the little I ever did know, I was more than a bit shaken by the idea.

Thanks in part to the assertiveness training that's part of the classroom management coursework here at Institute, I worked up the nerve to tell the person in charge of placement how I felt. She informed me that they'd figured that it would work out because they knew I could learn the material, but I still remained unconvinced. Given the lengthy list of subjects I'd told TFA I'd be eager to teach (physics, physical science, general biology, any math from algebra I to calculus, and chemistry) and the shortages of teachers with my skill set, the placement just didn't make sense. I made it clear that I found it difficult to envision spending the next two years teaching a subject in which I lack sufficient content knowledge to feel well qualified, and the placement coordinator agreed to investigate the options while still stressing that my placement was a much better fit than what many other corps members have received and managed to live through. I spent twenty-four hours fretting about whether I could reasonably hope to get through two years of trying to stay a few chapters ahead of my students with my sanity intact and what my life would be like if I couldn't.

Oddly enough, Teach for America was trying to fill a vacant 9th grade physical science position at the same high school where they'd assigned me to teach anatomy. The placement coordinator told me that it is extremely rare that they change placements as a result of corps member requests, but she agreed to let me switch. They certainly don't lose anything by allowing it, and I gain a lot.


DogAteMyFinances said...

Whoa, talk about a crap bureaucracy!!

Good for you for standing up for yourself. But don't let the placement bureaucrat believe that she's done you any great favors. I bet they change people all the time. Even if they don't, they should when they put you in such a stupid position that you will resent it.

You've handled this assignment. But if you have another assignment in the future, or you think the consolation physical science isn't good enough, raise hell. Go above the placement bureaucrat. Talk to anyone who will listen. Use the line that you don't enjoy this subject and the kids will suffer. If you don't do it now, it will be too late.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of friends in Teach for America, some quitting, some exhausted, and some that raise hell until they get not only what they need but what they want. You did the right thing here, by expressing yourself and in many ways demanding to be satisfied. Teach for America will not only switch your subject, but school and even state if a large enough teacher shortage arises. I am in a residency program in my city because Teach for America was full of drama here and the residency program had a hire retention rate. Do not EVER be afraid to stand up to the bureaucracy, they need you and should be thanking the stars that you are even willing to teach which is a profession that most would rather starve then have to do...