Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Early morning musings after a bad day at school

I'm trying to start thinking of my job as, well, a job. There's this belief in our society that teachers should be motivated solely by altruism and the joys of spending their days surrounded by charming children. Within TFA, we're supposed to be crusaders righting the moral wrongs inherent in our country's separate and unequal educational system one classroom at a time. Despite the occasional lectures on work-life balance, it's pretty clear that we're to live and breathe student achievement for two years.

However, this leaves a lot of people feeling that we're utter failures. Maybe we are. I have some kids I'm really proud of, but overall, this seems increasingly like a losing battle. My seventh hour students are finally kicking it into gear and half of them made A's or B's on my last exam, but almost everyone in first hour scored below a 50% on the same test. One of my friends at school has confided that right now about 2/3 of his students are failing his class and he suspects that only a handful will pass the state end of course exam.The last time we went over the data from our region's corps members at ProSat, 19% of us were on track to meet TFA's criteria for significant gains this school year. That isn't the sort of statistic they put in the recruiting materials.

If I let this become my life, it will kill me. I've got to work on detachment, on forcing myself to think of getting up and going to school as something I do, at least in part, to earn my bread. I want to do a good job, but thinking that it's a moral failing on my part when I can't motivate students to do their homework isn't actually a useful mindset when trying to figure out how to improve my teaching.


Shuchong said...

I once had a terrible horrible job, and when I left it, they hired a former Teach for America teacher to be my replacement.

He was a great guy. Smart. Funny. And I told him what my job was like on a day-to-day basis, hoping to persuade him not to stay. His response?

"In my last job, people threw up on me, screamed at me, peed their pants, and threatened to kill me. They were third graders. This job won't be so bad."

He had been teaching in the Bronx, and had quit before his two-year contract was up. I don't blame him one bit.

P.S. He's in grad school now and loving it. You'll get there too one day!

plonkee said...

Are TFA teachers worse than the alternative? At least you all start out idealistic, and you care that your students aren't doing so well. Progress doesn't have to be big to exist.