My Institute experience has finally passed. The countdown to entering the real-world is twenty-one days away. My first day of teaching seventh grade social studies at JJ McClain Middle School in Lexington, Mississippi is twenty-one days way, August 6th. I was advised by the friendly Delta First Eight Week Kickoff staff to record my experience of Institute, hence the creation of this blog. Now my past experiences attempting to write a journal of any sort have been brief and ill-fated. For instance, I was motivated to write my first journal after watching the popular Nickelodeon TV show, Doug as a young middle-schooler. After writing my first few journal entries, my brother stole my journal and showed it to my fourteen-year old babysitter. Both the babysitter and my brother roared with uncontrollable, hurtful laughter at my journal entries that consisted of two things: what I ate at every meal and my strong beliefs concerning the awesomeness of Garfield comics. The cackling of my babysitter and the sadistic grin on my brother’s face still traumatize today (okay, I’m being a little melodramatic but damnit this is my blog!) and stiffled any further attempt of writing another journal entry for years.
Now that I’ve set the context of my journal writing experience, or lack thereof, I think it is important to explain the rationale behind writing this blog. I need to journal my experience at TFA because if I don’t then I will forget a lot of the important details surrounding the experience. Being twenty one years of age I already have a pretted limited recollection of my childhood and even my early adult life. Any personal experience that does not have a picture, tangible item, or other primary source attached to it, I have most likely forgotten or at minimal have a vague remembrance of. After taking a class in college entitled “History and Memory”, I can appreciate the fact that distorted or failed recollections can change the history of a person on an interpersonal and intrapersonal level.
My decision to join TFA definitely can be defined as a landmark rite-of-passage in my life that warrants detailed recording and analysis. So, before actually diving into the daily experiences at Institute and post-Institute, I think it is important to consider why I joined TFA in the first place. The question has gravitated in my conscious for quite some time now. Because of the selfish nature of my thought processing, the thought of this question has been uncomfortable exploring at times. Entering my final year in college I figured I had four options to pursue: 1. go to graduate school, 2. work at a highly-esteemed, wealthy public school like the ones in my hometown, 3. become an intern at Wesley Foundation at Purdue 4. join Teach for America. By September, option 1 was off the table. I did not study at all for the GRE in the summer due to my summer job at Camp Tecumseh (and because of my laziness/lack of will to study). I was unprepared and knew that I did poorly on the test so I actually did not consent to publish my results officially. I figured if I wanted to go to grad school, then I didn’t want a poor GRE score to determine the quality of school that I could get accepted into.
Option 2 seemed like an attractive option. I loved going to my wealthier suburban school near Indianapolis because it provided so many rigorous academic opportunities like AP and IB courses. I pictured myself being a boys and girls tennis coach that taught AP U.S. history and the We The People program for government classes. However, the poor economic circumstances in Indiana scared me. I was scared off by the poor job prosepects as thousands of teachers in Indiana were being either laid off or forced to retire. (I would find out later after accepting Teach for America’s offer in November that a Government/Economics position at my school opened up at my hometown high school a couple months later…I said a few expletives after hearing this news.)
Option 3 seemed to be the most sexy option at first glance. This option would allow me to be close to my wonderful girlfriend who has another year at Purdue, “work” as a mentor to incoming freshman and other incoming underclassman, and explore my Christian faith through mission trips and retreats. Alas, I did not pick this option because I just couldn’t. I felt like the option was an easy way out of a tough situation, sort of the “play it safe” option. It did not seem academically rigorous nor a good use of my academic skills. This is not to say I still do not regret not picking up this option, as I have missed my girlfriend and all the Wesley Foundation people while here at Delta State terribly. I just felt the need to challenge myself to try something new and to go use my education degree for a new teaching adventure. This is why I choose option 4 as well as for many other reasons.
Teach for America appeared to be my golden parachute (I know this is the inappropriate context to use this idiom but as my girlfriend can attest, I always inappropriately use my idioms…sorry ELA teachers) out of a tricky situation. I applied on the second TFA deadline in September scared of the poor job prospects (or perception thereof) in Indiana, disappointed in my poor performance on the GRE, and determined not to settle for anything less than a rigorous academic challenge leaving college. After hearing that I was accepted a month later, I was ecstatic! I saw Teach for America as a launching pad for a politically ambitious career. I imagined myself being the next Lyndon Johnson, starting off my career teaching poor minority children in a remote part of the country and then later entering local politics only soon to become the next man in the oval office. Furthermore, Teach for America looked like a very sexy thing to put on a graduate school resume just in case I wanted to pursue that route again. Finally, (an unselfish reason to join!) I felt a strong yearning to help a struggling community somewhere with my newly-acquired skills, so Teach for America seemed like a match made in heaven.
Well, it is safe to say that this “match made in heaven” has definitely been questioned by myself during the months leading up to and while at Institute. I’ll explain further in tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, here is your thought of the day (in tribute to the Institute guy who would always get on our school bus before we headed out to teach to provide us with a corny thought):
“ I know you got into TFA to ‘make a difference,’ just as I did, but you probably won’t make a giant ‘difference’ one way or the other. This does NOT mean, though, that you waste your time when you give everything you’ve got to be the best teacher you can for the kids you will teach.” Gary Rubinstein, 1991 TFA alum