Down to the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 01 2012

Untangling my huge knot of emotions…

Sorry for the really terrible metaphor title for this post. I am no English teacher after all.

I haven’t written in a really long time. If I have any faithful readers, I apologize. I have been waiting for the right mood. Not necessarily the best or worst mood, but the mood where I feel most ready to capture my long days and even longer moments in a somewhat concise way. Note the word “somewhat.”

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about quitting. But more than the logistics of quitting, I have been thinking about what reasons I have NOT to quit. As my best friend told me, if I am trying to convince myself that there are reasons to stay, then I am seriously considering quitting. I don’t know whether I agree with that or not, but my thoughts have been consumed with why I am here and whether or not this is the right thing for me personally, my kids, my school, etc. I hate my job. Geometry is actually torture for me. I never did like the subject in high school. (Sorry Mr. Daly, I liked your class just wasn’t so keen on the content.) Math in general has always just been so-so for me, and teaching it has made me hate it more than ever. I fake liking it in my classroom and instead of seeing right through that, my kids are actually just convinced that I have the corniest personality in the entire world and that there is no way I had friends in high school. I am totally fine with that. But is hating math in general and geometry specifically why I hate my job so much? I don’t think so.

I can’t put my finger on just why I hate it so much.

At the beginning of the year (read: all the way through first semester), I had really bad days. I let the kids get to me. My management was still in its infancy. My class lacked the structure that really helps my kids thrive. Basically, there were days when my room was a hot mess. I am pretty sure nobody learned much of anything. Now, I have bad moments. These bad moments don’t really turn into bad days the way they used to. So one class doesn’t go as planned? Oh well! The next one will be better. So despite my room actually being better and my kids actually learning a small bit more than nothing, I hate my job. I don’t feel like I have figured out how to really impact my students in a meaningful way while teaching math, and I honestly spend a lot of time feeling like a liberal elitist who has come down here to “help” people. And who the hell am I to tell them they need help? I know that is kind of ridiculous, but it is how I feel. Almost every single morning I walk into school feeling like ┬áthere is no way I can keep doing this job for another year and a half. I question whether teaching is really for me or not, and I wonder whether or not my time would be better spent doing something else.

But I manage to make it back to school day after day and do my very best to teach Geometry and hopefully some life skills. Can I do it for another year and a half? I am honestly not sure. Something has to change. The days I can keep myself focused on individual kids and just helping one kid or two kids do something they might not have been able to do otherwise are the days when my job feels the most sustainable. Today was one of those days.

Two of my students stayed after school to earn points back on a test. In a one-on-one setting, I feel like a real teacher. I feel like a real “difference maker.” I feel like I am doing something worthwhile.

I struck a deal with a student, B, who I have been having a LOT of trouble with. All year. His English teacher (another TFA teacher) requires his students to read for 20 minutes a night and write a 1/2 page about what they read. B told me that if I read for 20 minutes a night and write a 1/2 page about it, he will too. Boom. Game on.

I ran into another student, M, in the hall after school today. “Are you coming to my room for extra help and to earn points back on your test?! That is so great.” He wasn’t. His dad was outside waiting, M told me, and he had to go. Could he stay late on Thursday? No, he told me. His dad wouldn’t let him. I told him I’m sure if I talked to his dad, he would see things differently. I walked outside with M, re-introduced myself to his dad, and made plans for M to stay after school on Thursday. “M told me you wouldn’t want him to stay, but I figured if I asked you myself, you might see it differently. Thank you so much!” The dad proceeded to harass M about why he would tell me he couldn’t stay and that for anything having to do with grades he could stay as long as it took for him to do well. Thanks, Dad.

Finally, some kids I love, C, J, and S all felt smart today. They don’t always feel smart.

Putting all the other crap aside, the time I spend with individual kids makes me feel worthwhile. I need to create more of these moments for myself and for my students. That is the current goal.

As my roommate Mr. B says, LEGGO.

4 Responses

  1. els

    Totally get you. I don’t like teaching math either, and I definitely don’t feel like myself when I’m doing it. It’s hard to separate that feeling from teaching in general.

  2. Can I do it for another year and a half? I am honestly not sure. Something has to change.

    SOMETHING WILL CHANGE. Like an act of God (maybe it is an act of God, who knows, does it matter?) IT WILL CHANGE.

    If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the changes are slow, really REALLY slow, and entirely determined by your own determination and drive (that you already have because TFA hired you), and TOTALLY INEVITABLE. I don’t know a single person that has not improved every semester, every month. It’s a leap from first to second semester, and another leap to second year, and a giant leap to four semester, and then you’re applying for charter schools and taking grad classes to further education.

    …or just not totally obsessed with thinking about quitting anymore. :)

    It’ll happen. You must be patient with yourself, but it improves. Slowly. It improves.

  3. Ms. Math

    I LOVE math. But high school math is so often boring, pointless and dead.
    I swear math can be interesting and relevant but we live in a culture where it is horrible, and just involves moving symbols around that nobody understands.

    Come to the Math communities on TFA net and see if we can inspire you at all about math. And before you quit, ask to teach another class next year.

    Finally, not to sound lame, but geometry was my absolute favorite class to teach, I swear to god that a reasonable person can find it interesting.
    We did some awesome projects used an amazing book(Geometry by Harold Jacobs and Thinking Mathematically by Mason)

    Don’t tell anyone I said this, but if you are teaching something in Geometry that seems pointless, worthless and never going to be useful, skip it and find something out there related to math that is cool. use wikipedia, fun math books, the book “The number devil” tfanet communities-just find something that doesn’t suck. I swear to god these things exist! According to research most college math students don’t much understand what they are doing anyways, so it really won’t ruin the kiddos life if you skip a standard that they might not understand anyways. Do a project on analyzing statistics for getting into college with your kids-my kids loved that and I actually felt useful immediately because they realized even though D’s were passing it wasn’t going to take them anywhere.

    PS don’t make fun of my blog title “mathlovergrowsup”


  4. Ms. Math

    you might also appreciate this post about how being a TFA math teacher is really hard! It’s not just you, I swear.

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