Lessons and Learnings

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 19 2012

So This One Time I Hit A Four-Foot Planter…

So this one time I hit a four-foot planter…in a Beetle.   Not just any Beetle…Her name is Betty and she is a blue 2007 VW Bug.  My dream car and my graduate school graduation present.  I received her nearly 3.5 years before I graduated because I was driving a Chevy Blazer that was dying a rapid death and I couldn’t afford to replace every major system in the car on my stipend.  Apparently my parents were tired of the monthly phone calls saying I needed $4000 for this repair or that repair and decided it was cheaper to buy me a new car then to keep sending me money.

Anyways, I was about 2 weeks from graduation and I had just flown into Atlanta from Miami where I had a last “hooray” with my friends from high school.  We were all moving on – getting married, graduating from graduate school or medical school and we wanted to have a last bit of fun before we became grown ups.  While I was on the flight back, I suddenly realized I was leaving Alabama and this was it.  I was growing up and saying goodbye and I didn’t want to let it go.  I got into my car, hysterical, and about an hour later I hit a planter.  Completely dented the passenger side of my front bumper (think headlight hanging off) and tore the power steering line.

The planter marked a major turning point in my life.  When I first moved to Alabama, I was so unhappy I just wanted to come home.  At graduation, I couldn’t imagine leaving Alabama to come back to DC.  Even now there are days I miss Alabama so much I can barely breathe.  Now, looking and laughing back on it, I realize the planter served as a stop sign in my life.  It made me stop and focus so I could move on.  Funny how small graduation seems when you are trying to figure out how to get from Atlanta to Birmingham…

Every time I have taken a new step in life it has been difficult in the beginning.  From college to graduate school.  From graduate school to postdoc.  I’m sure postdoc to Teach for America will be no different.  It’s hard to know exactly what to expect when you have never been in the situation before.  Of course I am excited, but I’ve been through too much in life to be bright eyed and bushy tailed.  Do I expect to change the life of every student who walks into my classroom?  No, of course not.  Will my students always like me?  No.  Will they learn?  Yes.  I know that they will learn.  I just don’t know how many of those lessons they will truly appreciate while they are learning them.  How many of them will hit planters as they are about to graduate?

One of my favorite quotes is “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  But does being that change mean you wouldn’t have bad days?  Does it mean you won’t cry and want to call it quits?  Does it mean you won’t hit planters?  Of course not.  It means you keep pushing forward when you want to call it quits.  It means you drive the five miles to the car repair shop even though turning is burning the muscles in your arms.

Why do I want to teach?  Because SCIENCE ISN’T SCARY.  Because YES, BIOLOGY IS HARD and YOU CAN LEARN IT.  Because biology touches every one of us.  From a familiar member who is ill to someone injured in a car accident, we ALL come face to face with biology.  I have spent the past 12 years developing a scientific career.  And the entire time I faced adversity from those around me.  People didn’t trust what I was doing.  They thought I was torturing monkeys (false) and cloning babies (definitely false – we can’t).  I wanted to be that go between.  I wanted to make people understand that biology is important and they can understand science.

I currently tutor a number of students in many different subjects.  My 9th grade biology student can’t sit still for more than 45 minutes.  My 11th grade AP Chemistry student can sit for hours and stare at chemistry problems.  My physiology student just wants to understand so she can pass the class.  Every one has different goals and I learn from each of them just as they learn from me.  But one of the most striking things I have learned from my students is how few of their teachers actually teach.  I want to be that teacher who makes them think.  I want their respect and their brains (in a totally not mad scientist kind of way).  I’m not scared about whether or not I can teach them the material, I’m scared about developing a classroom they totally love and want to take part in.  So right now I am learning how to move forward and develop that repertoire…and how to avoid those planters…

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