Hard to believe that a year ago I found out I had gotten into Teach for America. Actually, I think it was a year ago this week. I remember the criticism, the anger from my family that I would do this, the fear of not knowing what the classroom would hold. I would read critics about Teach for America and think, “What have a done?!?” I would search for blog posts from corps memebers to figure out what my life would be like. Nothing will EVER prepare you for the reality of teaching in an inner city. So here it goes, 2013s, a little advice:
1) Institute is wonderful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it sucks waking up early, eating the same PBJ every day, a chip, two cookies, and a drink. Water will be your new best friend. Philadelphia Institute, food is about 3/4 of a mile from your room. If you have a late bus, you get to sleep in but there may be no food. Don’t worry, they will bring it to your school. But you get to learn about teaching and lesson plan ALL THE TIME. You teach for ONE hour a day. ONE hour – it is AMAZING.
2) Plan for your first day. Seriously, if you are a corps member, you KNOW you will be teaching. “I didn’t know what grade” “I didn’t get hired until the day before” blah blah blah. Just plan. Make it fun – science people do a lab like saving Sam. As a matter of fact, plan for your first week.
3) It is OK if you don’t get to your exit ticket. But they will ask you when you don’t “How are you going to assess?” Truth is your 4 to 5 classes you will teach move at various speeds. Some will breeze through your beautiful plan, some will play 20 questions to avoid work.
4) Answer the 20 questions. Not every day – they do need to learn the curriculum. But taking a day here and there to answer their questions builds a classroom culture where asking is acceptable. If you are science, you will teach about reproduction. It is the most fabulous and yet horrifying thing to teach EVER. No worries about engagement that day…I assure you =D. Bottom line, if kids are interested, they want to learn it.
5) The road to hell is paved with “great” lesson plans. They like cell phones, videos, labs, and things that allow them to get out of their seats. Worksheets and powerpoints every day won’t cut it. Making them read papers every day probably won’t either. Mix it up. Remember all those cheesy tips they give you at institute. You will need them.
6) By November, you WILL want to quit. I know you are thinking “not me, I’m going to STICK IT OUT NO MATTER WHAT”. You will. We all do. You will be tired and cranky and hate going to work every day. You will call in slick at least once. You have to just suck it up and deal, buttercup. Cuz they need you, even if they are cursing you out.
7) You will get cursed out. No seriously. And if you are like me, the first time you will lock yourself in your room and cry. Fights will happen. Things will get thrown. Kids will be kids. And they will be annoying. And they won’t buy your lesson plans and they are rude and they are looking for an adult they trust.
8) You will mess up. You will say the wrong thing and damage relationships. And you will have to fix them. Eat the crow because the truth is you won’t start to become a decent teacher until February or March. Not good – decent.
9) Your school will not have: enough support, money, paper, pens, toner, copiers, textbooks, lab supplies, manipulatives, special educators, administrators, mentors, teachers, etc. My advice: Dollar Tree, Five Bellow, Wal-mart, Target, Goodwill, free bookstores, dollar bookstores, yard sales, rummage sales, your attic, closets, staples (teacher rewards), Barnes and Noble (educator discount). You knew going in that they are impoverished schools. That WILL affect you. You have to take lemons and make lemonade without water, sugar, a glass, pitchers, and a spoon. It is what it is. You just DEAL.
10) You have something to offer all of your students. Don’t compare your childhood to theirs. Zip codes, race, gender, religions, and politics don’t mean you completely understand. You aren’t just there to relate or empathize with them. You are there to show them a diverse, wonderful world that they may or may not have experienced. When the furthest from Baltimore my students have been is northern Virginia, it doesn’t matter that I grew up in a predominantly minotiry suburban community plagued by violence, gangs, and drugs. I’ve been to college, I’ve been to Europe, I’ve seen two oceans and several foreign seas. You aren’t there to say HEY, LOOK AT ME, I’VE DONE AMAZING THINGS AND I’M GONNA SAVE YOU FROM POVERTY. You are there to HELP them get on a different track – a track where their zip code does not determine their income or education levels. They don’t need to be saved – they need to be educated. And that is what you are – their teacher.
Good luck to all of you. This career is a roller coaster and on the days you want to give in, that one kid will show you why you matter. Just keep looking for that kid.