Serious/unfunny post ahead. Venture at your own discretion:

In no way am I a good teacher.

I realize this. And I’m learning and growing as a teacher.

That said, this whole institute thing is fun. Fun in the challenging way. Fun in the I’m only getting six hours of sleep and for the other 18 I’m straight working way. So many people before me said that Institute was the most challenging experience of their life before teaching, but I just don’t think so. Building that house down in Nicaragua was way worse than this. Just as little sleep, harder work, more work, more intense work. Nah, this isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But it is hard.

Almost the first words I received after assigning my first journal topic to settle down the class I walked into was student cursing out me and my assignment, it was hard to rebound from that. Trying to fight the apathy of 18 disinterested summer school students is hard. Battling the poor (almost forced) sleeping habits is hard. Planning an hour that must (must!) be engaging for students and still convey critical and basic information so they can pass on to senior year of high school is hard. Trying to find a residence when the only time is the weekend and then I only want to sleep is hard and challenging. I’m not saying this isn’t hard.

But I’ve had harder.

And I’ve learned that the success TFA thrives on is based a lot on the self-judging, self-correcting pressure many of their acceptees place on themselves in order to help begin to solve the problem of educational inequity. I have seen these new teachers put so much unnecessary stress on themselves for no reason that they sacrifice the effectiveness of their performance in the classroom. But those are the types of people TFA generally recruits. And I was that person the first day.

I thought: “Man, I couldn’t do junk in that classroom. Students were out of their seats, cursing me out, not doing the work I’m assigning, not pay attention, not really ‘getting it’. Damn, what am I doing wrong.” But then a friend helped me re-evaluate it. The students, after a few minutes, did quiet down and do their work, but I was so unspecific about what I expected they just did the barest (and I’m talking barest) minimum. They didn’t grossly act out. They didn’t all leave in the middle of class. They all read with me. They all responded to my questions if only with an “I don’t know” (but thankfully no “I don’t care”s). Overall, I realized, I did OK, for not knowing what to do. And the next day, instead of constantly telling the disruptive kids to stop mis-behaving, I thanked the good kids for staying on task. I became more explicit about how long their journals had to be. I gave them guided notes so they knew what the key points were, and when to write them down. I’m starting to become more effective by learning what’s wrong, and then fixing it.

Meanwhile, people have quit, and left the burden of their work on other teachers. Now instead of one hour, some people must prepare two hours of class for every day of every week. I couldn’t imagine that. I’m beginning to get comfortable in the front of a classroom.

From the boy who shook uncontrollably at his junior piano recitals as a 10 year old to the man who’s standing up in front of a classroom helping students identify theme, it seems my life’s taking a turn for the better.

But I am in no way a good teacher. Yet.