Well folks, that’s it. I’ve been living in the charming town of Greensboro, Alabama, for about a year now, and here I am, packing up and moving again. I am moving because I have accepted a job in Birmingham as a writer for a local newspaper, which means that, for various reasons, I will not be returning to teach a second year with Teach For America. After much distance – spending weeks agonizing over the decision, struggling between the idea of fulfilling a commitment and the idea of being happy – I have an incredible amount of peace about where I landed. As I look back at the reasons why I joined Teach For America, I realize that so much and yet so little has changed. My passion for education and my desire to be a leader haven’t changed; my career path and outlook on life have. I joined Teach For America as a way to jump-start a new career in teaching, something that, at the time, I thought I would want to do forever. Now, I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have gained so much from my last year of teaching – a new appreciation for teachers, an even stronger passion and anger at the senseless lack of opportunity that exists in many of America’s schools, a greater understanding of my skills and how I may use them for the benefit of myself and others, a better understanding about where America’s education system fails and what needs to be done in order to fix it, and, most importantly, a new outlook on life that will make me forever grateful for each and every opportunity that I receive.
In many ways, it feels strange to be writing this post. I’m talking about leaving Teach For America, and I never even wrote anything about my experience as a corps member. Part of that stems from the fact that, frankly, I just didn’t have time. I worked, on average, 80 hours a week for an entire school year, and I still felt like I was drowning.
The other reason I never wrote anything is that I just didn’t know what to say. Even now, I’m at a complete loss for words, and I’m afraid to put words on paper – or even let words slip from my lips – for fear that any story I tell will not wholly represent my experience as a corps member. I’m afraid that any one story would either perpetuate the stereotypes that exist about America’s education system and the communities struggling within it, or it would misrepresent the work that corps members across the country are doing on a daily basis. How does one convey the gravity, the difficulty, the complexity of the situation through a story with a finite amount of words? I’m afraid such a task may only be accomplished with a book.
I’ll also be the first to admit that it’s much easier to block this past year from my memory rather than write or talk about it. It’s easy to forget about those mornings when I drove to work in tears and employed every bit of strength I had not to turn around, just like it’s easy to forget those afternoon tutoring sessions when three or four students would tell me, “This has been so helpful. You’re a really good teacher,” when I had heard the exact opposite message for nearly five hours earlier that day.
But as I think about how easy it would be to forget these things, it scares me. I think about everything I have learned this year – about my new home, about my country, about myself – and I know that I do not want to forget any of it. Not the funny moments, not the good moments, not the eye-opening moments, not even the breathtakingly bad moments, as these were the moments when I think I learned the most. I say all of this, yet I have done nothing to make these memories permanent. I’m sure other corps members would agree with me when I say, “I wanted to write about my experience as it happened, but I just didn’t have the time between lesson planning and attending meetings and (sometimes) eating and (sometimes) sleeping…”
This past year has been a whirlwind. A difficult whirlwind, but I will be forever grateful for it. In one-word answers, it has taught me patience, strength, faithfulness, gratitude, humility, and joy in ways I never would have imagined. As I sort through it all, bear with me. Some thoughts and stories I will share here. Others will only surface in conversations over coffee and in my own journal for safe-keeping. In the meantime, I would love to hear about yours. I would love for you to ask me more about mine. Like I said, there is so, so much to tell.