Greensboro

A Transition

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.

leaves

The Game of the Century

It’s Friday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, the day before Alabama plays LSU in what has become known as “The Game of the Century,” and what am I doing? As a current Alabama student, you’d think that I’d be out in the sunshine enjoying the festivities. But, by choice, I’m not. While Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews, Urban Meyer, and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew entertain a live audience just a few hundred feet away from my apartment, I am sitting on my couch…reading.

But I’m not just reading anything. I’m sitting here (perfectly content, I might add) reading about achievement gaps in education and ways of turning public education’s failures into student success stories. Why am I reading about these things? Because last week I did something I never thought I would do – I submitted my application to become a Teach For America corps member. If I’m accepted, I will spend the next two years teaching in low-income schools. I became one step closer yesterday when I received an invitation via email to a final interview, scheduled for the last week of November.

As I read these articles that are a required part of the application process, I am reminded of two things. The first is an extra-credit paper I wrote for a class I took last spring. There was no required length, format, or topic for the paper, and I didn’t even need to write it to boost my grade…but I chose to write it anyway, and what I chose to write about was education. After reading nine books about topics as varied as technology, elitism, multiculturalism, childhood, and competition, education was the thread I saw running through each and every one of them, education as not only one of America’s great problems, but also as one of America’s great solutions. As I read these articles now, I feel as if I am reading my term paper, which, by the way, was a whopping 10 pages long.

The other thing I am reminded of when I read these articles is that there are waaaaay more important things than college football, just like there are waaaaay more important things than seeing your name in print, which is one reason I’ve recently decided to leave journalism behind and pursue teaching as a career path.

Oddly enough, I turned in the paper described above on April 27, or what I like to call “tornado day.” It was with my professor, who had our papers in his satchel, and the rest of my classmates that I sat on the floor of one the academic buildings on campus, listening to the ever-present tornado sirens and crouching in the kitchen as we watched video footage of a big, gray cloud making its way our direction. I’m not saying the tornado changed my career path. I was obviously thinking a lot about education beforehand. I’m just saying it’s funny how interrelated the tornado and my new life plan seem to be. Everything I ever wrote – papers, creative pieces, journalism articles – everything was destroyed by the tornado. But I don’t even care. They were pieces of paper with my name on them, and though I enjoyed writing them, I doubt anyone will ever remember them except for me.

With all of that said, I will be in Bryant-Denny Stadium tomorrow no later than 4 p.m., as I paid only $5 for my ticket and love college football more than anyone. Accidentally wore a purple scarf today, but no big. Wearing red tomorrow. Roll tide.