Thursday, June 22, 2006

My December 2004 MTC Application Essay

I intended to post this last summer but never got around to it. I stumbled upon it today and was amazed by what I'd written; I'll comment on it later -- it's already quite long:

I want to contribute socially while growing personally, to teach high-school English while living in a rural Southern or Appalachian community, to pursue graduate coursework in Education while supporting myself financially. Professors and friends have suggested AmeriCorps, Teach For America, or the Peace Corps. But nearly three years ago, I found the Mississippi Teacher Corps’ Website and began e-mailing Germain McConnell questions academic, bureaucratic, logistical, and goofy.

During the past two years – while hibernating in my study; crisscrossing Israel; writing stories; traversing America by plane, train, and automobile; living in a nineteenth-century Virginian farmhouse; preparing for an extended stay in Mexico – I printed and completed MTC applications, amassed transcripts, frequented the Website, and even had recommendation letters sent once. But I never applied. Never put stamp to envelope and took my chance: I couldn’t bear the inevitable “your GPA is too low.”

Today, I have quite the collection of e-mail correspondence and dated application forms. A gathering of daydreams and desires: tangible reminders of years I might’ve spent teaching. But I’ve deliberated enough, weighing long- and short-term ambitions. January 2005, I apply.


I enjoy helping others better themselves. While at the University of Michigan, I volunteered with the Detroit Project to beautify city neighborhoods; with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to walk for a cure; with Tuesday Friends to supervise physically- and mentally-challenged adults at movies, barbeques, and pools; with Project Serve’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) to educate high-school dropouts and rebuild flood-damaged homes in rural West Virginia. I’ve touched urban poverty, held hands with the handicapped, and hugged backwater dope fiends. I’ve seen that I can make a difference – that I enjoy making a difference. But I want more: I want to nourish souls, challenge minds, and evoke excellence.

I’m looking to create a mind-blowing classroom experience for students by combining elements from my three most memorable and worthwhile educational experiences: (1) The six-week, eight-credit, uber-awesome New England Literature Program (NELP) run by U of M’s English Department, during which students and staff inhabit cabins, hike mountains, read incessantly, write intensively, live deliberately, and provoke one another to greatness while studying New England poetry and prose in a passionate, tight-knit community; (2) My two-month road trip to historical and literary hotspots around America (Twain’s Connecticut home, the Alcott house, Hawthorne’s Concord estate, Walden Pond, D.C., Antietam, Revolutionary War sites, Seneca Falls, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Ground Zero, etc.) which enlivened biographies and histories by meaningfully connecting me with America: a people, a place, and a time; (3) The previously mentioned ASB during which university students visit distressed communities, assist local laborers, and motivate struggling individuals. I love the hands-on approach!

A la Walt Whitman, I seek a synthesis of curriculum and experience. Bringing texts to the students, but also bringing students to the texts. I plan to facilitate an emotional, intellectual, meaningful literary experience, forcing students to think: arguing with me, bettering themselves, engaging with the material, personalizing the discussion. My gift is communication – specifically with children. I’ve taught teary-eyed pre-teens to dive, hysterical toddlers to float, and nearly 100 nervous students to improve SAT, PSAT, and LSAT scores. (I hope to bring similar programs to local schools.) I would like to sponsor an extra-curricular African-American Literature Society to connect students with their literary traditions and an extra-curricular writing workshop to engage young voices. I want to instill a love of writing and the English language as powerful as my own: a passion for grammar, an ardor for prose, a fascination with oddball literary characters from Holden Caulfield to King Lear. To work as hard as my teachers did.

Teaching is less about a checklist syllabus or national agenda and much more about motivational antics and personal connections with individuals. Teaching is reciprocal. It is the best way to understand the next generation, to contribute communally, and to interact substantively with others. I teach because I enjoy imparting skill and confidence. Watching somebody “get it” – eyes dancing, cheeks glowing, ideas clicking – is wonderful! I love tackling difficulties, assuaging fears, and steadying bicycles. Reminding kids to pedal, counterbalancing their weight, then releasing the bicycle, and watching students zoom.

Today, disadvantaged communities most need these outstanding contributors and energetic bike holders. Beyond ASB and NELP, my interests in Appalachia and the rural South stem from 6 weeks spent solo-camping outside a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania while reading Salinger, Nietzsche, and Hesse; four months as a counselor at Kabeyun when William Pollack’s Real Boys gained widespread popularity; James Agee’s efforts to expose American poverty in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; FDR’s commitment to politically neglected Americans; and the many teachers to whom I trace my many enthrallments: Mrs. Fallbaum, Mr. Calkins, Mrs. Jaffe, my grandfather, my mother, John Rubadeau, Tish O’Dowd, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato. Many forces have together funneled me toward a life of service.

But what motivates me, challenges me to pedal faster? Teaching. Read my recommendation letters. Call my employers. Please. Descriptions of my teaching style vary from “passionate” to “committed” to “excellent.” I strive to stay ahead of my students, to teach to each of my students, to impress and motivate each of them to action. I’m busy and active when teaching and preparing to teach; I’m focused and energized. I mention all this in juxtaposition to my past academic record.

A cursory look at my transcript reveals several issues. (1) In college, my coursework was sporadic, depending on the class, semester, or professor. Finding employment, acceptance letters, and pride from such a marred transcript is, needless to say, difficult. (2) My commitment to and mastery of English Literature and writing courses cannot be denied. (3) I have an obvious capacity to excel when motivated and an undeniable, untapped potential evidenced by, again, “occasional” outstanding – far above average – scores, triumphs, and accomplishments. If good judgment comes from experience, then experience comes from bad judgment. I spent much of college learning from mistakes: the semester I pledged a fraternity, the semester I slept in my car, the semester I took off to visit old friends. I can relate to the struggling student, the disinterested, bored, or quitting child; I can understand firsthand why someone wouldn’t care as much about class A as class B or why someone wouldn’t see the practicality of schooling. Plus, I can confidently say that such behaviors are in the past – are behind me.

I’m deliberately enclosing 3 extra recommendation letters because they are the strongest indicator of who I am today – yes, I saw the directions “do not include any additional information or supplemental materials,” but I must. I would rather not get the job for failure to follow instructions than for failure to most fully paint the picture. These varying letters provide more color and humanity than black and white grades ever could. I am devoted to and excellent at teaching. I need someone to invest in me as badly as the Mississippi Delta kids need someone to invest in them. I want to further my own academic studies because Education is paramount. And I relish the opportunity to prove that I am capable of an “A” transcript; I long for the opportunity to improve upon and further my own schooling.

At NELP, I learned to challenge perceptions, embrace education, and seek genius in everyone. I look forward to a classroom full of boisterous discussion, feverish crescendos, full-contact learning. I make it impossible for students not to speak up; I lead and follow like a chalk-wielding one-man circus. I want to make books and language as tangible to them as my road trip made authors and history to me. ASB showed me firsthand what “want” means. And I’m no idiot. I understand that my students may face tremendous peer and social pressures, have rough or unpredictable home lives, and see little practical use for English class. But I intend to demonstrate the financial benefit of confident, persuasive writing – to teach the power of coherent, structured communication. I have these gifts and enthusiasm to offer.

My immediate future is alive with exciting possibilities. I may teach at NELP in Maine; assume more responsibilities at Camp Kabeyun; lead a 40-day USY trip to Alaska, Israel, or Costa Rica; prepare a fiction manuscript for publication; apply for a Fulbright grant; study as an NYC teaching fellow; take summer classes in New Mexico, Alaska, or Vermont toward a Masters degree in Literature through Bread Loaf School of English; use grant monies to found an alternative Tent-City summer writing program for high-school students; or attend MTC training in Oxford, Mississippi. My “five-year plan” involves a variety of pursuits focused on Literature and education, stamping out ignorance, and leadership.

I hope I’ve been clear: of everything I’ve mentioned and every program I’ve considered, the Mississippi Teacher Corps is the program that most speaks to me. I see it as the cornerstone around which everything else fits. I would like to use my MTC experience as a stepping stone into future teaching, graduate work, and communal outreach – locally, politically, legislatively, creatively. I’m currently in a holding pattern somewhere between a 3.0 and a successful, impacting future. And I would love to begin amid Tennessee Williams’ characters, Faulkner’s lands, and Twain’s waters. For three years, MTC has been my top choice. It still is. So, I’m going to mail this letter. I’m going to send this application, and I’m going to go home, throw away the abandoned forms, and wait for your decision.

I’ve made mine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Corporal Punishment (600+ words)

How did you feel about corporal punishment when the program started? How do you feel now?

I was vehemently opposed to corporal punishment when I began Teacher Corps last year. I refused to believe that a culture of in-school violence could somehow teach a child that violence was wrong. Surely the “moral high ground” would be best for all involved parties.

I am now strongly against corporal punishment. Which, I suppose, is a lessening of severity – but just barely. On occasion, throughout the year, I found myself wondering about the possible benefits (the swift justice and demeaning embarrassment to the student) of paddling. But, as angry as I ever got – and once or twice I could feel my blood boiling at a few select students (better: at their behavior) – I never struck or really considered striking a student. Not my nature.

It should be noted that I teach in a district that does not allow corporal punishment to be used – not that I haven’t heard stories of coaches paddling disobedient athletes. I really don’t have 350 words to say on this topic. It’s a moot point: hitting kids is wrong; I don’t hit kids. We’ve heard horror stories all year about teachers taking it too far, and we all know stories about violence breading monsters. In fact, if this year has been about one inter-personal skill, it’s been about “killing them with kindnesses.”

Some people enter a meeting ready for an argument, but, more than occasionally, I’ve disarmed those fiery folk with my genuine interest in their point of view and my calmness. I found it best to listen to people (parents, students, crazy librarians) and to hear them out; then, after they’ve spent themselves, I calmly ask them a question – usually of the “what can I do to help you?” variety. Expecting a fight or a confrontation, they have no idea how to respond; then they start feeling bad (embarrassed, really) for losing their temper, and before long we’ve reached an agreement, and I conclude with some motivational words and a joke. When I describe it now, it almost sounds scripted or disingenuous. But really, it’s all honest emotion being productively channeled towards an efficient, mutually desired outcome. (I sound like a businessman: all efficiency and “at the end of the day”-ish. [Well, having given my Classroom Management presentation today, the fact that I run my classroom in an efficient, multi-tasking, activity-heavy manner has not escaped my notice.] As a teacher, I tried my best to skip the bullshit and circumnavigate the nonessential moments. These include staff meetings, meaningless confrontations, and professional development.)

To corporally punish? I promised myself long ago that I wouldn’t resort to violence (having seen a friend snap and destroy an apartment [and its bathroom] in his rage). So I’m good at not “losing my shit in a fit of rage.” This year I promised myself that I wouldn’t let anger fill me with internal rage either. Throughout the year, I could feel myself swallowing anger so as not to flip out on my students. But I then decided to protect my heart from undue stress and drama; probably the most health-conscious decision I made all year. I breathe deep and listen, waiting for my chance to question.

To wrap up this meaningless required entry, what troubles me most about corporal punishment and the culture of fear and violence it enables is the teacher so quick to brag about smacking a child or assisting in a whooping or actively whooping a child. I guess it’s something that I won’t understand until I have kids and am faced with the very real dilemma of whether or not to spank a child who’s deliberately peed on my books.

The Mess Inside

A highly productive day.

I realized that waking at 6:00 am (for the party bus to enrich three rising-seniors) and then returning from Holly Springs just before 2:00 pm makes for an eight hour day before I've noticed.

But today The WikEd Five met for snacks and insults, standing our project upright for the first time. Not bad. A conversation with Dr. Mullins re: the Reggie Barnes endorsed Mississippi Alternate Pathways to Quality School Leadership. "A dog" as expected; "unendorsed" according to Dr. Burnham. Hardly surprising. But I can't say that the program doesn't have its appealing side -- especially since the Principal Corps won't start until June 2008.

A 90-minute Mullins lecture re: Jackson, then we talk about Public Policy programs, PhD's, and law school. Then, finally, Mo and I start talking about CRCL and Jim Hill and, well, here's what happened (the text of my 1:30 am email to him):

I stumbled across this amazing FREE site/gaming-database while researching software options for ETC (hereafter known as the "Enrichment Tutoring Club").

The above site will serve as our math-center. The below site... a way to spend money on reading remediation? Maybe these programs aren't so bad, when used in a supplementary fashion? (But how do I find THE BEST ONE (or the most efficient/affordable one? I contemplate Sylvan, etc.) (I'm thinking "primary reading" coupled with a "visual-spatial" and "logical reasoning" tutorial package.)

I think Jordan Fundamentals (grant notification in late August) would fund this software and food; I lack Lexia's pricing but will be contacted soon. We can use MLI to pay an elementary teacher to baby-sit and distribute snacks [backpacks of food?] until 3:40. Then the teacher can walk the kids to my room by 3:45 where they're greeted by our smiling, timely tutors. This should be twice weekly (M/Th), targeting the same kids, using a range of signed-up-in-advance pre-qualified "tutors" (and pulling other teachers to monitor while I transition into the M/Th senior-IB SAT teacher come September 10th -- in time for the November 4 exam; speaking of which, we need to seek the necessary $10,000). When ETC gets wings (come January), we could run it from two labs simultaneously -- or, at the very least, open my room up to a M/W group AND a separate T/Th group (incorporating even more teachers and tutors and elementary students), displacing CRCL to some larger space... the choir room? Tuesdays and Wednesdays will have to be sacrosanct -- ONLY for CRCL's nucleus.

CRCL board meetings are Tuesday roundtables from 3:40-4:30 (while Board Game Club thrives in an adjacent room w/another teacher) -- literally seated around one table. J and C at the helm of an agenda (for Wednesday's meeting, next week's meeting, the monthly projects), their own ideas/concerns, P and L reporting to them on ETC, other CRCL sub-components (R's Film Night, October's Reservoir Panel, January's AfAm Program Committee). Each strand will need a Chair, and we'll need a secretary to take/distribute minutes (via and present thank-you notes from the previous week's meetings, plus a treasurer to keep me sane. I'm not saying "parliamentary procedure," but a gavel feels only appropriate for J and C to share. And definitely a "one-strike, you're out rule" for Tuesdays. Let Wednesdays go where they will (guest speakers, debatable articles, chaos), but someone other than you, J, and me needs to start taking responsibility for organization. That's Tuesday. And one excursion / field trip per month.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Part II

We’re in the library, kids are online, using computers, pulling encyclopedias, printing information, interpreting data, complaining about the work, arguing with group-mates, asking me good questions. We’re rocking it out. The librarian is a hassle, but that hardly matters for our purposes. Students divide and conquer, pooling and interpreting information. Summaries are written, references quoted. (We all know about plagiarism already!)

A day or two later, we’re back in class – and by now most of the kids have realized that we’re dissecting lines from a song, and that they’re holding the lyrics in their hands. What the order of events exactly was, no one knows for sure, but at some point I played the song for them. Students gave outstanding oral presentations on their decades. Here’s the key: the class had better be taking notes (especially when I highlight the important components from the back of the room by the world map) because there is going to be an open-note test on all this information. When each day ended (because we do lots of different activities in my course, we only had 30 minutes per day for presentations, so they lasted for several days), I’d play “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for them, and they’d follow along, singing the parts the could, realizing how much of the lyrics they understood and had learned about. It was eye-opening for all of us. Certainly a great way to start semester two.

Within a few weeks we’d written our own life’s highlights (similar to Billy Joel’s enumeration) with each group fine-tuning its own song, and some groups setting theirs to music and delivering jaw-dropping performances (both lyrically and musically). MoMo walked by my room to overhear a song.

We wrapped everything up with the open-notes test that I’d promised. Overall, kids learned a lot about the world around them – even if they didn’t memorize a host of facts; had a blast doing group work; took copious notes; stayed organized and informed; and excelled on a test. As late as the last day of school, students would shout “We Didn’t Start the Fire, Mr. KP” when I’d get too wild in class. Or they’ll shout, “JFK blown away, what else do I have to say!”

And I smile. Because kids’ll do that. “By god the old man could handle a spade / Just like his old man.”

Part I

An Effective Unit: (800 words)

Describe an assignment, unit, or lesson that was particularly effective. Why was it effective?

A unit that always makes me smile is the most serendipitous (and that’s saying something for me!) unit of the year. I awoke the morning after Christmas break and had some vague notion about what we’d do in school that day/week/month, but – per usual – I hadn’t thoroughly planned anything. Then, for a change, I showered. And I started singing Billy Joel’s ode to modern world history, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Granted, this project could’ve (probably should’ve) fallen flat on its ass, but my setup was good. It must’ve been. I mean, it really must’ve been because I was able to successfully teach “Goodnight Saigon” in our final week of the school year (during our war unit), cribbing entirely off student interest from “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” That said, there are definitely elements I’ll change for next year (mostly involving my preparedness to teach the lesson for maximum student benefit rather than for teacher survival).

I probably introduced the unit, thinking it’d be a quick one-off. Just something to occupy a 90-minute block and maybe some time as homework for the kids. Oh boy did that not happen!

In the first five minutes, I split the kids into groups of 4-5 and assigned each group a decade (40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s – something I’ll change for next year is more evenly splitting the work by decade and group, because the song is so light on the 70s and so heavy on the 60s, et cetera). I explained what I expected of them (“Use the internet; find the words to ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ [I didn’t say whether it was a song or a poem or whatnot.] Look up the terms from your decade. All of you are expected to do research. You will be graded for individual as well as group effort.” That sort of bullshit. Again, something I’ll more effectively prepare – say, in rubric form, next year plus, I could always prepare the lyrics for them in advance… naaahhh), then we were off to the library. Going to the library, as it always is, was clearly the worst part of the project. This was not my fault in the least. This was because our librarian is a insert alliterative expletives here. She screams (and I do mean screams) at people – students, teachers, parents – for insignificant minutiae. I hate being around her and in the library; of course, the students feel the same. Which is a shame because teaching kids to enjoy libraries is part of my mission. I am digressing.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Failure Blog: An Ode to Mixed Metaphors and The Rambling Man (900 words)

A failure: not getting Sarah a job at my high school. That’s an unfortunate blight on the year. Something to learn from surely.

It’s easier for me to write about failure than success – the latter being so ill-defined and the other so haunting for we dedicated teachers. My English Tutoring Club (ETC) was a failure. Maybe not a crash-burn-explode-there-goes-the-city-block abomination, but it hardly hovered before it sputtered and stalled. So I yanked the plug. (Because I had many other, much more successful ventures demanding my attention. Austin asked me today about my Board Game Club; I’d forgotten about that club and the Tuesdays we’d shared. Tangent: My memory has been completely and worrisomely sucking lately. Reason: I’m fucking exhausted to the core of my being. “I can’t remember faces / Don’t remember names.” That’s for Mason Cole.)

We mocked ETC, we did, students and I – for its undefined focus, for its “let’s have t-shirts slogans,” for its general worthlessness. But ETC’ll soar next year; I developed a revival plan as soon as I realized it was faltering: Mo and I will co-pilot it (failure #1 – it necessitated too much for me to coordinate alone – as he puts it: sometimes you can throw another ball in the air, and sometimes you have to take a pass) and we will incorporate ETC under our Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL) agenda (failure #2 – inconsistent core student group, poor student leadership, too few available [and helpful!] outside resources. [A “helpful” resource is one willing to give money/resources/people/assistance with assured reliance and relatively little hassle for a teacher working full-time plus.]) So now we will be covered on all grounds thanks to CRCL’s umbrella. Also, we have former-Governor Mabus’s blessing.

Our students point-blank asked him if he’d support a campaign to change the name of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, and he said no. His rationale: Spend your energy combating real-time injustice not symbols of injustices past. He didn’t want us pouring our energy into a failing cause that wouldn’t really improve the status quo. His suggestion: Peer tutoring. He nailed it, and though ETC already had a new mission, now it had wings and a blessing – okay, fine, “a prayer.” Wings and a prayer. [By the way: Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus wholeheartedly supports student efforts to change the Reservoir’s name; and you know Mo and I are too insert flattering yet backhanded compliment here to turn our students around now. They are righteously indignant about that reservoir… Further information: Andy Mullins stood with Ray Mabus on the “fix something more meaningful” line, and we’ve yet to ask former-Governor Winter.] I say: Both. ETC and CRCL together.

But this isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about AK. AK was a soft-spoken 4th-period honors freshman whom I failed. Sure, he earned a 60% or whatever – but I failed him. I had him so many times, and not once did I actually win. This will be involved.

I had his mother on speed-dial. I called her. She came to conferences. She held up her end of the bargain. She forced him to stay after school. In my classroom. She forced him to attend tutoring sessions, CRCL, and ETC meetings when I asked her to, but even with all those extra hours – even with all that extra exposure to me and my ways – I failed to meaningfully connect with him. He thought I was unfair, boring, mean, stupid, and a waste of his time. He slept (often in the most uncomfortable-looking positions one might imagine) at every opportunity, never volunteered an answer all year, rarely had any homework to submit, hardly touched handouts, contributed only to one group project.

And here’s the kicker: He’s smart. Not smart as in “oh boy, that kid sure has a lot of potential,” but smart as in actively smarter than most of his peers but too stubborn to try at all. He’s a fluent reader (his mom tells me all about the words he looks up and the books that he reads for his own pleasure), but I could never get him to do anything for class. I don’t know what to make of him. To be honest, he reminds me of myself a bit, but I sure as hell hope I was never that rude or arrogant to my teachers. He thinks he’s already got a career in the pros and a million dollars in his pockets. Why the hell does he need my class anyway?

He’ll acknowledge me in the hall with a “wassup Mr. Khaki Pants” with his head bowed and his feet shuffling, and I can always tell that he’s thinking something intelligent and gone. Not least because his mother reports back to me the thrilling dinner conversations that CRCL had sparked at his home. But only once did he and I engage in such dialogue. And to be honest, I remember the moment of interaction more than the content. [There goes the memory again!]

So there’s my failure: one kid at a time. I’m not sure I got anywhere with AK, and I poured in a lot of myself (relative to other students, I mean). By no means did I not go “above and beyond” (as Joe Sweeney terms it). This is a failure of success, not a failure of effort. And I failed AK. I wonder if they’ll remove him from the honors program. Never in my life have I felt more like Ozzie Osborne… incoherent and incompetent…

Friday, June 02, 2006

It Begins (Again)

Last night was great: Meredith saved my ass (and probably Mary's too) with her 2:1 pre-Praxis II math tutorial. These were concepts that I hadn't thought about in eight or more years (I last multiplied matrices in 1996!), and Meredith really brought the math alive, explaining answers and defining terms. I could've gone on for hours! Giddy with math love. It occurs to me how great life would be if I could live my life being intensely tutored in fascinating subjects. I would love to learn Latin or Italian -- or study psychology or philosophy in a 2:1 or even 3:1 setting. I would love to be tutored! The things we learn about ourselves when we least expect to...

Then Sarah and I drove Robbie and Mary to a dinner-in-progress at Old Venice Pizza. A definite good move on MTC's part: bringing first- and second-years together immediately. Talking with James, Chris, Hunter, Mary, and intern Molly brought back memories and fired me up!

I hope this summer means more time to blog -- in addition to all the crazy projects surrounding me. AND I'M MARRYING SARAH IN A MONTH! :)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"Unrealistic Expectations"

Up before 5, packing, a nearly three-hour drive, some food, a class, catch-up notes, enrichment planning, an apartment hunt, moving in, an eleventh-hour Gloria Steinem Leadership Institute application, faxing fun, catching the tail end of Ms. Monroe's class for the first-years. Then, at the buzzer, Ben attempted to answer the "why people quit Teacher Corps" question. His analysis: Unrealistic expectations. He spoke specifically about Ari Glogower and Reggie Quinn, encouraging first-years to read their blogs. When I raised my hand to defend them, he asked me to blog it out...


(1) Teaching is hard. Yay teachers!
(2) Teaching as a first-year teacher in an under-performing district with only a two-month crash-course certification is hard. Yay Teacher Corps!
(3) Teaching 3 English courses to 139 different students (93 of whom are "honors" students) in a school with three Teacher Corps peers, a boatload of helpful teachers, and a progressive supportive principal is hard. Yay me!
(4) Teaching a foreign language (an elective students are often forced to take) from an isolated portable as the only Teacher Corps member at an inner-city school is spectacularly harder. Yay Sarah DeGraaf!
(5) Teaching math skills to 184 middle-school students is far harder still. And illegal. Yay Ari Glogower!
(6) Teaching physics and every math course offered at your school when everyone wants to fire you for giving homework and grades is fucking insane. Yay Reggie Quinn!

My Analysis:

Expectations quickly confront reality, and people adjust within the week. Whether you thought you'd fail or succeed hardly matters when the rubber meets the road -- it's how you drive from there on. Then-general Eisenhower famously said that he'd plan and he'd plan and he'd plan, but once the battle began, the plans went out the window. Everyone's expectations are unrealistic. You won't know what it's like to only have 17 books -- until you only have 17 books. And the door closes when the bell rings.

The problem is support. People often ask MoMo and me what the "secret formula" for our extracurriculars was. Our answer is teamwork: 2 teachers, support, and a target group of students. Our target students were IB kids. Our support system was never-ending: significant others, administrators, building teachers, MTC, Ben Guest, family, friends. But, at the end of the day, the biggest factor at Jim Hill was that we each had the other. When I was down, he was up; when he was down, I was up -- and we balanced our act, pushing the ball forward, accelerating the learning curve of a first-year teacher by carrying the other.

Support: Someone to ping-pong ideas with. An intellect. Someone to actively pull you when you're dead weight. A friend. Someone to kick your ass into gear when you want to quit. A coach. Someone to make you feel that what you do every day is worth it. Is good. Matters. The easiest way to ensure this is to place two Teacher Corps members together. Add TFA, add more energetic young blood, insert significant others, add a baby. And suddenly you have life and purpose whereas before you only found frustration, angst, and resentment. They quit because they were abandoned on a day-to-day basis. Sure, Ben Guest is always a phone call away -- but who matters most is the person just down the hall. And when no one is there, everything else starts looking a whole lot better.

In conclusion, I'd rather plan for tomorrow than talk about yesterday. And tomorrow is going to be a doozy...