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...


Blogger Ben Guest said...

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June 02, 2006 6:16 AM  
Blogger Sinister Mr. A said...

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June 02, 2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Sinister Mr. A said...

We've been thoroughly warned about unrealistic expectations, but still no amount of words can compare to actual experience. Now we move on.

I just question whether focusing blame upon those who have already chosen to quit accomplishes any positive purpose. They've already made the decision. And it was a very personal decision for each individual. There was definitely an odor of negativity in the air after yesterday's session that seemed almost personal. Am I wrong?

I agree with Ben that there are probably many people who do not quit yet face as tough or even tougher circumstances than those who do. From my Peace Corps experience, I believe whether a person quits or sticks through it does come down to individual, personal comittment more than anything else.

Still, to come to Mississippi to teach in some of the toughest schools in America is unquestionably a sacrifice for most of us. Why take the tone that those who chose not go on to the second year were somehow inferior individuals? Just to come here and teach in the Delta (or wherever), for a whole year, makes them exceptional, and they should be congratulated and thanked for doing so.

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