bilingual, bicultural, and back home

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 22 2012

First-year mistakes.

We were spending 80-100 minutes a week between my two classes waiting in line silently during our classroom break. It was driving me crazy. So I thought of a simple solution for the interim: bring a book. They. Love. It. And I love them.

I walk out of my school everyday with even more on my plate than the day before. More deadlines, more assignments, more things-to-do that must appease my school, district, alternative certification program, and Teach For America. The more I get, the more I am frustrated. As much as everyone detest teachers giving out busy work, I feel like I receive a lot of it.

It’s not even that the work is difficult. It’s not that I feel above it. (Okay, maybe I do if I’m honest with myself.) It’s just that there’s so much of it to do and I feel like it repeats itself over and over again. The redundancy makes me wish there was an exit ticket that would excuse me from attending another session on how to read data or how to write a daily objective. If I have demonstrated mastery of the skill once (or heck, repeatedly), mark me as having mastered the objective and move me on. Check on me every now and then. Likewise, if I have not mastered the skill, challenge me. Support me. Help me become better.

This is how I have been feeling lately for the last two weeks and why I have refrained from writing. I have held such emotional and mixed feelings at the aforementioned pieces to my life that I  have feared writing something that I would later come to regret. But today, my perspective and attitude has changed.

Why? Well, as embarrassing as it is to admit… I started to notice that my resentful attitude started to affect my teaching and the people around me. I was in such a resentful and pissed off mood at the things outside of our classroom that were keeping me from my kids, that that negative energy came seeping in.

I noticed it most obviously today as I was scolding one of my lowest performing students for not having his behavior tracker signed for the fourth time and demanding that he explain to me why he was not meeting expectations. Everyone else was so why wasn’t he? After a lot of talking at him, he finally spoke and told me that he could not have it signed because his mother was in the hospital. Awestruck, I could only think to ask about his father who — no surprise — has been with mom by her bedside. He wanted to get it signed, he told me in his soft Spanish voice, but he could not. Dad came home really late and mom was still at the hospital.

He was in near tears as he explained this to me and I just wanted to cry and slap myself for being so stupid.  Granted, there is no way I could have known his story but I just imagined him at home, alone, not wanting to fail me, so desperately wanting to have it signed but knowing that was not a possibility given his circumstances.  And me, speaking to him in a foreign English like I knew him while simultaneously demanding him to not fail me again when it truly was outside of his control. I was stupid. Pretty foolishly downright stupid.

So what did I do at the moment? I can hardly recall. All I remember doing is giving him a hug, apologizing, and asking for his forgiveness, and retelling how I care about him but cannot help him unless he talks to me. And yet, I did not feel any better. I still felt so frustrated with myself because that’s precisely the kind of thing I did not want to be guilty of. How could I assume that because we come from the same place and share the same skin color, I knew his story? After mulling over it for six hours and debating a lot back and forth, I called his house and asked to speak to him.

I apologized to him, again, and relayed how it was not in my place to have scolded him the way I did. I then proceeded to speak with mom who expressed to me such love, care, and concern for her child that I heard the voice of my own parents. They, like her, sent their child to school for eight hours a day, approximately 180 days of the school year in naive and vain hope that their child will come home better than the day before. How could I have hurt that trust? Created a crack in our safe place? From the look on your face to your tone of voice, children remember everything. Regardless of whatever age.

For Michael*, I hope he came home today positively — not negatively — impacted from our conversation. I hope I healed wounds. I hope he harnesses a positive memory and builds one as the year progresses. But at least I think I am getting through to him. As we neared the end of our conversation, his mother shared with me how Michael* says, “he can’t give up because both I and his teacher will not let him.”

I can’t give up on you Michael. I’m sorry for having done so today.

* Name has been changed

4 Responses

  1. Prof. G

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no way that you could have known what was going on with him at home, and I think you were very generous in apologizing and in making him feel your regret. What made you feel particularly bad was that you felt that the frustration you’ve been feeling about the bureaucracy of public education was seeping, as you say yourself, into your feelings and actions in the classroom. That, too, is to be expected though you have done well to recognize it early and to separate the institutional from the personal.
    The same way that public education in this country has become a machine meant to alienate and fail students, it does the same thing to teachers. When you care, you always suffer too much. That’s why most good teachers move on to teach college, or can be found in charter schools, or in private schools. It’s hard to fight a system bent on making you “fail” and clock out when it’s just you.
    But the experiences you are having today will not only touch your students forever but also help alter the course of their lives. The difficult times also will make you an even better teacher and human being all around.
    There is no success without failure. There can be no growth without making mistakes. It is the people who think they have it all figured out, who have no introspection and are incapable of self-criticism and self-change, who cannot metamorphose from caterpillar (and I have nothing against the woolly creatures) to butterfly. Be generous with yourself, forgive yourself for your trespasses, and move on to do and to become even better.
    Accept these challenges as part of the price you pay for being the amazing human being you already are and for becoming the amazing teacher you are working to become. Don’t let “the System” take you out of the equation, because that’s precisely what “It” is designed to do.
    Patience and valor, my dear. Paciencia y valor. You have tons of the latter because you are one of the bravest people I know. Now cultivate the former and you will prevail, in the way that is meaningful for you.
    Yo voy a ti. Siempre.

  2. Yes, children remember everything. But just as children remember the bad, they also remember the good.

    I’ll never forget the teachers who showed they believed in me, the teachers who went the extra mile to check in with me when I seemed blue or out of sorts.

    I wanted to say thank you not only for talking to Michael (who hopefully knows no he can come to you for help) but for being brave enough to share your story with others. Your post reminds me that things are not always as they appear and to always assume the best in others.

  3. Lance

    I promise you this: Many years from now, if/when he remembers this incident, he will not remember it because you scolded him. That has happened many times in his life. He will remember it because it was the surprising, maybe shocking, maybe first time ever that an adult apologized to him and admitted making a mistake. We adults often feel we don’t have to apologize to children, even when we have been wrong. Your doing so shows not only a level of care but also respect that will be more memorable to him than any ordinary scolding.

  4. Richard

    May I simply resonate what Prof. G wrote so eloquently above.

    Keep up your confidence Christian. And please, keep writing. :)

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About this Blog

I'm the first in my family to attend college. So what did I do when I graduated? Went back home to teach. This blog captures that story.

Dallas-Fort Worth
Elementary School

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