Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't Let Them Forget

Teach For America has 5 core values. They are as follows:

* Relentless pursuit of results: We assume personal responsibility for achieving ambitious, measurable results in pursuit of our vision. We persevere in the face of challenges, seek resources to ensure the best outcomes, and work toward our goals with a sense of purpose and urgency.

* Sense of possibility: We approach our work with optimism, think boldly, and greet new ideas openly.

* Disciplined thought: We think critically and strategically in search of the best answers and approaches, reflect on past experiences and data to draw lessons for the future, and make choices that are deeply rooted in our mission.

* Respect and humility: We value all who are engaged in this challenging work. We keep in mind the limitations of our own experiences and actively seek out diverse perspectives.

* Integrity: We ensure alignment between our actions and our beliefs, engage in honest self-scrutiny, and do what is right for the broader good.

I would say that most people that work for Teach For America concentrate on the very first one. As teachers in desperate situations, we work our little fingers to the bone trying to achieve our "sense of possibility" that our students can succeed. I feel as though I embody all these values. If I didn't then I don't think I would have been chosen to work for this organization. I work so hard. I am strict. I am determined.

If you want to know how determined and hard working I am you can just simply look into the eyes of my students. I think they understand what I am. The problem is my students forgot how I FEEL. They know I expect nothing less than their very best and they know I constantly want their heads down in determination to be perfect students; although, I felt as though it was time for a fire side of sorts with my students. They seemed frustrated and disconnected. Was it the long break? Is this a January swoon? No, I let them forget something very important.

On Thursday, with about ten minutes left in the school day, I had my students pack up their stuff. I then wheeled out my office chair and sat in front of them. They desperately needed a reminder of how much I cared about spilled my guts to them. I told them the truth. They needed to know that they're the first thing I think about when I wake up and they're the last thing I think about when my head hits the pillow. I just blatantly told them that I care about each one of them. By the looks on their faces you would have thought that I was giving them the answers to ISTEP+. They were focused and engaged on what I had to say. That's because they needed to hear it just as much as I needed to say it.

They needed to know why I am so strict. They needed to know why I'm so hard on all of them. Why do I demand perfection? Why am I different from other teachers they've had? I care so damn much. This is what love looks like. They all agreed that I was the most strict teacher they've ever had. I don't apologize for how I do things and how hard I make them work and sure didn't apologize to them. They just needed to understand why a 23 year old man is spending all of his time wondering if Trinidy is going to get kicked out of my class. Or if Rodney is going to understand math standard 5.5.4 okay. Or if Cheyanne will be able to focus even though her cousin was shot dead last night.

I'm not here for my health and I'm definitely not here for my hairline because that's fading quicker than the polar icecaps. I'm here because I care about each and every one of my students. I don't want them to go a day without realizing that.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth."
~Dan Rather

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