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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 29 2012

Institute: P2 Story of Instiself…

Well, anyone who has read this blog knows how I feel about the more touchy-feely side of TFA. (For those who don’t, I’ll sum it up very quickly by saying: It’s not for me. I would have liked my time spent in different ways). Therefore, it might come as a shock that I’ve decided to share my Institute “Story of Self” on this blog. But… well I actually like mine and I’ll do what I want.

As a preface, the directions for this are to pick a positive relationship/moment/whatever and share it. My CMA group was super awesome and super chill and so as a result our sharing time was super relaxed. Which is probably why I ended up liking my institute story of self more than the forced one I shared at Induction. Okay… let’s just launch into the story. (The Long Version)

This story is about one of my students, who I’ll call B. No, his initial is not B but he really liked the buttons on my one sweater, so B it is. (Side story: there was one day during summer school when he wore a female classmate’s long, black cardigan and would occasionally run around claiming no one could see him because he was a ninja. (I found it too funny and harmless to really shut down. I freely admit, I was not the best teacher at Institute. Particularly at disciplining kids who were just having a little fun. This is probably my biggest weakness as a teacher primarily because I was that slightly hyper, good-humored kid who needed to move around every once and a while. ANYWAY, back to the story…)

So at the beginning of the summer school, day 2 (day 1 of teaching actually which I spent slightly concussed… I should tell that story at some point), B was asleep. I would wake him up and he would sit there, very disengaged or, if pressured, respond with quite a bit of attitude. Day 2 passed the same way. Then, Day 3 he was awake and at least half-trying and I made a point to smile at him and praise him and call on him. At one point, I was walking around and saw he had the right answer (during Independent Practice) and so called on him instantly and he said something like “I don’t want to” and I said something like “C’mon. I know you can do this.” And he got very angry, very quickly and lashed out with “You don’t know anything about me.” I was taken aback and to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I remember I kept it lighthearted and he did read his answer.

Anyway, fast forward four weeks and B has become one of my favorites. Not one of my best behaved (the kid did not want to stop talking. Ever.), not one of my highest scoring, and I still had to stand over him a lot of the time to make sure he was working but still… he was one of my favorites. So, there was some confusion over when B was leaving summer school (his mother came in at one point and said he was leaving for vacation but then that may have been changed…. Who knows) Long story short: B, along with another titan of the class, had to take the final assessment a day early. Since I was trying to write a nice letter for each kid of the class, I brought their two letters that day so I could give it to them in case they didn’t make it back to summer school.

For some reason, B was not feeling working that day. He declared he did not want to take the test. I explained why it was important; both in the “we want to see how much you’ve learned!” happy-isn’t-this-exciting way and then the “you have to take this or you will fail” I’m-getting-serious-with-you-make-good-choices way. To both, his response was the same “I don’t care.” So, finally I said something like, “B, I have a whole letter written about how awesome you are. Are you really not going to take this test?” To which he replied. “That’s probably the same letter you’ll give everyone.” So I marched into the classroom and grabbed his letter from my book bag and plopped it on the desk in front of him. Told him to read it and tell me if I would be giving it to everyone.

Anyway, I’m not going to post the whole letter here but it started with something like “In the beginning of the summer, you told me I didn’t know anything about you. And that was true, but now that we’ve had a month together, I think I do know a few things….” And then it went on to list all the reasons I thought he was awesome (including the ninja episode, and how he really liked the buttons on this one sweater I wore and a bunch of other inside jokes) and then about how I thought he could be wildly successful if he worked hard. I told him I did not want to see him in the hallway if I ever visited his school. I also told him to try out acting in high school.

So back to the hallway. I watch as B reads his letter and I can tell he’s really reading because he is taking his time and laughing at all the right moments. Then he got to the longer paragraph about how I thought he could be freaking awesome (not exact wording but that was the message) and he looked kinda serious.

Then he finished the letter and I swear he was blushing a little and without looking up at me, very quietly mummbled: “Okay. I’m going to do my work now.”

I almost cried. I didn’t cry at Institute, but I definitely flushed a little. Luckily, he didn’t see because he had picked up a pencil and was reading the test.

So, that was my story-of-self for Institute. That was the best moment I can think of where I felt like I had truly impacted a student in a positive way.

And, that was the moment I told during this final share time. But, as with all heartwarming stories, it did not actually end there.

B worked hard for about 45 minutes. Then, he got distracted. He started talking. He ran around the hallway and as much as I tried to have him refocus, he never quite hit his stride again. Unfortunately, I had to go inside to teach my class and I came out to find out he was in trouble for throwing pencils down the stairs.

Somehow, I think this full story of Institute is more realistic. I mean, that’s the thing to take away from this. You can have this great moment with a kid that you think is truly life-changing (or “transformational” as TFA would say) and in the end, it’s just a little 45 minute band aid. B did pass my class, but he didn’t do as well as he could have done. But, he did tell me I was his favorite teacher and he did give me a big hug when he left and he did make a point to tell me he had his letter. So… transformational change? Maybe not. But, let’s face it, I love that little button obsessed maniac. Even if he is freaking insane.

4 Responses

  1. Daniel Cesar

    I appreciate your story. However, I want you to be aware of how one may read this. As an African-American, who had completed the corps in 2012, I’m well aware of ebonic vernacular. You may want to reconsider your usage of “ninja”; ninja is a pejorative term used amongst African-Americans. I suggest you look up this term and consider revising this entry. Other than that, great job sharing your experiences. Please reach out if you have any questions.

    • bottlecap

      Thank you very much for letting me know- I had no idea and obviously would not want to offend anyone. (facepalm)

      It’s been changed to a happy neutral initial now!

      Again, thanks for letting me know!

  2. Grant M.

    This is the best post I have seen on the TFA blog. It leaves me looking forward to doing TFA someday. Also, it shows me that I will face exactly what I expect: laughter and frustration mixed with hope. Best wishes to you, Bottlecap.

  3. Inspiring, yet realistic. Thanks for sharing. Congrats on finishing Institute, and good luck in the fall!

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