The Early Teacher Days: Another TFA Reflection

I am feeling so many emotions right now, I could cry. In fact, I am crying right now, and I’ve been crying all day, or more realistically, the past couple of weeks. I’ve transitioned to the start of my professional career, or rather, craft. Teaching is an art, a work of heart, and boy, did I learn that this past Monday when we kicked off our first week of teaching actual students in summer school.

kind of knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up for Teach For America, but nothing could have prepared me for the flux of deep emotions that could match Niagara Falls. I thought I was somewhat prepared with the many diversity trainings and safe spaces and calling-ins that I experienced as a Resident Assistant in my undergrad. I thought that growing up in a low-income household and living in paranoia as an undocumented student would have been enough to face the social inequity from systems of oppression that TFA aims to dismantle.

Yeah, no. Two and four-fifths weeks into the program, and I feel like I’ve been chewed up and ripped inside-out and sewn up roughly, barely equipped to give my students the education that they deserve. It breaks my heart how institutionally fucked-up our school systems have been and still are, that kids are labeled “bad” in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. I never knew how messed up our education system was until I actually started teaching the 4th grade this week and my babies don’t know how to formulate a proper sentence and we hardly had enough pencils for everyone and desks were falling apart as they cry to tell me that they are hungry. It hit me so fucking hard to realize that I lived in a bubble my whole educational life where schools were great and suspension rates were low and only the “good” kids were in Honors, and if a “bad” kid “made their way” in there, they were perceived as the “dumbest” one.

Ugh. I am disgusted. By my own ignorance and the majority of this country’s ignorance. Sure, my family and I lived off of welfare and felt shame and struggles with our identity, but in actuality, I have SO much privilege now. Being educated, having a job, a car, a roof over my head, a full fridge, and the freedom to go out whenever I want on my free time. It wasn’t until now that I realize how motherfreakin fortunate I’ve been compared to the victims of oppression in this unjust nation. These kids need a quality education from compassionate teachers who are dedicated to mastering their craft and cultivating an equitable space for all, especially in the communities that have struggled with low performance, budget cuts, and social trauma. These are the children that need the most love. The. Most. Love.

I come home after a 12-hour day, feeling absolutely exhausted and defeated that not all my kiddos accomplished the objective of the day. I bitch and moan about how I suck at classroom management, then I bitch and moan even more about the ridiculous lesson plans that are due at the end of the day, and I am drained from head to toe with a bruised spirit.

But somewhere, somehow, I always find a little reminder of why I’m doing this work. I think about Edgar, who told me today that if he could buy anything from a magical catalog, he would buy food for the homeless. I think about Adrian who is the most fantastic 10-year-old artist I have ever seen. I am reminded of Emilio who tells me that he likes when we make him read and write because it’s fun, and of Adilene who wrote about how her father passed away. I think of how terrified and shaken up they were during the fire, and the smiles and calm that came after when I took out my ukulele and they sang with me.

I think of these children of color that need so much loving, and I know for a fact that God has blessed me with a full heart to give with. They need me because I need them, and they will believe in me because I believe in them. And that’s it, that’s why I’m doing this craft, because I have so much hope that this systemic oppression can be reversed and restored and I can die with joy knowing that I made a difference in these students’ lives. I will never, ever again fall into the pit of labeling a “good” kid from a “bad” one because it isn’t their fault. These babies didn’t get to choose the shitty society that is plagued with a school-to-prison pipeline trend. It isn’t their fault, and we’ve got to stop treating them like it is.

I recognize that I have a long, long way to go to be a good teacher. I may never even get there, to be perfectly honest… but I’m committed to this fight and I’ll never stop trying to be a better version of myself every single day. I’m checking all my privileges at the door and continuing to humble myself. I’m dedicating the rest of my life to being the best teacher I can be because my kids deserve nothing less.

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