Let us Put our Minds Together

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 30 2012

A Winter Break Update

Happy holidays!

Apparently, myself and all other 2012 CMs need to blog more. Seriously, to not do so shows that we are undoubtedly ashamed of our jobs, miserable with our experience, and afraid of what others might think about what we are doing.


Surprisingly, I am none of those things, at least not as of 2:36 PM on December 30, 2012. To be honest, I fully suspected I would be. Going into last summer and this fall, I had read/heard enough TFA horror stories to know that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Less than two months of training is not enough to adequately prepare anyone to be a phenomenal teacher, and I worried that I would come in and just bomb.

Has it been perfect? Not at all, far from it in fact. While nearly all of my students have made progress since the beginning of the year, only a few are where I want them to be in terms of reading skills, writing skills, work ethic, and mastery. Some of that can be attributed to factors outside of my control, but ultimately, the blame falls to me. If there is one thing I know going into my second semester, it is that I can do so much more to help my students reach their goals. Not only can I simply work harder to plan and execute more effective lessons, I can take other steps as well. I need to talk to the parents/guardians more, keep them more in the loop when it comes to their children. My students need a better way to track their work so they know more clearly what they need to improve on and what they may be missing. Finally, I need to hold all of my students to the same standards for behavior. If there is one thing in my classroom I think I failed at first semester, it is that. We had expectations and for the most part the students did a good job meeting them; but I did a terrible job o following through with behavioral consequences, which lead some of my students to take advantage.

Things haven’t been perfect, but nothing has happened that I am ashamed of. Before I decided to accept TFA’s offer last year, I asked many of my peers who were going to school for education if they would go work in rural South Dakota for $30K a year. Out of a dozen people, only two told me they would do it.  Scientific proof of anything? Nope, Nate Silver would laugh at my data. However, it does provide a neat segue into my point that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Things could change, by the end of the year it may be clear that I have no business being a teacher, but right now the data and my perception says I am doing a decent job. I’d be glad to not have this job available to me. I’d love for there to be more out of work teachers in South Dakota that were willing to go work on the reservations. It would be amazing if the tribal communities were producing more of their own teachers. Sadly, that is not the case right now. Until it is, i’m not going to be ashamed of taking a job where I have through the avenue I have.

I know very little about how things are going in the rest of the TFA universe, but I feel like things are going pretty well so far. Living in a little town on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I am surrounded by a sparse but beautiful landscape. The regional TFA staff is largely supportive and engaging, pushing us to do more for our students while making sure that we aren’t going crazy in the process. While I fundamentally disagree with some of their long-term goals for TFA South Dakota, I have  no doubt that their hearts are in the right place.

With one or two exceptions, everyone at school has been very welcoming. The need for teachers is real out here. Even with our teachers spread out over two reservations, there are still many openings left to be filled. We aren’t “stealing” jobs from veteran teachers out here and most of my coworkers seem to appreciate our being here, not judging us prematurely, but seeing how we perform.

It can’t be easy for the community, having TFA here. While some seem genuinely glad to have outsiders bringing in their experiences and perspectives to share with the children, I’ve talked to enough people to know that is not a universal feeling. On a few different occasions, tribal members have told me that they would prefer not to have outsiders teaching their children, but until things change they will take advantage of whatever tools are available to them to hopefully give their kids a good education. That is pretty humbling to me, I only hope that I can live up to it moving into the second half of the year.

My students spent the last three days of school before break with the Newtown school shooting on their minds. Our school did a number of drills and lock downs in the wake of that tragedy, and many of our students wanted to talk about it, why it happened, and how to keep it from happening here. It is heartbreaking that they should have to worry about such things. In the lead up to Christmas, 12 year olds shouldn’t be coming to school and telling you the grisly details of what happened in that school when all those kids were murdered. It was really touching  though to see them show support for the families and community rocked by these events. My class and many others collected notes and cards to send to Connecticut and I saw students that were “too cool” to do anything all semester write lengthy, heartfelt letters to the parents and friends of those killed. It was heartwarming and truly an indication of how big these kid’s hearts are.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If I don’t post again anytime soon, it probably means I defected to the USSR and now go by Ivan.

**I don’t expect a ton of folks to read this, but I want to make it clear that these are the views and experiences of one person, working in one school, in one region that TFA is present in. Keep that in mind before making any broad judgments about things. as many on this site/the internet in general seem prone to do.


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My myriad thoughts as I navigate my time in the classroom.

South Dakota

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