I joined Teach for America last year for a number of reasons. I applied online my senior year at Furman during the middle of a political science class. I wanted to be on Young Life staff, but I had heard other college friends were applying for this selective program, and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon. No thoughts about how I would do in the teaching profession. No thoughts about how I would handle children in poverty. When I got to the essay portion of the application, I stopped short. Eh, I thought, maybe I won’t apply after all.
I wanted to be on Young Life staff. However, there were 3 positions in all of North and South Carolina that were open in 2009. The economy was hitting Young Life just like every other business and non-profit. Area Directors and full-time staffers around the country were already taking pay-cuts. Most areas couldn’t possibly imagine hiring another staff member. 3 open positions, 12 applicants. My chances were slim. And then came the phone call from TFA.
“You really ought to finish the online application,” an anonymous recruiter told me over the phone, “In the best-case scenario, you’ll have two great options at the end of the day.”
Somehow, Big Brother had seen my unfinished online application, and liked what they saw. I was flattered. I was intrigued by the competitive and selective nature of the program, and had basically been promised an interview right there over the phone. I finished the essays in about an hour, pressed submit, and waited.
The following week, I got the phone-call telling me I had not been placed on Young Life staff. I also received the e-mail inviting me to interview with Teach For America. I needed to create a 5 minute mock lesson, and read several articles about the Achievement Gap. I booked one night in a Charlotte, NC hotel and bought my first suit at Banana Republic.
I was one of 12 applying for 3 Young Life positions in my small corner of the country. All of the sudden I was one of 38,000 applicants competing for 2,000 teaching positions in 38 cities around the U.S. I obviously did not know what I was getting into. I was offered a position in Nashville, TN.
Last year, my first year of teaching, was _________. There is not one single adjective that can finish that sentence properly. Terrible, exhausting, frustrating, eye-opening, sickening, complicated, a rollercoaster, a black hole in my memory. Five weeks of training in Atlanta, GA simply did not prepare me fully for the onslaught of challenges that a teacher faces daily in the form of middle schoolers. Though I’m sure the blog entries would have been more dramatic last year, I had no energy to share my angst with anyone other than my poor mother, and of course, Mr. Gibson.
This year, I have chosen to share my journey with whoever is willing to read. Last year, I was Ms. Carlton, a young, white, inexperienced, emotional teacher. This year, I am Mrs. Gibson. It’s a different year. The students will come to me in much the same condition as my students last year. But I am a different teacher. I joined this movement last year for many reasons–none of which included children. This year, I am teaching for them.
A documentary comes out this fall about the D.C. school system. What is said in this trailer is true of my experience in Nashville.