I have been wanting to update this blog for a while. In the spirit of an older post, I’d like to share a draft of a speech I submitted for the 2008 corps alumni induction. While I was accepted to speak at the event, this is not the final speech that was used.
For the last two years we have taught the best, the brightest, and the most beautiful children of Los Angeles. Though, some days it does not feel like that. And most days, it has felt like we are the ones doing the learning.
In this transition from corps members to alumni, what one story would I want to impart to all of you? We have our stories of transition in the classroom: How our classrooms transitioned from conquering behavior management to conquering the periodic; or our students who have jumped grade levels and standardized testing bands. But really, the summary most apropos to this TFA transition period comes directly from the mouth of one of my 7th grade intervention students, J_____.
J_____ is twelve years old, and by April had achieved about 37% mastery of the Intervention math learning goals. I am ashamed to say that there were days I looked at J_____ and wondered if anything was going on in his head.
So I sat J_____ down and explained that I could not send him to 8th grade knowing that he could not do division. For 6 days he sat at my desk and we stepped through the basic concepts of division. On day 6, I turned my back to him and said “You will do this problem without the place value blocks and without me.” I was so nervous. I was sure I’d turn around and see the same blank face that has starred at me in class everyday for the past 7 months. But when I turned back, he had done it. I was satisfied, but J_____ was not. He insisted I give him more problems and turn my back to show he could do it on his own.
I spread the word of J_____’s achievements and another math teacher approached him and said, “You have to show me what you learned!” Jordan stood up, looked the teacher in the eye and said, “I’ve got tricks – *what-cha* (karate chop)” and ran off.
And that is how I feel when I am asked to sum up what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in the last two years. How do we control a classroom? Invest a student in their future, in the standards, in a big goal? My fellow Teach for America alumni, I feel safe saying for all of us, in the words of J_____ – “We’ve got tricks – *what-cha* (karate chop)”.
While I plan on staying in the classroom for another year, I know many of us are going different routes. But I do not mourn the loss of some of us as teachers, because I look around at the intelligent and motivated group of people in this room, and I know what we are carrying away with us from these two years.
We all have our war stories from the classroom. So I ask, where ever you are going next, please keep in mind this: Now is the time to go to war. It is time to go to war against the ignorance of a society that has put the education of some as second to the education of others. A society that despite our passions and relentless pursuits, has laid us off in large numbers because our students’ education did not hold the same worth as some one else’s students’ education. It is time to go to war against the value system that has left education in our country broken. And I do not mourn the loss of some of us as teachers because I know that wherever you go, you will speak out against the ignorant comments, thoughts, and policies that continue to widen this achievement gap.