I did Teach for America from 2010-2011, living and teaching on the Navajo rez in Shiprock, NM. During summer training I was working with Second graders, but got a job at a high school as a math interventionist. I switched to teaching English in my second semester when our freshman English teacher left because she was being sexually harassed by another male teacher at the school. At the time my school had no Principal, graduated about 15 seniors every year, and was dealing with some major internal problems. The student population was 100% Native, with many students living at the dorms next door. Many students came from stable homes. Most students were 2-4 years behind grade level in core subjects.
TFA was hard because teaching is hard. I enjoyed it and care a lot about my students, most of whom I still keep up with now. I left a year in to get married to my husband Nick Zadrozny.
This is what I learned from my year with TFA:
- Be sensitive about the culture you’re walking into. Not everyone wants the same things you do, but all people care about family, friends, living a good life, and being respected by their peers. Focus on what that means for your kids.
- If you deeply believe that your students can be wonderful people, if you love them and want the best for them (even that girl who’s called a “lost cause” and treats everyone like dirt) — Everything will go easier for you.
- Don’t settle for less. People are capable of more than they think is possible, so you must think the impossible for them all the time. Kids need this.
- Be brutally honest. Kids know when you’re full of bullshit. They want to know more about the world that surrounds them and appreciate being told straight.
- Don’t put up with any kid’s crap. You have to be tough. There is no other way.
- College isn’t for everyone, and it’s not a ‘dream’ that should be force-fed.
- Do the majority of your work and planning 1-2 weeks before execution/lesson time.
- You cannot save the world. You will end up like a Greek tragedy if you carry a hero complex into your school.
- As soon as you feel you need it, ask for help from everyone you can. Contrary to what I believed at the time, you are not alone and have a lot of resources available.
- Don’t assign a mountain of homework you have to grade and keep up with. Keep your grading time as limited as possible and have kids grade each other’s work in class. You will have more time to focus on quality lessons and necessary personal time, which matters more than x’s and check marks.
- Teach with a Flipped Classroom, but also teach live 1-2 days a week in groups. Watching videos becomes tedious and everyone appreciates live instruction where they can interject with questions and have a good back-and-forth. Doing both creates balance.
- Summer school Institute was the hardest thing I ever went through. But, it is a season. There will be things in the future that will be harder.