I just finished my first week of teaching in the new year of 2010, and although I’m not quite back in the routine yet… I’m feeling the urgency to get it together as I approach the end of my second year in Teach for America. As I sit at the beginning of what will be the end- the final semester- the completion of my 2-year commitment with TFA- I ponder where the Lord will take me next. At this point, I want to continue teaching art, but truth be told…I will not be staying in DC. My reasons come down to relationships. My boyfriend and family are all back in Oklahoma, and although I’ve enjoyed my time out here, and learned and grown a whoooole lot, I am ready to be close to the people I care about the most. Needless to say, they are also ready to have me home
I don’t feel like leaving my school after these 2 years makes me a person that is ‘giving up’ on the mission of TFA, because I have definitely become more of an advocate for educational equality. My experience thus far has shown me what the ‘achievement gap’ actually looks like, how and why this occurs across racial and socioeconomic lines, and why we need to work diligently to close it, and give ALL of our kids what they need.
Have I done a perfect job? Absolutely not. Does Teach for America do a perfect job of preparing and supporting their corps members? Absolutely not. Having said that though, I can speak for myself and what I’ve seen of Teach for America staff and other corps members whom I live/work with, and the point is that we have a passion and determination to do all that we can in this moment, with the knowledge and skills we have at this time, to try and do our best each and every day. Do we feel like giving up sometimes, and do we not always give the 110% that we anticipated giving? Absolutely. We are human after all.
What amazes and encourages me about this movement though, is the persistence I see. It’s the getting back up, the trying again, and again, and again…. and again, to try and make that kid ‘get it,’ to know they are cared for and loved (even on the days you struggle to love some of them…), and then the simple act of showing up even on days when you don’t think you can. On days like these, you hang onto hope.
I hang onto my belief that no problem is ever too big for God. No child or person is beyond redemption. In this world, where we wait for things to be made right, we must also do all that we can with the talents and abilities the good Lord has given us, to try and make things right. It’s the whole concept that says, “Pray you catch the bus, and then run like hell!” I’ve felt this way many times in my Teach for America experience. All that I do and say for my kids, in my efforts to ‘close the achievement gap’ in the art room, and to let them know they are loved and special, is in vain without prayer as my foundation. If it’s all just a bunch of ‘fluff’ and ‘warm fuzzies,’ I don’t feel I’ve really done the job.
Some days require tough love and lots of discipline, but my prayer is that art will be the means to a number of things: to open up their world to other cultures and art periods, to provide a greater awareness of themselves and their peers, to foster healthy ways to express themselves and to be creative, and then to simply enrich their lives with the beauty and therapeutic act of creating! We have a great Creator, and we are all meant to reflect the creative process. There are many ways I believe we manifest this, so if you’re reading this and don’t feel you have a ‘creative bone’ in your body, I challenge you to look again!
One more thing, as I think about ‘the end’ of my term in DC, I am reminded that the process in any artistic endeavor, is almost always more important than the actual product. Let’s think on this as teachers. Yes, we have “big goals” to reach, but let’s not get so fixated on the ‘final product,’ that we lose sight of the process. There may be times we have to relinquish the “big goal” and deliver a “teachable moment” that will go on much longer than a statistic will. I’m not taking the importance off the “big goal,” and reaching those numbers we all want, but there is much more to teaching, and the process of caring for children, than simply that. At the end of the day, let’s remember what is MOST important.
Here’s to completing the work that’s been started!
God, go before me! God, go before all of us that teach and care for children! Amen.