A couple months ago, I was chatting with a college undergrad who has been intensely pro-con-con-proing Teach for America. During our conversation, she shared she’s nervous to work in a “bad” school. My senior year of college, I heavily debated applying to Teach for America but decided to get my masters first. I asked her to tell me more about what she meant by bad. She explained that Teach for America has to send new teachers to the schools no one wants to work at– the poor schools in sketchy areas.
I didn’t know how to respond because that is how Teach for America chooses where to send their teachers, right? To the highest need areas in our country? Where the teaching conditions are not the least bit desirable? Clearly, or there wouldn’t be so many openings. I’m still struggling with this for some reason.
The majority of schools receiving Teach for America candidates are title 1 schools. If you google “title 1 schools” one of the first questions that people search for “are title 1 schools bad?” followed by “problems with title 1 schools.” Of course, I started clicking and reading.
I’ve only ever worked in title schools– the highest free and reduced middle school and elementary school in my district. I have absolutely no idea what it’s like working in a non-title school. I imagine they both have bright spots, challenges, sleepless nights, lots of grading, required meetings that could have been sent out in an e-mail, and a crazy amount of student needs. I don’t think titles or labels, ha funny, titles… should be used to generalize or generate negative perceptions about schools or students… but they do.
I honestly don’t know why teachers aren’t lining up to work at title schools– seriously. There are so many things I love, I don’t even know where to start… but I will try.
Every day is a new opportunity to be that one champion each kid need
I’ve been going on over a year and I still don’t know if they trust me enough to let me be their champion, but every day is a new day for me to try. So many of the kids I work with do not trust others easily, or at all. I think I’ve finally got some traction and without me even doing anything (it’s often another adult or situation in their life), we take 5 steps backwards. I have a couple students who are looking for me to mess up– break my promise, lose my cool, or not follow through… and they try to push me and push me to that point. Being able to refrain from falling into that trap has taken a lot of journaling but that’s what I must do in order to be that champion for that one kid who doesn’t believe they are worthy.
I’m pushed to think outside of the box on a daily basis
Yes, I’m exhausted at the end of the day, just like every teacher, but every day I’m truly growing in my practice. Things never go as planned, which means I get to acquire stronger flexibility and a deeper knowledge of evidence-based practices to keep on hand. There are so many days I plan what I believe is going to be a good lesson and it’s totally fails. When I see their behavior increasing due to something I planned being too hard or not engaging enough, I have about two minutes to make a change to re-engage them. I literally have a tab in my brain for when this happens and I wouldn’t have this students were always compliant…
I don’t get a lunch because I’m too busy connecting
It doesn’t bother me one bit that I don’t get a lunch. I mean, I do get a lunch, I just eat it with my students. They always have some sort of dilemma going on and need to talk about it… which means I get to teach what truly matters– how to be a strong, kind-hearted, and resilient tiny human. Behaviorally speaking, unstructured times, especially lunch, is one of the hardest time periods of the day for some of my kids. Being able to give them an alternate lunch location has been really helpful in preventing spikes in the afternoon.
Seeing their face light up when they’re exposed to new things
I brought in my old school karaoke machine at the end of last year and my kids thought it was the coolest thing. They had NEVER used/seen a karaoke machine before. I had some major brownie points that day until I started rapping.
You see their faith and trust in you grow
*The tears are starting to flow on this one*
I understand what unconditional student love is
I’m not a parent yet and understanding the concept of unconditional love can be challenging sometimes. To constantly give and give with nothing but in return… but maybe some “hurtful” statements and classroom destruction… tantrums and non-compliance… you know, stuff that happens when you’re a parent. I believe in the saying, “every day is a new day” and it aligns directly with unconditional love. No matter what happened the previous day, I’ve learned to teach through the challenging moments, love during all moments, and start each day with a blank slate.
I get to teach them what matters in life, not just in school
I know I briefly touched on this, but this aspect is the best part of working at a title school. I know this isn’t true at all title schools, but most of my students don’t show up each day ready to learn. I get to teach them that first and foremost, they matter, and secondly, school matters. For most humans to do things, the dots have to be connected and the why has to make sense. I get to help them connect the dots. So many of my dot connections are around their behavior– behavior that has been learned elsewhere and how to ditch all the hard stuff and focus on school… because if they focus on school, they have more power and more control. Part of teaching what matters is breaking cycles. Cycles of poverty, cycles of emotional and sometimes physical abuse, cycles of poor decision making, and cycles of self-doubt.
We all go into teaching for different reasons. Working in a title 1 school gives me purpose, as I experienced many of the same challenges that they have. It’s hard when kids don’t listen to us and we don’t feel adequately supported, I get it, but it’s not about us. I think so much of beating teacher burnout and thriving in a title school is purely dependent on our own mindset and nothing else.
So, it makes sense to me that Teach for America would send optimistic recent college graduates to work in the schools most teachers don’t want to work in. They have the mindset, but not always the instructional strategies. It’s a lot easier to teach instructional strategies than teach mindset and beliefs.
If you follow me on instagram, you might have noticed that I have Title 1 in my bio. I added Title 1 after my conversation with the college student. I don’t think labels should matter and I don’t believe working in a title school is more challenging than working in any other schools. Right now though, there is that perception. Title 1 schools are bad, they are hard to work in, they are failing… I love working in a title school and I am proud to work in a title school. We need to change the way title schools are seen. Just like we need to change the way we see challenging behavior. And in some ways, they might be more connected than not.
I’m just saying the grass is always green where you water it.
Where are you watering it?