I Must Be Out My Cotton-Pickin’ Mind

This is an entry I have been meaning to write for about 2 weeks now.

While I was out on break, far away from the daily stress of school, recovering from an absolutely brutal February and March, it really began to dawn on me how much I was dreading another year of potential misery. I had left for break on a bad note, and returning, it got even worse. I really felt like I didn’t have a grip on anything that was going on professionally. After a really rough week back, which had only including 3 days of teaching, I started seriously considering leaving Teach For America at year’s end.

I spent the final two weeks of April fighting respiratory illness and struggling to make the decision of whether to come back or not. Even though next school year is still a long way away, the decision had to be made as early as possible, to give my school the time it would take to replace me, if necessary. Deep down, I wanted to finish my commitment and to apply the lessons I have learned this year, but I just could not shake the incredible feeling of terror I had about repeating the experience of this year. Because the thing is, the end of this year would be the only chance I’d get to get off the ride. The one thing I’ve sworn never to do is to quit during the middle of the year, putting my school in a bad spot, and even worse, abandoning my students. Summer was my chance to walk away and put it all behind me.

On the other hand, when I signed up for TFA, I was serious about the mission and the two-year commitment. I never saw myself as a potential quitter. A big part of me wanted to hang around, although I wasn’t seeing how it could be feasible. And so, I spoke to nearly everyone who would listen, pretty much grasping for someone to say something inspiring or reassuring enough to get me to stay. I talked in depth to probably at least a dozen people over those two weeks, and I can distill the advice down to two main common threads: that A) my 2nd year would undoubtedly be much better than my first, and that B) I had to do what was right for me and my well-being. Well, the former piece of advice was nothing new to me, and the latter piece of advice was really leading me away from returning for year two. By the end of my two weeks, I had pretty much decided I was leaving. And then…

I don’t really know what changed–there wasn’t like a big Hollywood speech that changed my mind. But, I guess it could have been a couple things cumulatively. First off, during those 2 weeks, I feel like my 9th grade team and administration really stepped up to back me up. I got a whole bunch of equipment in my room and a lot of instructional support from our 9th grade English teacher that really helped reduce my stress. Also, our tutoring partnership with University of Maryland at Baltimore County kicked in, and I now usually have a couple tutors in my room at any given time. This has really freed my hands to do a lot more of the overall management of my class. And lastly, I’d started noticing since returning from break that I was was starting to get a lot more respect from that crucial middle demographic of the students that I teach. This contrasts with time periods where I’ve had upwards 80% of my class running rampant.

Any of these things could be a factor, but I think it was more a change in my outlook, internally. I can pinpoint the time it happened during the afternoon of Friday, May 1. All the sudden, mostly out of nowhere, it dawned on me on that if I just focus on the basics and work the kinks out of my routine, maybe I can survive the next year after all. This may seem like a “no duh” kind of revelation, but it really was a paradigm shift for me. It’s tough to overstate foreboding I had been feeling about the next year of my life.

And also, to make my life more livable, I decided I’d drop out of the Hopkins master’s degree program. After all, I’m only one class away from being fully certified, and I’m already on the master’s degree pay scale anyway. So although it would be nice to add some more credentials, it’s not worth it if it’s only to serve my own ego, at the cost of a not-insignificant amount of stress and time.

I took a weekend to think on it, and then I reported to my principal that I would indeed commit to returning for next year, and then spent some time with him discussing new ideas.

I guess, in the end, I joined TFA to make a difference in the lives of kids. I feel like I’ve done a pretty crappy job of it this year. If I leave now, then what have I really accomplished?

So the plan is to survive the remainder of the year, hopefully recover my physical and mental health this summer, and try to make next year a much more tolerable and successful year.

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