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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 15 2013

Induction Reflections: Myself and Kansas City

From last week, when I was in Kansas City at induction. I cannot believe that I thought I was “tired” then! I should have taken more time to write out introspective posts like this, because I have no mental capacity left for this kind of reflection :P

Although I’ve been feeling the need and the urge to write, actually sitting down and doing it is much more difficult. I feel as though all of my mental energy has been exhausted by the end of these days of listening, contemplating, sharing, and learning. When I get back to my hotel room, I just want to shut down and block it out. When I do that, though, I feel as though I am not fully soaking in the information or taking advantage of the opportunities being given to me. With so much material to absorb, reflection time at my own pace, quietly away from the group is essential to getting the most out of this experience.

I am very impressed by the presentation and structure of our days, because our time has not been wasted. I guess that is to be expected from a group of former teachers to always keep us full of productivity, but when I was going through the training at Breakthrough we were often left unengaged and waiting and I feared the same here. Car rides are used for debriefing, we watch documentaries on the bus, and conversations often carry on into dinner. Nights are usually free though, which is a drinking escapade for a lot of people and some nice quiet time for me.

Most of this week has focused on personalizing the journey that we are on. This has been covered in two ways: getting to know ourselves and getting to know our new city. To be honest, I would consider myself one of the more introspective and vulnerable members of our group. For a session, we focused on values that we held versus values that we carried out, and what let us to value those qualities. We also had to write and share stories of ourselves that gave insight as to why we want to be teachers. When I first started writing it a few weeks ago, I was lost. It sounded like a silly exercise. I see now that it wasn’t, or at least it didn’t have to be. I found that some of my peers grazed the service with their stories, showing us the determination that it took to get through a challenge or the flexibility to try new things. Others, like me, dug into a much more raw and emotional side of ourselves. What made the exercise really useful, however, was the gentle pushing we gave the author to dig a little deeper. Others pointed out parts in my story that I hadn’t seen. For example, I wrote something along the lines of “my drive to be a teacher didn’t come from my nice, white, middle class background and the good schools I attended.” As someone else pointed out, coming from a good background does not mean that you don’t want to be a teacher! It should have been obvious to me how wrongly I phrased that, but it wasn’t.  I guess I was trying to frame the fact that I wanted to work in high needs areas but not because it was what I experienced on a daily basis. There has also been a lot of encouragement, as I’ve (and others have) found a lack of positivity and pride regarding our ability to do what we have been selected to do. I really found the roots of my drive to be connected to my emotional capacity and control issues. I get incredibly overwhelmed with empathy and passion when I am made aware of a problem in the world. It can move to a really scary place where I just can’t let go of the issue, almost to a point of obsession. When I’m teaching, it allows me to focus on one particular thing that I can do to make the world a better place. I can’t solve everything, but I have a little bit of control over a couple of kids’ educations. When I was initially writing my story, I found that I was very upset with my analysis. Am I only teaching because it makes me feel more in control? Am I doing this only to satisfy a need within me so I don’t lose my mind? Those kinds of questions made me feel as if my drive to be a teacher was innately selfish. The teachers who heard my story saw it differently and really encouraged me not to think about it that way. I can’t say that I really know how I see it right now, but at least it is a more balanced view.

It is interesting to reflect on how I interact with the group. I have found myself near silent during some discussions and extremely vocal during others. For example, as part of getting to really know Kansas City, we visited the museum for Brown versus Board of Education, went on a bus tour, and watched a locally produced movie called “We Are Superman” (a local response to the popular documentary “Waiting for Superman”). I was completely overwhelmed by the documentary which focused on the racial and economic divide between the east and west sides of Troost street. I am aware of the bad reputation of east of Troost, as we experienced it first hand when going to look at a potential rental house on that side of town. When we arrived, the only window without bars on it had been smashed in and the air conditioner had been ripped out the night before. Spending the day learning about the policies of the past that have helped to create the divide put it into historical context, and then the movie focused on different groups that have been trying to change something, one issue at a time. Despite the efforts, some of them grassroots and led by those in the community themselves, many of the programs have failed their initial objective or lost funding. One, started and run by a nun, was particularly inspiring for the number of children they take in off of the streets and from underserved communities and the comprehensive care provided in the years before school begins. Every time she talked, I was struck with awe. I wanted to meet her and work alongside of her. Another man held “man classes” to help teach and inspire young, poor men to grow up and be the role models their families deserve. Generally, I was awestruck at the movie and saddened by the failures. However, when asked to discuss, I really had no idea what to say because I just couldn’t process everything I had been shown. On the other hand, there were some really insightful critiques of the movie made by some core members that had noticed underlying assumptions or unfair generalizations. For example, one member angrily pointed out that the leader of the man classes seemed to suggest that the problems would go away if every household had a father, and idea that upset some of the single parents or children of single parents in the room. Of course, every issue is extremely multi-faceted and one must focus on a single issue to prioritize. Another member was offended by some of the laughter during the movie, where many of us reacted to something that wasn’t necessarily funny, or shouldn’t have been. Hearing all of the insights from other corps members was interesting, but also left me wondering why I was taking it all at face value and not questioning it like they had been.

I’m definitely learning.

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