Friday, June 4, 2010

Tell Me What I Can't Do: My True Motivation to be a Teacher

As the school year draws to a close, I tend to become overcome with various emotions, as all teachers do. For me, this year is particularly meaningful because for the first time I will see students graduate that I have taught. It will be a proud moment for our school as I know that many of them have been given a chance to succeed where in 99% of the cases they would become just another sad statistic. I don't consider myself overly emotional, but I might shed a tear knowing the obstacles some of students have had to overcome to graduate with a high school diploma. I also will be anxious for both the students and myself. Has my social studies instruction helped prepare them for life beyond high school? I hope it has and that in some way, they will be able to use what they have learned in my classes to further their success.

I also think about why I teach in the area that I do. This idea has recently resurfaced in one of my graduate courses. One of my assignments was to describe a moment that was particularly meaningful in my life. Right away, one specific moment came to mind. It occurred during my second and final year of teaching middle school in North Carolina. I had just been observed by my mentoring teacher and she offered me some harsh criticism about my lesson. As disappointing as this was, it was what happened next that most got to me. She asked about my student teaching experience where I had taught at an affluent high school. I told her, that yes that was my experience. She then looked me square in the eye and said, "You should not be teaching here." By here, she meant an urban, inner-city school with a large percentage of minority students as well as those from the lower socioeconomic classes.

In response, I walked away, went to my room, ripped my evaluation to shreds and then took a long walk to think. The audacity on her part to criticize my chosen location angered me greatly. Criticize my lessons, that was one thing (although I disagreed with that too). But to flat out say that I shouldn't be where I was was to me utterly unacceptable. After going through the rest of the day and then returning to my house at the end of the day, I was still heated. I had to get something off my chest and so I wrote an email to my mentor. This was the last contact I ever had with her. If I had the chance to talk to her again, I would thank her. I would thank her for motivating me, for telling me I am not good and that I shouldn't be doing what I was/still am doing. I would tell her that I am the kind of person who takes things personally and that I make it my mission to prove people wrong who doubt me. So, Miss Motsinger, if you are out there reading this, thank you for doubting me. I am still teaching "those" kind of students that you didn't think I should and I am now better at it than ever.

This is the email I sent her:

Miss Motsinger,

I just wanted to write an email to you addressing my evaluation. Although I disagree with your evaluation I feel that something was brought up aside from the evaluation that needs to be addressed. The most troubling thing out our meeting today for me was your assumption that I am not fit to teach these children at Philo. I want you to know that after we talked I later broke up a gang initiation at 1:15 in the girls restroom and then coached the boys soccer team after school with several members being local gang members here in Winston.

I bring this up not to be praised, but to show you my dedication to these children. After student teaching at West Forsyth I knew I never wanted to teach at another school like that. Why? Because I did not want to teach myself. I don't want to teach kids whose biggest dilemma in their lives is whether they go to State or UNC. Despite my apparent shortcomings as a teacher, I actually had multiple job offers and chose to teach at Philo to work with the kids I am working with. After having taught them for two years I cannot imagine myself working with any other group of students. I wanted to remain at Philo but it was the new administration's policies that were harming the STUDENTS that ultimately led to my decision to leave.

I view teaching as a calling. It is something I will continue to do despite the negative feedback I continue to get. I am trying to teach children how to read, not just for the EOG, but for whatever they end up doing in their lives. Eighteen percent of our students are proficient readers and they only way they can improve that is constant practice, no matter how repetitive it might be. This next year I am heading back to grad school to get my master's in literacy, culture, and teaching English as a second language. My experience at Philo has only furthered my desire to work with this population and I want to help these ESL learners who have had these unrealstic expectations placed upon them. I will eventually return to the classroom as I know it is where I belong.

You are more than welcome to evaluate me in terms of how I conduct a lesson. Even though we might not see eye to eye on that, I will respect your opinion and will be willing to discuss our differences. Please do not question my commitment or dedication to these children. If I didn't care I would throw in the towel at this point. Yet, even though I know I will not be returning next year I am still busting my hump for these kids. They are and continue to be my reason for getting up at 6 AM. No matter how they may act in my room I know that deep down inside I am making a difference in these children's lives. That is something that neither you nor anybody else can take away from me.