My Self-Imposed Exile

Why do you want to join Teach For America? Me, as a senior: I want to put into practice everything I’ve been learning about racial inequality in America from this [overprivileged] private women’s college in sunny Southern California.

Reality: I didn’t have/want to pursue other options. Plus, it’s a great way to explore another part of the country, right? So I bought my parent’s Ford Focus, packed up all of my belongings into it, and drove across the country from Seattle to Memphis, Tennessee. My self-imposed exile.

And now, nearing the end of my first school year as a teacher, I can hardly believe I’m looking back. At [most] times, it’s seemed like an impossible task to teach one of the most widely-hated subjects of all times: high school mathematics. I know and see what “transformational” teaching looks like, but it doesn’t ever seem I will get there. I started researching and reading other math teachers’ blogs, and these became my guiding lights out of the long dark tunnel of “great teaching is impossible”. Then, three things happened to me this past week that make me believe that things are starting to click.

1. Quote: “The most significant factor in students being resilient is whether they have an adult who believes in them unconditionally and who holds them to high expectations.” This is what my students deserve (even if they don’t like it).

2. On Saturday, I volunteered at a local hospitality house with my church’s young adult group. These houses are places where families can go after they lose their houses in order to recover and regroup. As I walked in, a familiar face greeted me. One of the students from my school is currently living in a bedroom in the house with his sister and mother. One of MY KIDS (though, granted, I don’t have him in my class). I knew that my kids faced challenges that I could never in my wildest dreams imagine. I did not expect to witness those challenges while doing volunteer work with a completely unconnected group in my neighborhood 30 minutes away from school. Ultimately, it was a grounding experience and made me truly realize why my kids deserve better than what I am currently giving.

3. I found the cornerstone of my vision for next year from “Seymour: An Introduction” by J.D.  Salinger.

This is too grand to be said… but I know- there is no single thing I do that is more important than going into that Room 307. There isn’t one girl in there, including the Terrible Miss Zabel, who is not as much my sister as BooBoo or Franny. They may shine with the misinformation of the ages, but they shine. This thought stuns me: There is no place I’d really rather go right now than into Room 307.





Learning is having new questions to ask (thanks, Chris Danielson).

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