bmarkinphilly

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 01 2009

The End of the Beginning

And just like that, Institute has come to an abrupt close. You spend all five weeks keeping a mental countdown in your head and then before Dick Clark could even start counting down the final minutes and seconds, it all ends. All Quiet on the Frankford High School Front. My kids heard the final bell clang out at around 9:30 and while I received some hugs, some hand pounds, and some pictures and letters for my fall classroom, they were gone before I could even start to comprehend the impact all 31 of them had on me. As I began to reflect on my students, it was already time to say goodbye to all my TFA counterparts at Frankford. I’ve been a camp counselor/camper for ten summers, and have gotten close to some pretty amazing people, but I think the five weeks I spent with my fellow corps members at Institute trumps them all.

Where else can you laugh/cry/think/sigh/celebrate with hundreds of other people who all understand exactly why you are feeling how you are feeling? Sitting and celebrating the five weeks at the closing ceremonies was spine-chilling. We are all about to enter on our solo teacher journeys, but you better believe we will carry the memories of these five weeks with us. I’ve decided to frame this post in the style of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud-Light commercials. If you don’t understand… keep reading anyways.

-Here’s to you my CMA group. 15 people who became my closest counterparts at Institute. We would all convene at lunch, fresh from the front-lines of our classrooms. Some of us were tired, stressed and visibly shaken; others were elated, energized and filled with purpose. Whichever you were, you knew that everyone would share in your success or give you an ear with which to vent into. Oh, we also had by far the best skits on Friday afternoons in all of Frankford High School. Thank you all for being such an incredible support system.

-Here’s to you Tanya, Rita and Lou. My collaborative who alongside me, braved the day-to-day roller-coaster ride that was room 316. I heard horror stories of collabs gone horribly wrong, with differences in pedagogical and personal style clashing in the form of ugly verbal figts. That never happened with the four of us. We were all so different, yet we were perfect indivdual cogs in an extremely effective machine. Tanya: Your kindness and ability to face any challenge with a laugh and a smile was truly inspiring. Rita: Your toughness on even the roughest of days is going to help push me through my tough days in the fall. Lou: You were able to connect with our students in ways the other three of us were not. It was unbelievable to see. I understand that all of you reading this don’t know these people. Just know that in five short weeks, they became some of my most trusted friends and colleagues.

Here’s to you, T.S. My smartest student in my English class all year. The average score on my final exam was only 49%, yet you were able to post an 81, the highest grade in the class. Your final letter to me, in which you said, “Mr. Mark, you are nice, funny and weird,” put a smile on my face. If you keep focused and keep yearning to learn in high school, I think you have an amazing future ahead of you.

Here’s to you P.G. While you were one of my biggest behavioral problems all summer long, I want you to know that I care about you. When I had to tell you that we were suggesting you be retained in the 8th grade for another year, you went “Ron Artest” crazy on me. You told me you were going to smack me, and you told me I was wrong. Then you fell into the arms of your friends and started to cry. I know that you care. I just wish I found a way to get you to care all of the time. You stormed out of my classroom and out of Frankford upset and angry, and I understand why. P.G, you are the type of girl I will remember when I have a student with a passion that needs to be redirected. Hopefully, I can do it for another student. I’m sorry I couldn’t do it for you.

To T.H. I could always rely on you to answer a question, volunteer to read, and tell it to me in an honest way. I could also always fear that you would blurt out a racial/homophobic/ethnic slur, which would anger and confuse me. You are an amazing writer and a great thinker, I just wish you would think before you spoke sometimes. We had some great hallway conversations where you recognized the errors in your judgment, but we still have a long way to go. Through the good and the bad, I will always remember grading your final exam in class because you were the first to finish. Your “growth goal” for my class final was to acheive a 70%. As I entered all your questions into my grade tracker, and I saw that you had acheived your exact goal, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I whispered to you that you had done it, you hit your goal. The high-five you gave me and the yelp of excitement you exclaimed reminded me why I took this job in the first place.

To R.T. My class clown. I’ve never had anyone else tell me I look like so many white NFL quarterbacks. From Peyton Manning to Ben Roethlisberger, I always could count on you to make me laugh. I will miss you a ton.

To P.H. My student of the week after week one, who scored a 30% on my final exam. You were always the first student to show up and the last to leave, yet you were one of the farthest behind. You asked me every single day, “Mr. Mark, am I passing your class?” To which I responded, “P. it’s close right now, but if you keep working your butt off and you ask me questions, I think we can get you passed.” The day before the final, there was a real sense of nervousness that you could not hide. You were scared to death. I told you to get a good night’s sleep and come in ready the next day. You sat in a different desk so you would be able to focus the best you could. You were visibly struggling with the long, dense reading passages, and I could see beads of sweat starting to form on your forehead. All the while I hoped, and I pushed, and I just wanted to give you all the answers to ensure your success. As I graded your test that night, I kept waiting for the right answers to magically pile up. They did not. The 30% ensured that I would be doing you a disservice if I passed you on to 9th grade. Tanya, Rita and Lou all came to the same consensus in their classes. We all agreed this would be the hardest thing to tell you. I equated it to having a great dog as a pet, and then knowing you had to give it away after you became attached to it. Lou and I pulled you into the hallway to discuss your grade. You took slow, calculated steps into the heat of the Frankford halls. You look right up at both of us. “P, I want you to know that in this crazy classroom, you were a student I could always count on. I don’t want you telling anyone else, but you were one of my favorite students. With that said, I want you to know that I think you would be best suited to go through 8th grade English one more time. We know that with more one-on-one instruction, you can make it to high school and do great things.” Did he cry? No. Did he scream? No. But his face said it all. He was crushed. “Ok,” is all he could say. And with that, he went inside, collected his things, and walked out of Frankford High School. I will never forget P, and it is kids like him that make you want to teach until your collapse. I just wish we had more time with him. I just hope his next teacher cares to help him do well.

-To J.M. Who brashly told us on the first day, “I ain’t supposed to be here.” And who flashed looks at me throughout the first week that stopped me in my place and almost made me crap my pants. I’m not sure where/how the revolutionary change in attitude happened. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it. But your incredible drive and resolute kindness in weeks 2-4 were so admirable. You did not get distracted by the craziness of our classroom, and you worked so freakin hard. You told me you never went to summer school before; you told me your family was your best, and often your only support. And you told me getting to high school meant the world to you. Hugging you and getting to tell you that you passed was a special moment.

Here’s to Institute in general. For taking an ignorant, college grad, and turning him into an educator who truly cares about fighting for educational equality. I cannot wait to hit the ground running come the fall.

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