Cross-posted from the North to South Education blog
In the first orientation with my school district, I learned that I would be sized up. That students will look at me, judge me, and ask, “How far can I push him? How much can I really learn from him?” A large, kind football coach reassured me, “and looking at you…yeah, you’ll get sized up.” So now the question becomes, how much am I willing to change so when students size me up they realize they can’t push me around; they have to learn in my classroom? How much am I willing to change for the sake of educating others?
Now, I’ve got the face. It took me a while, but I learned it—the cold-hearted, nothing you say or do will disrupt me, I’m here to teach and teach alone, don’t mess with me face. Never in my life have I felt the need to learn such a look. Never in my life have I wanted to learn such a look, but as every good species does, I adapted to my environment.
For those readers that know me, this may come to no surprise, but I could only play this game for so long. Two weeks into the school year my insides would churn just driving up to the school where I had to be someone I didn’t want to be. This churning had driven other teachers out of the school. Three Teach for America teachers, had quit within those first few weeks for many reasons, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of it came from that “churning stomach”*.
Dissatisfied with how I was feeling, one day after school I decided to run on the Mississippi levy. Two steps on the levy and I felt my body explode with energy. It seemed like every step I took was a release of the person I had become and a release of the frustration of that change. The facade I built around me began to shed with that run, and by the end, I once again felt like I was showing the true skin of Garrett. For the first time in the school year, I felt like life was going to turn around.
It was soon after that run, I had some of my best days in the classroom. I decided to be myself—laugh and love, but it was all centered in the context of urgent education. At first the students were confused, but I felt great, and I think they were happier knowing the teacher was happier. Inappropriate behavior or partial commitment to education was not tolerated in the classroom because we would be denying ourselves an opportunity to grow.
I have run 4-5 days a week since this turn around as a reminder of who I am.
I still have poor days, generally when my lessons are poor, and I have wonderful days, generally when I prepare wonderful lessons, but at the end of the day, I try to be comfortable in who I am and what I’ve done.
So as I sit with my feet in an oxbow lake of the Mississippi river and as the sun paints its colors in the sky through a sunset, I feel lucky, lucky that this world may not just be adapting to one’s environment, but also, perhaps even more importantly, allowing the environment adapt to you.
* This is a high rate of leave from TFA teachers in an area and does not represent the actual rate of drop out.
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