One of my friends told me the other day that he thought maybe some freak hurricane washed me out to sea and since I was the only fatality of this otherwise innocuous natural disaster, there was no press coverage. What else could explain, he continued, your lack of postings *and* non-existent cell phone?
In truth, there was no natural disaster. I was ruminating. And I my phone stopped working.
I struggled, during this past month, to put this year in prospective. I knew that I would be returning to the Midwest for June, and with that return would come many friends, family and just acquaintances that would call me to give an account of my toil.
And my struggle revolved around a couple of questions:
- How do I explain the impact that I had when all of my hard data shows that I had no real measurable affect on my students? For that matter, *did* I have an impact? What was it?
- How do I explain the reality of schools like mine, where students are driven by the test and not much else? How do I explain the youth addicted to entertainment, with no focus for anything that does not involve BET, a movie or video games?
- How do I explain the administrators and teachers that are on the ground, working for the best for the students, but at the same time, trying to preserve their jobs? How do I explain their decisions?
- How do I talk about Teach For America, when I do not see 'solvency' in my classroom, when I see progress yes, but not solvency in my school, when I don't know what solvency even looks like in the broad scheme of things?
The reality of this year though, is that by the numbers, I did not really make an impact. Yes, 7 of my students passed the standardized test, where no one passed last year. But there are quite a few students who passed 2 years ago or 3 years ago, and did not pass this year. In terms of net improvement, I had 50% of my students increase their scores. That means 50% decreased. The actual number of questions increased was also balanced by the number of questions decreased. So statistically, numerically, I am a wash for year one.
Yes, I still had an impact on my students. One of my students wrote me a letter talking about how she did not know how to divide before this year (a 7th grader) and now she does, how she was bored and ignored the teacher and she found herself being interested in fractions (!). This is a real impact. And so many of my students come to spend time in my room before school or during advisory saying "I don't want to go to so and so, they don't like me". Time and again the tough students come to me.
And while this *is* important, I cannot stop looking at the numbers. I cannot stop looking at one student who will come and engage me in conversation and then sit and do literally nothing during all of my class, regardless of my pleadings. If they don't *learn* anything from me, any math...well, did I alter there course? Did I change their life options? Who knows.
Despite these things, I can honestly say that I loved this year. I am returning next year. I recommend Teach For America to anyone and everyone. While I think it is not the end-all-be-all of educational solutions, I am reminded of a quote that TFA espouses, that really struck me by Mahatma Gandhi; "Be the change you want to see in the world."
TFA is *doing* something. I am *doing* something. And the something is not sand in the wind. The something lives and breathes and dreams and fears and grows up and changes the world.