Ms. Strawberry Fields

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 23 2011

Making Grand, Sweeping Changes To Your Life Will Ultimately End In Failure

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written an update and that’s due to two things (1) having a ton of schoolwork and (2) having met a new guy who I’ve chosen to spend a good portion of my free time with. While the latter has helped me factor into my life some emotional levels of happiness, I’m still coping with massive levels of anxiety from school.  It’s nearly March and I still wouldn’t consider myself in a very good place.

A simple sign of this is that I haven’t written in nearly a month. As a writer, I often find myself bundling up thoughts into a long list until I have the time to write them out or am about to explode because there are so many things I want to say. I think the explosion should have happened 10 days ago (as you’ll see from the length of this post and the others to hopefully come by days end), yet I still didn’t write to fix it. So, on this Wednesday, due to a head cold, sore throat and daily misery about going to work, I decided to take both a sick day and mental health day in one. It’s not even noon and I plan on spending the next two hours unwinding in front of this computer and trying to go through my list of stories, ideas and the whatnot that I’ve noted in the past few weeks and that need to get out of my head.

Overacrching to everything going on in my classroom, in my musings on music and in my life is my confusion/disdain/fear of doing year 2. At this point in time I could not be more unsure of whether I will continue teaching next year for several reasons:

(1) In the last two weeks I have found myself waking up half an hour before my alarm goes off with panic attack feelings about all that I need to do in my classroom. I go to sleep just fine, but I wake up in a zany place and I can’t get back to bed or do anything besides have a mental freak out. Obviously, this is no way to live and the solution is for me to calm down, but no matter what I’ve tried, I can’t bring myself back to a place of peace. The thought of repeating this process for the rest of the year, let alone next year does not sound enjoyable.

(2) In the Bay Area region, people get assigned to three main areas: San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. I am placed in San Jose, which inconveniently is the furthest locale from San Francisco––about an hour drive each way, public transportation N/A. In my ideal world, I’d be living in San Francisco right now, however living there isn’t really realistic. But, my colleagues and TFA friends in San Jose are in talks to make it a bit realistic by at least moving to Oakland next year. While I am totally down with doing so, I don’t really have the people to do it with. I’ve made a handful of friends, but none of them are those close friends that you need to have a certain relationship with to be ready to spend a year in the same home environment. So the lack of having close friends in proximity and the frustration with whatever living situation I choose next year––stay in San Jose and be far from the city I want to live in OR move closer to the city and deal with a realllyyyyyy long commute every day, are feeling like complete losses right now.

(3) With each and every day it’s becoming apparent that I probably shouldn’t be teaching because I just love the arts too much. TV, movies, podcasts, literature… you name it and I will spend time loving (or passionately hating) it. I’ve known this all my life, but I’ve also always had an attitude that I’m-just-not-good-enough-to-partake. I’m too nervous to ever write screenplays, put together more than 800 words for an article, pump out music blog posts on my own site, etc. I know all of the parts that make someone a success in the arts world, yet I have chosen to let those pieces go unfulfilled when it comes to me.

Instead, when college ended and it was finally the time for me to pursue music journalism legitimately, I went the TFA route. Now that I’m in the classroom, I get jealous at the mention of any of my peers who are successful in the blogosphere, I’m still not 100% ready to take a step back from my second year of teaching, but I know it will make me 100% happier to pursue my arts passions (And don’t even get me started on how most California students, including my own, have no arts education).

So on one hand, I have my commitment to TFA, the time I have put into becoming a decent teacher, the personal pride I will earn for having accomplished my commitment, and my fear that I’ll fail in the arts world keeping me in the classroom.

On the other hand I have all the opportunities in the world to take to become the employee I want to be: Music journalist? Venue manager? Year round festival production staffer? Tour manager? Besides music journalist, I’m not quite sure how I can fall into the hands of any of these other positions. Losing that safety net of a respectable, if not prestigious, job in my classroom is guiding me away from the leap into unemployment to try to secure an arts job. But if I could just take the time to figure out the route to one of these dreamy jobs, I’d. be. So. Much. Happier. This internal debate drives me crazy… every day.

So, I think I’ve almost reached the point where I’ll put my fear of pursing and failing in the arts world aside in order to seek new employment. I’m getting closer and closer to saying this is my first and last year in the classroom and preparing to jump into the joblessness pool, to proving my worth to a zillion executives until someone deems me worthy and working my ass off for something that makes ME happy. So, if you know anyone who works for a Bay Area venue, or newspaper or entertainment blog or production company who could use someone with skills that include Cornell Daily Sun 2009-2010 Arts Writer of the Year and kindergarten math extraordinaire… now would be a great time to tell me their names

However, I must acknowledge that I only said, “almost reached the point”, because I’m still not positive that in a year from now I won’t be a teacher. I’m just positive that I’m very strongly considering early retirement now more than ever.

(4) I’ve complained time and again about impossible students, gushed over the adorably intelligent ones and over this school year I’ve been (eek) lucky to lose a few (please don’t hurt me for saying ‘lucky’). Due to pregnant moms and immature behavior and moving to a new neighborhood, some of my most challenging or most participatory students have left my classroom and I wasn’t all that sad to see them go. I don’t think I care about my students the way a great teacher should. Don’t get me wrong––I put on a lovely façade every day at school––but inside I don’t vehemently care about my kiddos the way I care about listening to every “This American Life” podcast. Things like this tell me I should probably not be a teacher (or at least a Rocketship teacher).

(5) But there are small moments––very, very, very, very small in the grand scheme of all that I have done––that make me think “Hey! Maybe this is what I should be doing?!”

The first was my discovery of the website abcya.com. Holy kindergarten math learning this site INCREDIBLE. It’s everything in my curriculum and the little ones can play it online. Yes that all-caps shows my excitement for discovering a kindergarten website. And thank you to person on the TFA pre-k/k content community who mentioned it. I don’t know you, but I LOVE YOU.

The second occurred when I was teaching my students how to strategically fill out a hundreds chart. One of my highest students, G, sits next to the lowest student in the grade, J. I went to help J and G was watching. First I had J write 1, then 2, then 3, then his numbers turned into squiggles. However, he was trying and that was good enough for me and I was positively reinforcing his hard work by saying, “Good job! Keep going!” Now, G is sitting there with her chart almost perfectly complete and she’s watching me tell J, “Good Job!” even though he’s writing squiggles. Her eyes look at her perfect paper, look at J’s paper full of squiggles that I said looks greats, then look at me. She repeats this a few times, her expression is utterly confused that what she’s been writing as 4s, 5s, 6s and so on are all wrong. It. was. Precious.

The third occurred after school on Valentine’s Day. Our grade did a movie screening of “Wall-E” and during the movie one of my students was being mischievous, so I had him sit on my lap to stop disrupting the other kids from watching. After 15 or so minutes, he tried to get up and I pulled him back asking, “Where are you going, mister?” He replied, “I need to fart.” Up he went and he walked over to the corner of the room, stood there for a second and returned. He hopped back on my lap and said, “I farted once” and continued to watch the movie.––Disgustingly gracious.

So 5 long points later you can see, there have been a few ups, and many, many downs. What’s Ms. Fields to do?

p.s. to top it all off, whilst thinking of a good title, I came across this on Gakwer. Hence the title.

10 Responses

  1. Kat

    Why not do both for the moment? I understand the HUGE time commitment being a teacher takes, but is there any way to balance or freelance? Won’t you get the summer off and still be able to pursue your passion? There are a number of online possibilities to freelance and get your name out there before making that final leap. Or how about taking a seasonal job that would get you some contacts. Just somethings to think about! :)
    P.S. I really enjoy your TFA blogs, so I hope you keep it up!

    • MsStrawberryFields

      thanks for the positive note! freelancing seems to be easier said than done with my work schedule. heck, i can barely update this blog! i’m seriously working on it though! if you know anyone who’d like/needs a writer, please send them my way!

  2. Cheering from miles away...

    I’d be b-s-ing if I sat here and blah-blah-ed about how you ‘should stay’ and ‘should do this’ and ‘that.’ I’ve never met you but I have followed your blog for awhile and what you’re reporting is concerning. (I teach at the college level and what you’re describing is what I watch for in my students).

    Given that it’s almost March, you’re entering what we call in this business ‘testing season.’ I don’t know what TFA calls it in their “disillusonment continuum” but I would encourage you to continue pushing. You’ve seen some GREAT victories and I would encourage you to see this year through–you never know what amazing things could happen.

    That being said, if you’re hesitant about next year, I would suggest that you talk to the TFA leadership in your region. Or, if they’re not listening, find a way to contact someone in some other region. And, you might be surprised how many of your peers are struggling with these same things.

    Further, are you connected into a program on a college campus that is associated with TFA for training? If you have a resource there you may want to consult them as well.

    I assume you have health insurance through the district and I’d definitely recommend going to a doctor with complaints about lack of sleep and anxiety… If you have to make it through the rest of this year, which I’m cheering for you to do, you’ve got to get some support (and some consistent sleep!) :-) There is a point at which we need to take care of ourselves And doctors can help us track a plan for that if its appropriate for us.

    Now, of course you will catch some gruff from some people about this post (I’m sure I’ll catch some gruff for what I’m saying), but I personally have yet to find a career where you don’t catch gruff. Be prepared for TFA to be all over you like butter on toast when you slightly indicate concern, and then to disappear. If you’ve read other blogs on here you know that opting out of the 2nd year is, well, an interesting experience.

    All of this said, please know that I’m cheering you on from many, many miles away. I think the more perspectives you can get on this matter, the better off you’ll be. I’d be happy to chat further. Let me close with this question: If you knew you couldn’t fail in the art world, what would you do? Often we go only for things we know we could succeed at, but I encourage you to push through the next month, then see where you’re at on all of this. It may also help to look and see what jobs are out there (i.e., if it is a remotely healthy job market in the arts).

    That’s all for now. Take care.

    • MsStrawberryFields

      Thank you for reaching out. I would love to chat further with you, as you seem to have experience with seeing your students go through what I’m going through. My email is [email protected]. Again, I greatly appreciate your comment.

  3. Shandra

    could you possible complain anymore? This assignment is about teaching these at-risk, poor, marginalized students, not “living in the city”! I mean, you probably should’ve done some more research on the location of San Jose and it’s proximity to San Francisco, if it was such a big deal for you to live in the city. Also, this blog would’ve been way more helpful if you’d actuallly said what it is, specifically, about the program that is making you so unhappy. We don’t need to know about all your internal conflicts about wanting to be in entertainment/media- that really is irrelevant to why people are reading these blogs- which is for advice/opinion on the program-TFA!

    • MsStrawberryFields

      Shandra,
      I’m sorry you feel so frustrated by my post. I’m fairly certain though, to anyone who is debating holding off another career path to do TFA for two years, a perspective from someone like me is likely to be helpful. I knew I wanted to do something in the arts and felt compelled to hold off 2 years to serve as a corps member. Sadly, at this point in time, I’m really questioning that decision. I think a future corps member who is standing in the same shoes I did last year may find this helpful. If you have any questions about my corps experience on a different topic, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Just send me a note at [email protected]
      -Justine

      • Way to tolerate major disrespect.

        I know this post was a while ago, and I hope you’ve changed your mind. I’m a teacher in the Delta and in December a roommate and I had to remove “the Q word” from our vocabulary because we wanted to leave so badly.

        I doubt we’re in the same situation so I won’t try to pretend we are, but my major thought was that I was hired for a reason, TFA believed in me for a reason, and if I leave I just (kinda) slapped about 35,000 people in the face, because ‘wasted’ a job they could have had and loved.

        My intention is not to guilt trip, but to say you have something in you that TFA noticed and thought was incredibly capable. Giving up now maaaay seem really attractive, but getting through (and maybe even starting to like or love) another year might be one of the greatest accomplishments you have. Maybe not, but maybe so!

        For me, I had to just keep asking questions and keep working way harder than I wanted to. I may have started chain smoking and crying for a few months as well, but it’s what got me through. My PD was cool, not SUPER outreach champion, but once I made the effort to talk to her more she was great. As for friends, the more available you make yourself (which I know sucks to do intentionally but ultimately I think always works out), then they come.

        THIS MAY BE totally irrelevant because you posted this so long ago and I haven’t read more posts (which I’m about to do), but the semi-desperation and Shandra’s ridiculous comment gave me the compulsion.

        best,
        C

    • Presumptuous much, Shandra? I didn’t know teachforus had blog police…oh…wait, they don’t. I’m also thinking no one is forcing you to read Ms SF’s blog, so if you don’t like what she talks about, then move along…this is not the blog you seek. Might as well skip my blog, while your at it.

      For me, I like reading about the struggles and successes those that are part of the TFA experience are facing as I embark on my own TFA journey. From the various posts on this forum, I’ve gleaned some cool web pages that I hope will support me in teaching math and some great books to add to my stack of reading. I’ve also read stories about mental health, making hard decisions, fear, hope, love, anger, kindness, loss…the human experience.

      Life is about ups and downs. Being a teacher is about more than what goes on in the classroom. It takes the whole package to be human. If that’s too much for you to deal with on a blog, then I have to wonder how you relate to your students as whole people, and not just as a problem to be fixed.

  4. learningasleadership

    @Shandra– I disagree with you about why people read these blogs. I’m not saying people aren’t reading these for advice, but being able to read someone’s thought process while they are going through the corps is very valuable and interesting.

    Great blog entry. Keep it up. Don’t give up.

  5. kinderman

    Wow, it’s amazing how similar your thinking is to mine right now. Despite the fact that I live in Mississippi.

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