I know what your thinking…I am one of the many who gave up, didn’t want to do it anymore, didn’t like the kids, felt it wasn’t what I signed up for, and just quit.
Careful, don’t assume to quickly. Give me a moment to tell you my story, and try to understand why I made this decision.
First of all, you should know, I didn’t quit because I hated teaching. I didn’t quit because I worked at a lousy school with lousy staff. I didn’t quit because I did a really bad job teaching my students. I didn’t even quit because I don’t like TFA. Actually, those are all reasons I could have stayed. I love teaching, I formed wonderful relationships with teachers at my school, I grew a lot as a teacher (and may even be considered a decent one), and I think TFA has a good mission.
When I left for Institute (TFA’s training program) last summer, I was nervous but excited to begin my journey with Teach for America. I spent countless hours at institute in the Mississippi Delta working harder than I had ever worked before. I would stay up until midnight lesson planning and wake up at 5 am to ride a school bus 50 miles to the school I taught at. I would get up in front of a classroom full of kids who were years behind in school, and do my very best to find someway to effectively teach them. I would ride the bus home in the early evenings, get to work on preparing lessons for the next day, make endless copies for my students, eat a quick dinner, and try to get some sleep before doing it all over again. It was exhausting, but not miserable like some people claim. I actually enjoyed institute overall. It was the first time that I truly realized how much I loved teaching.
The time came for me to go back to North Carolina, and this is when the nerves really set in. As I drove to my new house, 100 miles south of Raleigh, North Carolina, 60 miles north of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 25 miles away from the nearest grocery store, I began to question what in the world I was doing. Why had I just left what many would consider to be the most beautiful state in the country to live in the middle of nowhere North Carolina? The feeling didn’t pass easily, and it was months before I even appreciated the beauty of the state I lived in. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t even know how to begin to cope. I was anxious, depressed, scared, overwhelmed, worried…you name it, I felt it.
When I found out I was placed in Eastern North Carolina, I was excited. I had no idea what it was like, but I imagined it to be something like Texas. Smaller cities, nice people, good food. The word rural wasn’t really in my vocabulary, and I don’t think you can have a true appreciation for what that word means until you visit a place like Duplin County North Carolina. By no means is there anything wrong with rural, but for a girl who grew up in Southern California, rural was shocking. When I first experience rural North Carolina, I felt alone and isolated, like I was the only person in the world.
I was completely unprepared for the setting I was placed in, and this is my major critique of TFA and part of the reason why I left. Before making the move to North Carolina, TFA gave me very little information about what life would be like in my new home. I realize that someone who grew up in the South or in a small town may have had a better understanding, but given that I was from Los Angeles, I truly had no idea. I consider myself to be a person who can handle change rather well, and I am very independent. This change though, was much bigger than I anticipated. To make matters worse, I was given very little support and assistance from the organization that had placed me there, and I didn’t know what to do. I was frustrated with TFA and felt that they had just thrown me in with no care for my personal well-being.
I didn’t sign up for TFA to do something for myself- I signed up to serve. I knew it would be hard, but I thought of it as an opportunity to give back selflessly. But I learned that in order to serve others well, I had to be in a good place mentally and emotionally. I couldn’t just set aside my well-being entirely. It wasn’t possible. I wanted to be the best person I could be, and I didn’t know how to be that person when I felt so isolated. I reached out to TFA and did receive some kind words, but I was still in a tough place with few resources. When I didn’t know what else to do, I would sit on my bed in my room with my head in my hands and pray. I would pray that I could get through the year, or maybe just the day. I would pray that I would make friends and my students would like me. I would pray and plead that I could go back and change my situation. I went on for weeks like this, and one day realized that my once angry and pleading prayers had turned to prayers of thanks. Although I was still praying for help and for my feeling of isolation to cease, God was changing my heart and I couldn’t help but thank Him for the sweet note a student had left on my desk, or the encouraging friends He had blessed me with back home who always supported me. My fears slowly began to fade, and I realized that I could make it through the year. It wouldn’t be easy, and it probably wouldn’t be fun most days, and I wouldn’t make it on my own. But with God, I would make it. He had to become my strength and my rock. I couldn’t help myself, my friends and family couldn’t make it all better. Teach for America couldn’t solve my problems. The Lord was the only one who would get me through this. And He did.
Fast forward to March. I had decided after much thought and prayer that I would be leaving North Carolina at the end of the school year. Although I had come to love many things about it, I felt that it was best for me to move on. It was a tough year, but I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My frustration with TFA still existed, though I don’t blame them for my leaving. The lack of support I received during my year teaching was disappointing, but at the end of the day, I figured out how to be successful without them. I leaned on teachers at my school and resources on the internet. With the help of a few wonderful mentor teachers, I learned how to be a good teacher, and how to reach my students. But at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like I was the best teacher I could have been. I was in a tough situation being so far from home, and had too many days when this had an affect on my teaching. I also wasn’t prepared to teach the content that my student’s needed to learn, and this was a constant stress.
I love teaching, and I credit TFA for helping me to realize that. But I am going back to school to earn a MA in Education and a California teaching credential, so that I can be the best teacher possible. My students deserve a teacher who is well prepared, knows what she is doing, and is 100% mentally and emotionally ready to be there for them. For me, this means that I needed to be in my home state, where I have a strong support system. This also means I need to continue my education and be formally trained to teach.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret joining Teach for America at all. I am grateful for the opportunity I had, and for all of the doors it opened. I met some incredible people (veteran teachers and fellow Corps members). I think that the organization has outstanding goals. Giving all children in this country a quality education is crucial. The problem lies with the training, preparation, and support for the people they recruit. If they could get that straight, the organization would be phenomenal.
Although I technically “quit” because I did not teach for 2 years, I don’t consider myself a quitter. I did something challenging. I made it through a year teaching a subject that I wasn’t prepared for, in a place I had never been before. I made a commitment to my students on the first day of school when I told them I would teach them well, and I fulfilled my commitment. So at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter that I “quit.” What does matter, though, is I had the opportunity to teach some incredible children and discover my passion, and I learned the importance of trusting God in all circumstances.