Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 06 2010

Launching Portable E.

“Being human’s a complicated gig, so give that old dark night of the soul a hug and howl the eternal yes!” These words graced a bookmark that was gifted to me yesterday, and after what felt like a challenging ending to an intense week, I found them relieving.

Week one as leader of my very own class is officially complete. 24 high-energy 8-10 year old students, one portable (gratefully air-conditioned), a couple stacks of books, and me—Miss no-nonsense Samati—a recipe for….well, we’ll see. With one day to prep my room and limited resources at my disposal, there was no time to waste in putting some color on the walls and creating order amidst the chaos of a pilfered classroom. (It seems a few over-eager teachers salvaged what they could of the materials left in my room before I ever set foot across the threshold—in a twist of events, the literacy coach helped me sneak back a few crucially necessary items after the others had all left for the long weekend).

The 180 day saga set to unravel over the coming 9 months started like any new venture, with the greatest of hope, immense uncertainty as to what to expect, and excitement seeping out of my pores. Monday morning, day one: 3 girls show up an hour early, probing me with question after question as I fluttered around the room pinning up a few last posters. It quickly became clear that there is a vast range of abilities in my little portable. Among my 24 kids, 2 are advanced, 4 are proficient, a handful are basic, and the rest are below grade level. There are students who crave to be in the classroom, and others too cool for school. Some with parents who sought me out preemptively to put their children on the path to academic success, and many with environments that include serious personal difficulties. Each of their stories is like a puzzle to me, a small piece revealed day by day, some surprisingly and candidly graphic. And while I deeply admire their resilience, I do not sanction those moments characterized by a lack of respect.  However, ALL are teeming with the potential to be brilliant—some just may require a firmer nudge.

Admittedly, I left on Friday feeling pretty low and ineffective. As I pulled out of the parking lot 3 hours after dismissing my final students, as if on cue, that same boy who’d spent the last two days disrupting my classroom in bursts of negativity, chased after my car on his bike yelling, “Bye Ms. Samati! Bye!” I smiled to myself. He affirmed me as his teacher. It was like he redeemingly wrapped his arms around “that old dark night of the soul in a hug.”

I have so much to do, I barely know where to begin. Teaching is quite the “complicated gig:” one part instructor, one part social worker, one part parent, one part coach… I spent my week eating, breathing, walking, bathing, dreaming anything and everything I could do for my kids. With so little experience, the weight of my responsibility as the only 4th grade teacher they will ever have, bears down incredibly heavily.

My principal advised me, “You have to keep your own life outside of school. There are always things to do, you won’t ever catch up, but if you focus on that you will burn out fast. We need you for the long run. Get ready, this is going to be a marathon.”

3 Responses

  1. Jessica

    Katja! I really enjoyed this post and can REALLY REALLY REALLY relate. Your students are SO lucky to have you! I myself am currently at a coffee shop planning lots for the week. Thinking of you!
    Love, jessica

  2. ian

    keep it up, sounds like your working hard! Don’t give up! they respect you for it!

  3. Emily

    I enjoy reading about your adventures so much! If there was anyone to trust with the growth of the next generation it would most definitely be you. I hope that I will see you again at some point in our lives.

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Bottom Line: My kids must have options.

Bay Area
Elementary School

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