Wonderland Kansas City

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 13 2011

Parents, TFA. TFA, Parents.

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My parents live about an hour and a half from where I go to school. I always felt like this was the perfect distance–far enough that I can maintain my independence, but close enough to have their help when I need it (I’ll admit–it’s quite often). I know how lucky I am to have parents that are never anything but 100% supportive, and help me in every way they can. So tonight they made the drive out to Fairfax and treated my boyfriend, my brother (who is a sophomore at my school) and I to dinner at our collective favorite restaurant, Todai (a top-notch sushi buffet). It was quite a treat–the kind that is usually reserved for occasions like birthdays. But this was a special occasion. It was my first time seeing my parents since my TFA acceptance, and we wanted to celebrate. Plus, my parents have had only a MILLION questions about what I’ll be doing with TFA.

First, it’s been really weird to comprehend that I’ll be moving so far away, and to Kansas City of all places. None of us have been there, and we’ve moved around the country but never to the midwest. The closest person I know is my high school best friend who’s at University of Nebraska in Lincoln…3 hours away. This whole “I’M MOVING!” thing was sprung on them pretty unexpectedly (we were really unsure of whether I’d get accepted, and I didn’t have any placement preferences, so it was all just a huge surprise) and I still don’t think the reality of it all has sunk in quite yet.

My family’s reactions–so far–have been somewhat mixed. My dad’s always had mixed feelings about me teaching grade school anyway (he wants me to be a professor). I think the fact that I’ll be teaching ESL makes him feel a little better, since he grew up in the Rio Grande Valley (which is another TFA region, but of course he was there long before that) and he understands the need for great ESL teachers all across the country. From a sociopolitical standpoint, he’s very concerned with the wellbeing and treatment of immigrants in our country–many of whom come to the States specifically for the benefit of our (presumably equal and fair) educational system. But also–and maybe more importantly–a lot of the benefits of TFA have been really appealing to my dad, as they would be to any parent. Loan deferrals, paid Master’s degree, and transitional funding? As a parent who’s been paying for my college tuition mostly out of pocket, how could he say no?

My mom’s super excited about the idea, but she’s wary about the process of me moving to Missouri, potentially alone. My mom works for the special ed program at my high school alma mater, and the first thing she did when she found out about my acceptance/placement was e-mail the entire staff (it’s a small school and they pretty much all know her and therefore know me) telling them the exciting news, and asking them for advice. “Do any of you have any familiarity of Kansas City, Missouri?  If so, what is your impression of it as to what kind of place it is to be/live?” she asked. The responses were, of course, positive…with the exception of my high school theater teacher who commented on how darn cold the winters will be! ;)

She’s already started trying to figure out the logistics of moving, and I’ll be honest, I’m thinking about it too. As I’ve said over and over again, my family has moved around quite a bit, including moving ourselves–my dad in the big trunk and my mom in a little U-haul, three kitties in toe–on a cross-country drive from Seattle to DC. The plain and simple truth is that moving is a pain in the arse, and it helps to be prepared. One of the first text messages I got when I told my mom about my acceptance was “Do they have an Ikea?” We figure that it just won’t be worth it to move all of my current furniture out of my apartment, truck it to KC, potentially put it in storage, and then potentially find that there’s not room for half of it in my apartment anyway.

There’s also a lot of uncertainty about the fact that I won’t have a classroom. I had always counted on having one, before I applied for TFA and was just planning on being a middle school English teacher. Teaching ESL is a different story–as a specialist, there’s a good chance that I’ll be team teaching or floating around the school working with students who are immersed in gen. ed. classes. My natural impulse, as a pre-service teacher, is to start preparing NOW, since you can never be too prepared. As a teacher herself, my mom is also sharing this impulse. But for now, the most we can do is speculate. Later this week I’m going to purchase a rolling backpack for my “teacher bag” (I need it for my student teaching next semester anyway) but I’m not sure what to start investing in besides that. My mom’s also going to lend me her laptop (she never uses it–her iPhone gets the job done) which has Rosetta Stone – Spanish installed, so I can brush up in the months leading up to my (potential) immersion in a classroom full of Spanish speakers. Better to be over-prepared than under! And in the very possible situation that many of my students come from families where neither parent is proficient enough in English to hold a conversation, it will be my obligation to speak with them in their native language. I understand that there are translators, but for the sake of a personal connection, I’d like to avoid it.

I mentioned both of my parents’ takes on my TFA acceptance thus far–both have been positive–but I have to go ahead and throw a couple of lines in about my boyfriend and my brother. Boyfriend has kept pretty quite about it–he’s supportive, definitely, but uncertain about what it all means for him. My brother is happy for me, but it’ll be weird living so far away from him. I don’t know if it’ll be as weird for him as it is for me. But I’ll miss him, more than I’ll miss anyone else, I can already tell. I’m going to make him help me with the moving process over the summer, and maybe he can spend a week with me sometime before school starts. Frankly, I’ve always been able to see him and hang out with him whenever I want to, so it’s going to be different having to connect with him exclusively through phone calls, facebook, texts, etc. But I guess this is all part of growing up!

7 Responses

  1. Alana

    I am a proud, born and raised Kansas Citian! I am working as a 9th grade ELA teacher in DFW, and miss home like none other. My perspective is definitely biased, but I think you will love the city. Large enough to where you won’t get bored, small enough to where you won’t feel “swallowed up”. If you have questions about the city, definitely join the Facebook group for TFA KC and ask away!

  2. Amy

    you are wasting your time. read Gary’s blog about why you should not do TFA. Even with preparation that you are speaking of, it will still not prepare you for the reality of the classroom. TFA does not place corps members in stable teaching environments. Read other posts… re-think. Go into something different. Teaching today is very different then it was even 5 years ago. You are your test scores now

    • wonderlandkc

      Hi Amy. I appreciate your concern, and I’ve read Gary’s blog…even before I had read it, I was already thinking similar things and had heard them from several other sources. I mentioned that I have several family members who are teaching today, including my mother who teaches special education in an underfunded, rural Appalachian county. I’ve spent a lot of time (mandatory for my teacher training) in classrooms, observing the realities of teachers who make do with zero resources, zero support, and all-around bad kids. I know what I’m getting myself in to.

      Here’s the truth of the matter: I want to teach. Not for the next two years, but as a career. While I won’t be “prepared” when I step into the classroom, I’ll be substantially more prepared and more aware of what I’m getting myself into than most other CM’s, and as prepared as any other first-year teacher who has been through a certification program. And yeah, I’m going to be a sub-par, inexperienced first-year teacher. Yeah, I will be my test scores. But I’d be these things with or without TFA.

    • Social Studies Blues

      It is so scary to see “you are wasting your time” as a comment on this post. When I think of all of the things my students accomplished in HS, all the things they are doing in college now, and all the things they will do in their lives because of what we were able to build together, I know without a doubt that joining TFA was the best thing I could have done out of college. I, unlike WKC, was not a traditionally certified teacher, and TFA brought me into the most rewarding work possible.

      My school was not ‘stable’…and that’s why I went there…and why I stayed after my corps experience.

      While there are certainly many ways TFA can improve (and is improving) and needs to be pushed, I think it is reckless to say that students choosing to take action as leaders in the classroom are wasting their time. If anyone took 10 minutes to talk to the hundreds of students I’ve had, I doubt they’d be able to say to their faces that they are, and that the work we did together is, a waste of time.

      The students I taught as a CM are college students now, so they could likely articulate why that flippancy is so problematic and potentially harmful much more clearly than I can.

      • wonderlandkc

        Well said.

  3. Cal

    If you want to be a teacher, that’s why God created ed school.

    • wonderlandkc

      I am in “ed school.” Unfortunately, “ed schools” aren’t quite structured the way they should be, either. In fact, last night in my Methods 2 class we spent about half an hour just discussing how “ed school” doesn’t actually prepare teachers for the realities of teaching. A lot of teacher prep programs are disappointingly unrealistic, having students create unit plans and lesson plans that they’d never be able to implement in a real classroom, for lack of resources, lack of student participation, or simply the fact that you often have no control over your own curriculum. But anyway…tangent.

      I believe that you only become a good teacher through dedication and time spent in the classroom. Even the best teacher education programs are no substitute for a year spent in the classroom. Experience is the only way to become a master teacher. A more accurate phrase might be “if you want to be a teacher, teach. And don’t stop.”

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