this summer is making me think a lot about last summer. part of the institute pre-work was writing a “story of self”… about a formative experience that has shaped who you are & contributed to bringing you to TFA. my story of self is about last summer. here it is, in words & instax pictures.
last summer I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I thought I might want to apply to Teach for America. my major was Spanish & I found an internship online at an academic program in Washington Heights (a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in NYC). I spent the first part of the summer studying abroad in Costa Rica, came home for a bit & then packed up for part two of summer in Manhattan.
Washington Heights was in some ways wildly different than Costa Rica & in other ways it felt exactly the same. I heard Spanish everywhere I went & the streets were lined with fruit stands. instead of “hola gringa,” guys would yell “yo snowflake, what you doin’ up here?” I lived at the tip top of Manhattan & walked 22 blocks to work every morning.
work was here, at Operation Exodus, in a huge, brightly colored basement below an old church. I showed up for the summer not really knowing what my job description was… I thought I would be doing some one-on-one academic work with kids or maybe some administrative tasks. instead, I was greeted with “hey… one of our tutors had to go back to the DR for a few weeks. how would you feel about teaching a class?” I had twelve 1st graders. the second day of work, I left the building, immediately called my mother & said, “ok mom, I have twenty minutes. how do you teach a kid to read?”
summer in the heights was full of challenges. my kids were behind, the majority of their parents didn’t speak english, & I worked long days with limited resources. there were cultural barriers. it was my first time ever to attempt to manage a classroom. it should have been an absolute disaster. but blessedly… graciously… it was one of the very best experiences I’ve ever had.
this picture hangs on my wall… & every time I see it, I am reminded of how good & faithful Yahweh God is. these ladies are Tatiana, the parent coordinator at Exodus & Kati, the academic program director. God gave those two women such love & grace towards me. Kati was invaluable in teaching me how to educate my kids & manage my classroom. Tatiana would always stop whatever she was doing to listen to me vent & then give me the most glorious advice. they both received my cluelessness so gracefully & helped create an environment where I could fail & get right back up. so much of what I’ve learned about teaching came from them & I’ll forever be thankful that God gave them the desires to help a frazzled little gringa girl.
God’s graciousness wasn’t limited to providing Kati & Tatiana in my time of need… he also gave me so much love for my job, so much affection for my kids. work was exhausting & stressful & sometimes heart breaking… but it was an adventure; it was never boring. despite little sleep & long days, I was genuinely excited to go to walk to Exodus almost every day. somewhere along the way I realized that what started out as an internship might be growing into a calling. & I can vividly recall walking down a certain sidewalk, calling my mom & telling her that I thought I had decided that I was going to for sure apply to Teach for America.
now, a tiny bit less than one year later, I’m at TFA institute. and to be honest, it is deeply overwhelming. the hours are insanely long. I know so little about teaching… some days I am fairly certain I am widening the achievement gap. and yet every time I teach, I’m reminded of how urgent this is. every time I grade assessments, I’m humbled by what my kids–my beautiful, smart, spirited kids–have learned in spite of me.
if this summer is at times overpowering, thoughts of next fall are even more so. but when my thoughts & fears & inadequacies threaten to overcome me… I try to think less about this summer and more about last summer. I think about Exodus & Kati & Tatiana & my 12 crazy kiddos. I breathe deep & remember that hindsight is 20/20… & God is beautifully, gloriously faithful.
p.s. that sweet graffiti is compliments of delta state’s dorms.
p.p.s. as much as I love Manhattan,
I ‘m thrilled to be in Mississippi
(for the next couple of years).
but if you want to read about a friend of mine
who’s following her New York dreams,
check out lindsey’s blog.