Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 16 2012

Online vs. Reality

For the past four years of my life, including running a State Representative campaign, my life has been based primarily on two types of communication, in-person and through e-mail. In a typical day, I would go through 50 or so “important” e-mails followed up by a series of in-person meetings. In many professional jobs, what I did in college in terms of efficient communication via e-mail would be a necessary learning step. But that’s not the case with teaching in a low-income community. Therefore, I am now living a bipolar communication life, which is quite different for me.

On one hand, the world of Teach for America is exactly the same as college. I get a dozen or so important e-mails a day related to communications that are about our training and other logistics. I follow up these e-mails with text messages and frequent in-person meetings. However, at school, the system of communication is dramatically different. In the parent surveys we sent home at the beginning of the summer, not one parent listed an e-mail address. I really shouldn’t have been surprised to see that parents wanted to be reached out to over the phone, but this requires some adjustment on my part. I have become so accustomed to e-mail protocol that I had to remember proper phone etiquette for speaking with parents, which requires a few things.

First, I have to be incredibly careful with my tone of voice. It’s hard to go from using your teacher voice with your students one minute to using your professional voice with the parents especially when you are a new 22-year old teacher. This task is not so difficult for the summer since the parents are grateful for any teacher. However, this task is going to be more difficult during the school year. Second, my Spanish is decent, but I am honestly not fluent. Two-thirds of my parents prefer to speak with me in Spanish instead of English, which is fine. In Spanish, I have to be so careful with my word choice. I usually a way to express what I want to say, but I am never sure if it is the right way to convey this message in the local dialect. I believe the parents appreciate that I am trying, but I am truly not a member of the community yet. Third, it’s nearly impossible for parents to get to school when the day is from 8-12:15. Many of my students walk to and from school with siblings, friends, and/or relatives, or they are picked up as part of a larger group. Therefore, it’s rare (but not impossible) to see my students’ parents at school. Unlike at Tufts and with TFA, it’s harder to follow up these phone chats with in-person conversations. During the school year, I will be more flexible with my time so I can meet more parents than I can now, but it’s still going to be difficult to find reasonable meeting times.

Another big problem for me about moving away from a fully-digital world is real-life organization. My computer and my e-mail is incredibly organized. However, my room and my students papers are far less organized. Therefore, I spent a couple hours this weekend buying folders for each of my students to keep their work in a semi-organized fashion. I am going to see how this strategy works for the next two weeks, but I feel like I am going to need to get multiple binders to keep students’ work for an entire year. Staying organized from day 1 of teacher prep is going to be a key to success when I have limited time in the day to accomplish everything. I would love to hear any organization tips you have since I need them. Overall, my adjustment to the TFA hasn’t been as challenging as expected so far, but I know if I cannot stay organized in both the online and real realms, my challenges will quickly rise on top of everything else.

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