Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 13 2012

Remembering My Place (Age and Code-Switching)

As a 22 year old first year teacher, it is often difficult to remember my place in society and in the classroom. On the one hand, I am just a guy right out of college. According to our societal expectations, most of us are supposed to be unemployed in this economy. I guess I am one of the lucky ones with a job that has more responsibility than making copies and sending e-mails. However, this responsibility often creates awkward situations that remind me of my relative place in society.

At Institute, I felt old and behind the times for the first time in my life. I was talking with my students at lunch about their favorite video game figuring that it was something we would have in common. One of the guys in the class mentioned that his favorite game was Mario Party 9. There’s a Mario Party 9??? Then, I had to tell him that when I was your age, I remember playing Mario Party. Honestly, I remember Mario Party 2 coming out, but I stopped paying attention after that point. As a younger teacher, I thought that I would be more connected to what my students were doing. But I can attest that to the fact that there is a generation gap between my students and I. For example, most of my students were born after 9/11. Therefore, when we have a school assembly to remember the events of that tragic day, they won’t be able to truly comprehend the horror and confusion on that day.

While I have had a few more moments like the Mario Party incident, more of my incidents have reminded me just how young I am. When I was taking my road trip cross country and told people I was becoming a teacher, there were some shocked faces. I remember one lady at the Nebraska State Capitol convinced that I was still in high school rather than being an elementary school teacher. The ultimate age buster so far has come from my principal at 100 Academy. This summer, I taught at Florence Griffith-Joyner Elementary School in Watts. Principal Selma had Florence Griffith-Joyner as a Health student down the street at Jordan High in the 1970s. It’s crazy to think that my principal’s former student has had a school named after her for a dozen years already. It’s also reassuring to know that my principal has a ton of experience and is incredibly well-qualified for her job.

Another thing I have had to worry about at work is code-switching. In both the TFA world and at 100 Academy, we use a lot of acronyms and very few of them overlap. Therefore, I always try to be on the safe side in explaining everything through the actual words. But the real issue with code-switching comes in regards to TFA’s training. Some of my colleagues are familiar with our training and limited experience, but most are not. Therefore, I am referring to Institute as my student-teaching experience, which I know a misnomer. However, it’s the closest thing I have had to student-teaching, and I have stayed in touch with my faculty advisor from Griffith-Joyner.

Explaining these concepts to teachers is hard, but it’s far more challenging to explain them to parents. At our orientation last week, I was introduced as a Teach for America teacher partly to my dismay. While I am honest about being a first-year teacher, I didn’t necessarily want to be identified with TFA right off the bat since I feel kind of patronizing being a TFA teacher due to its implications. Many of the students at my school come from underprivileged backgrounds, but a number of them don’t. I also don’t know what the previous experience in the community in regards to TFA is. Many families pull their kids from the district schools (that often have TFA Corps Members) to send their kids to my school. I hope no one is sending their children to my school due to a negative experience with a former corps member, but I guess I will only find out in time.

At this point, I feel like I still have to prove myself and build up a reputation. In this process, the little things matter. At orientation, I decided to wear a full suit and tie, since I wanted to be seen more professionally. I am not going to wear a suit everyday to school (it would be crazy in the Vegas heat), but I will wear a tie most days. I am not a huge fan of wearing ties, but almost everyone has suggested it as a sign to show my professionalism. I said that I would do whatever it would take to be a success teacher in the context of TFA, and if wearing a tie is part of that process, count me in. Now I have to be prepared to act the part now that I can look and talk the part. That’s the real challenge ahead.

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