Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 27 2012

Reaching my Students with the Help of Michelle Obama

Today is Nevada Day (Observed), and as a result, I had my first real school day off since Labor Day (I am not counting Rosh HaShannah or Yom Kippur since I was in services). Instead of spending another morning and afternoon of prep or taking a trip out of town (like I had originally planned), I decided to head down to volunteer at a rally featuring First Lady Michelle Obama. Before I decided to become a teacher, I assumed that I would have been a field organizer on the Obama re-election campaign. After a quarter of teaching, I often had moments where I wished that I would have chosen that path.

However, this afternoon’s rally reinforced my decision to become a teacher. Speaker after speaker at this rally kept mentioning the importance of providing a quality education to their students. These ideas included providing an education that opened new opportunities to all students at every level of education from pre-school through college. After the rally, I had the chance to briefly chat with Michelle, and I introduced myself as a struggling first-year teacher. She quickly replied that I need to keep going on as my struggles will be worthwhile in the long run when I able to reach my students.

I have been thinking about the idea of reaching my students a lot this week. Even before I became a teacher, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to reach all of my students and ideally make a lasting positive change in their lives that I desired. I told myself that I would genuinely try to positively impact all of my students, but I knew that I would be able to reach a few of my students far more than the rest. The latter statement has come very true over the past few days. I have some students with serious behavior issues in my class, and I have not done the best job at controlling them. Now, two of them are suspended from my class for much of next week as they were fighting in my class when I was meeting with another group of students. Despite reaching out to the families of these students multiple times this year, they only behaved properly when they had family members in the room. It is clear that they did not respect me as their teacher.

To have a real impact on my students, I have to earn their respect. Right now, I have the respect of a slight majority of my students, which is simply not high enough. As I become more consistent in the coming weeks and I continue applying due diligence to solving problems, my guess is that number will go up to a healthy majority of my class. Once we solidify all of the respect issues, we can proceed with making deeper, lasting connections. I have already reached this level with a few students after the first quarter, and it has been incredibly powerful. Getting to know my students’ dreams and aspirations and trying to bring them closer to their goals reminds me of why I moved to Vegas in the first place. While I know that I am not a great teacher right now for the entire class, I know that I can be a great teacher for these students that meet my extra level of effort. I am willing to make sacrifices to be the transformational mentor, leader, and teacher for all of my students, but of course, I am going to naturally put in more effort into those students that truly care.

At the end of the day, I think back to a quote from the Talmud that I learned in middle school. It says, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” In my job, I know that I am sadly going to destroy a few worlds by not being the best teacher for my kids. However, I just hope that I help more students than not to make their lives, my life, and the entire world just a bit better of a place. I think I can do that, and it will inspire me to be a better teacher just like the First Lady did today.

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