High Expectations

Yesterday was pro-sat, one of Teach For America’s professional development requirements. The entire corps gathered at a charter school outside of Little Rock for general training and content-specific sessions. The theme of yesterday’s professional development was “how have you found yourself lowering expectations for your students?” and this rubbed me the wrong way. In a discussion about the power and importance of teachers’ maintaining high expectations, shouldn’t the organization hold those teachers to the expectation that they are constantly reflecting and seeking to improve? This isn’t to say that I am not guilty of lowering my expectations for certain students. I am still new at this, and improvement takes reflection, time, trial and error.  I am aware of many things that I could do better, and I’m trying to do them, but I am trying not to burn myself out. Yesterday’s pro-sat felt like a giant guilt trip, like TFA was trying to shame us into working ourselves to death by the end of the year. Hard work should come from a place of love, and, to be sustainable, constant hard work requires a huge amount of emotional energy that can’t all come from teaching. Work-life-balance, yo.
In the book that I’m reading, Arctic Daughter, by Jean Aspen, she writes about canoeing into Alaska’s Brooks range with her sweetheart to build a cabin and overwinter with nothing but the supplies they can carry in the canoe. At one point in the summer, long before they reach their cabin site, they are both losing weight quickly and growing weak and sick. They’ve burned through a third of the food in the canoe and have been unable to catch any fish or game.

I guess any way you look at it, it’s a gamble. Use up all of our supplies and keep strong to find more, or ration food and starve longer.

TFA gave the impression of being thoroughly in the “starve longer” camp. It felt like they want us to use up every drop of our energy and enthusiasm before we quit, instead of building the skills to make this work a lifestyle. Framing the day around “setting high expectations” would have made all the difference to me. We could have discussed communicating goals with parents and students, what constitutes a high expectation and whether or not these high expectations should seem achievable to our kids.

Generally, I am fairly pro-TFA. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach here, and I know a lot of people who are going to be powerful career teachers (shoutout to B!) because they had an opportunity to safely try it out without committing to graduate school or putting some weird blip on their resume. I have also met people who are never going to teach again, but whose experiences here have changed them for the better. Here in the Delta, there are positions filled by TFA that would not be filled otherwise, and even an inexperienced teacher who wants the best for the kids is better than most long-term subs.

I’m done with this topic now. There are daffodils blooming outside that need to come in and sit on my dining room table before they get smashed flat by the sleet and ice we’re supposed to get tonight.

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One thought on “High Expectations

  1. I don’t want to pretend that I have some ability to decode deeper strategic meaning from pro-sat, but by framing the day in a negative light, the organization may have been attempting to emotionally engage you all. Evoking emotional responses, they stand a greater chance of making a memorable impact. The counterpoint to emotion, of course, is that emotional responses are rarely universally the same, so they may reach more people, but there will likely be more variability in the impressions of such a presentation.
    Since you’re a math teacher, Keely, I’ll attempt to analogize this mathematically. I think of your alternative framing for the day (“setting high expectations”) as a safer route that, if represented by a frequency distribution with the impressions of CMs as the x-variable, would have less variance around the average response than the framing that they actually did use. However, by going with the more variable (i.e., riskier) method, they stood a greater chance of impacting some people more deeply and therefore more memorably. It’s all about the freq dist, man.

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