Monday, May 11, 2009

Stay ability

If you click my profile, you'll see the Ethics of Service blog. Last year I was asked to contribute to the class blog for a class of the same name. Even though the class ended a year ago, I posted again in December about the decision to leave. Wanted to share this with you.

On Leaving

I don't know if anyone will read this, but this seems like the appropriate space for sharing my current reflection process. I'm struggling with the ethics of ending service.

I'm working on my grad school applications, planning to leave the reservation next year. Yet when the security guard asked me yesterday if I would be back next year, I said I didn't know. Although I do not feel called to teach for the rest of my life, and want to attend graduate school, I'm experiencing guilt for this decision.

They didn’t expect me to make it through my first year. On my first day of school, I allowed students to ask me questions. The most frequent question was, “How long will you be here?” Time and again they have been abandoned. By teachers. By family. By volunteers who are here for a week of their summer, leaving to tell stories of the difficulty of these people's lives.

My return from Christmas convinced some students that I would make it through the year; they never said the words, but their attitude toward me changed. Girls who had walked out of class refusing to do work, moved to the front of the room to work on the board and stayed afterschool for extra help. While I know my teaching has improved, my continued return has gained a trust that transforms my classroom. Stability--stay ability--is a gift they do not receive often enough.

When I leave, whether it's next year or 15 years in the future, I will add more instability to the system. My time here has been longer than the summer volunteers, but I wonder how much good we do. I have to believe that the benefits we help bring outweigh the cost of this unstable system. Have to hope that my presence for two years is more meaningful than the absence I replaced. Have to trust that someone else will fill in the void I leave.

TFA is sometimes said to stand for "Teach for Awhile." The program's only been at my school for 3 years. One-third of the first corps has stayed for their third year. And even leaving after two years we are more constant than the one year teachers who were here before us. Still, I'm afraid of this system that says, it's okay to be here a little while. A little while may be better than never, but some days I'm not sure.


Jason said...

I have enjoyed your blog and wish you the best of luck. I was hoping you'd do a "final thoughts on TFA" type of post. TFA seems to be a bit polarizing and I'm sure you have strong opinions.

Anonymous said...

I taught at Hopi 2.5 years and left because the administration couldn't keep the hallways safe. My classroom was in good shape by that time, but step out the door and it was a different story.

Once, when a student came bakc from a 20 minute bathroom break, I asked "what's up, the bathroom's right across the hall."

He said - Oh I can't use that one - it's for a different gang.

Often it's not the teachers' fault they don't stay.

Sarah Cannon said...

Anonymous: To quote my kids, "Nay. Not that far to the next closest bathroom."

In all seriousness though, I hear you. My school wasn't as bad as your sounds, and has improved since the time I arrived, but navigating the gang culture (on top of tribal and school politics) is tough.

When I wrote this, I didn't mean to blame the teachers for leaving so much as highlight the way the instability of the system affects the kids. Though I'd also argue that the instability makes it that much harder for teachers, adminstrators, and families dealing with the sytem too. I believe the continued turnover is as much as symptom of the instability as it is the cause of it.

For whatever it's worth, I'm loving grad school and am generally happy with my decision. I hear good things from my school, including indications that its on it's way to a more stable environment. Even so, there are still moments when I feel a bit of guilt over my part about taking away a constant from the system.