Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 30 2013

#86: Fall 2013 in review

In the past and particularly this summer, I have had a draft or two kicking around in my mind before I actually sat down to type anything. Not so, this fall. I think this goes beyond me being busy. We are always busy. I think what is different now is that I’m less certain. Less certain that I’m right about things, less certain that I am the right messenger to say those things, less certain that I am articulating these things in the best way. Anytime I enter a mental space in which I feel utterly confident in what I am saying, I’m forced to step back and question myself. I look at much of what I’ve written and I still agree with it, but how many times can I talk about how TFA needs to have more training and require a longer commitment and get over its savior complex before it’s stale?

Oddly enough, I think getting on Twitter as this pseudonymous persona has done a lot to move me in this direction. I initially joined as a way to follow and join education conversations that weren’t happening elsewhere between educators and wonks and other interested parties. I didn’t expect that I would begin to follow conversations on intersectionality with feminists of color(1), or that I’d be reading more articles not in my RSS feed(2). I have engaged a lot more with voices that I disagree with(3), often having extended debates in my mind trying to reconcile their values with my own.

All of this is to say I thought I would be a more active writer and teacher blogger this break, but I haven’t had the same pull. This is not to say that there haven’t been some pretty significant developments and stories this semester which I will touch on in briefs:

  • Standards-based grading has been going pretty well. I feel like the assessments I develop are more holistic and rigorous but are also graded in a way that makes learning from mistakes a lot easier to do. Still, I have a lot of students who earn 1′s or Review/Redo(4) on a particular skill quiz and leave it at that and I have been shouting from the rooftops that they can bring their grades up if they show me that they can learn something about this or that topic. More often than not, though, they accept what they have. I feel like grades are a poor motivator for these kids who need the most care and perhaps remediation. Nevertheless, I definitely feel like I can look at class averages on these skills as well as my subjective analysis from having taken the time to grade them myself and I get a pretty clear picture of what they do or do not know. This is data I can get behind. Also, to date I have given one of the three district assessments. What can I say, I live life on the edge(5).
  • I have reoriented my time pretty significantly in the latter half of 2013. My wife and I cancelled our cable over the summer, leaving a little boombox in the corner of our living room as our sole common room media outlet. Suffice to say, we listen to a lot of NPR now(6). I also have pledged to never be on any screen device while I am with my son and he is awake. This has significantly cut down on my time on the internet so I can be a more committed father and husband because I am the worst multitasker on earth. It has also meant I spend less time thinking about work. I feel like this helps me achieve that work/life balance that everyone keeps banging on about(7).
  • Don’t tell anyone, but I’m trying to start a bilingual school newspaper starting next year. Also, PS, super secret, but I don’t think I want to teach math for the rest of my teaching career. Shhhhhh.
  • Cross-examine debate district meet is in less than three weeks. Super nervous!
There are other topics I want to talk more about once I feel like I have something better to contribute than what I have now. Meritocracy is heavy on my mind. The rising cost of college is, too(8). But, I plan to read and listen a lot more with the time that I have, and that includes y’all TFA bloggers here.


(1) Special mention to Mikki Kendall and Suey Park who both led me down a rabbit hole of feminist and anti-racist discussions I had been missing out on due to ignorance.

(2) I have clicked the “Mark All As Read” button more times in the last few months than I have in my entire life combined, I reckon.

(3) Special mention to Citizen Stewart and Dr. Katharine Beals. Both of y’all keep me up at night sometimes. You’re in my head.

(4) Both of these are levels of “Failing.” A “1″ is a limited to understanding of the topic, a “Review/Redo” is no understanding.

(5) I walk out of my classroom slow-motion while sludgy nu-metal blares behind me. I’m throwing reams of benchmark exams up in the air, scowling. This act of defiance soothes me.

(6) Oh God, I really am becoming my mother.

(7) He says knee deep in  The Glorious Two-Week Winter Break. Wonder what he will say in the middle of February, hmmm.

(8) Special mention to Tressie McMillan Cottom who writes a lot about higher ed issues from a sociological perspective. I feel like that description does not do her justice. She has become one of my favorite writers about anything she chooses to write about. I got to the point where bookmarking her posts was needless and redundant when I could’ve just said NOTE TO SELF, READ EVERYTHING SHE HAS WRITTEN and that would’ve been more appropriate. If you are not reading her, you are doing the internet wrong.

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