Saturday, October 15, 2011


To say that the past two weeks have been humbling would be a ridiculous understatement.

When I first started this job, I was a mix of nerves, insecurities over the fact that I had only taught children before and never adults, and excitement over the possibility that I could potentially be a stepping stone into life changes for people who really need it.

Never would I have guessed that after two weeks, I would feel such an emotional connection to my students and feel so blessed to have the opportunity to get to know them.

The area that I'm working in is a really rough one - it's crazy because when I drive to work in the mornings as I leave Franklin Lakes (which is where the Housewives of New Jersey live/film, if you watch that - for a reference point of the area where I live) and head for Paterson (the inner-city where I work), it is literally a 15 minute drive, and yet the life I've known my entire life and the lives of my students could not be more different.

The concerns and "white girl problems" that my friends and I have seem so trivial when compared to the fact that four of my students have been mugged/jumped within the past week, or are struggling to make ends meet to pay their rent.

I'm still overwhelmed and feel slightly out of my element - on my first two days, the staff handed me Pre-GED books on each content subject and twenty-one folders of students I would be teaching. "Divide them up any way you see fit," they told me.

That became the mantra of the job training I got - "Just do what works for you!" As I scrambled to divide the folders into two classes, call students to inform them when class would start, and start writing makeshift, sloppy lesson plans.

The thing I love about teaching is the fresh start you get - no two classes are the same, and you're constantly evolving, constantly learning, and staying active to try to reach the class as individuals, not just as a whole.

With these students, my primary goal was to establish some sort of a mutual respect and relationship amongst one another - to let them know that no matter what, I'm not judging them - in fact, that I respect them for taking control of their lives and being motivated enough to try to change it. I wanted my class to be more than just names on a folder with test statistics to me - getting to know them personally would help me better connect with them.

The students I have in my classes (ages range from 16-45, so I chose to divide my class based on age) are some of the most incredible people I could meet.

Applicable to every single one of my students.


They have so much strength and have bounced back from the hard things that life has thrown their way. Rather than try to act like they never make mistakes, they admit to their mistakes and own them - whether it was having a baby at age 15, going to jail, living in a halfway house, having been addicted to coke - they're enrolled in this program for a fresh start and a chance to better their lives.

Some are hard to read, so I never know if I'm breaking through to them, or how they feel about the class in general, but most of them have already started opening up as we're establishing more of a bond.

On Thursday, one of my coworkers came into my first class (that spans from ages 16-21), and berated them for not being more motivated or contributing to class discussions. While she had good intentions, that's just not my style, so my class was visibly upset (and I was too - especially since she said that they should stop "fucking around during class." Like, if you talk like that on your own, go for it, but I just don't want to talk to my class that way - it doesn't seem respectful of them. Again, that's just me!).

Before I dismissed them for the day, I handed each of them a Post-It, and asked them not to put their names on it, and to write any comments they had about the class today - whether it was something that I could improve, what they liked about the class or didn't like - anything (I even told them that they could write that they hated me on it if they really wanted to get it out), and then drop it in a bag on their way out.

The point was that I don't have a big enough ego to think I have my shit completely together - if I'm not going about something the right way, I want my class to be able to let me know. I was expecting a lot of criticism, or smart ass answers, but instead what I read made me want to sit at my desk and cry because they were just so sweet (I didn't take pictures of any of the things that said more personal things, but they were so sweet and touching).

A few of the notes I got:

I'm learning more and more every day - not to be judgmental, that working hard and putting forth that extra effort really does make a difference, that not acting like you know everything and have it all together makes people relate to you more than if you act like you're infallible - and this is just after two weeks.

I started two-way journaling with my students - which is basically where I assign a writing prompt for the day, which each student responds to and turns in. Then when I bring them home and read over them, I write back to the students and respond to what they wrote, adding in comments, or relating to my own experiences. It's technically supposed to be an exercise for showing students how proper writing looks and sounds, but for me, I want them to know that I'm as invested in this as they are - that if they're going to be doing work, I'm going to do it right along with them.

The things they've opened up about has been incredible - to my teacher friends, I'd highly recommend two-way journaling!

As the weeks go on, I know there will be times that I'm overwhelmed and stressed, or discouraged - but through it all, I know it's worth it. And I hope that over time, I can show my students that they're inspiring me to want to be a better person, and to never take anything for granted.


Has there been someone (or a class full of people!) who have unexpectedly touched your life?

Hope you all have a gorgeous weekend - it is the perfect fall day here today!

Currently listening to: Fix Your Accent - Fake Blood.


Ash said...

I'm glad you're having such a positive experience with your new job. It really does seem like you're able to reach out to these people and help them and it does legitimately seem like you have genuine care and concern for your students. That's really amazing.

There would have been a pretty big 'culture shock' almost I'm guessing, when you first started the job; and even now you'd be being surprised and humbled by the things you'd be seeing and hearing on a daily basis. It really does make us realise how lucky we are when we're around people who aren't as fortunate.

It sounds like you're already starting to have a large positive impact with these students and I'm hoping that it'll only get even better from here on out (for both you and your students) as you guys get to know each other more and get closer to each other. And that two-way journaling thing does seem like a very effective tool from multiple perspectives.

And lastly, I think that you, and what you're doing, is amazing. Actually, it's beyond amazing. I've said before that I had great respect for you wanting to become a teacher even though your family wasn't for it, because I knew you weren't doing it for the money but to better and change peoples lives through education. My respect has grown even more now with you relishing and willingly facing the challenge of this new job educating people who've been through what they have.


Tom Cupples said...

Well done Allison - I'm full of admiration for you. Nothing is as important as preparing and developing young lives for the future.

Morgane said...

The harder the pupils are ( because of behaviour or because of their "bad school past) the more interesting is the job isn't it . You have to be proud of you , i'm sure you're tottaly involved on what you do with these people ... The strengh of a good teacher is to be confident in the capacities of each ones ... Every one owns a treasure...
Sure they have found someone who will help them... You're a TRUE teacher...
perfect fall day here too !
Bise !

Legally Brunette Kate said...

Your students are very lucky to have you!

HiFashion said...

Glad you're loving the new job. It sounds great and so rewarding.

The post it was a great idea and so happy that the response was so positive.

Kristin said...

You absolutely rock lady! Your students are so lucky to have such a caring teacher!

monica said...

what u r doing is really great! keep it going girl!

The Dainty Doll's House said...

Wonderful!! I think you are doing a marvelous job!! Those notes are proof of it! It's not an easy job to do and most wouldn't do it. Just go in there and believe in yourself and help them to believe in theirselves and you will have done great!! Big hug to you doll!! XX

i.r. said...

Admirable! While most of us only talk about inner city blah-blah-blah you are actually improving their quality of life.
And why are you surprised that the love you? You ARE wonderful!

Elle Sees said...

Definitely! I'm glad this is going well for you. I taught a few writing and reading classes for those from 18 to 60 and it was hell. I had people who had never turned on a computer and the entire class was on a computer. Never again!

amy b.s. said...

this is so amazing! the lives you are touching in such a positive's so inspirational. i hope the rest of your school year goes well and can't wait to hear what you have learned through this experience. and to see how far your students go.

Lindsay said...

It takes a special person to do what you are doing. I'm sure you will have your ups and downs, but it will be so worth it!

Ashley said...

Everyone above me has commented perfectly in saying that what you're doing is AMAZING! You're students obviously realize that, and that is also truly amazing. Teaching may be some of the most difficult, exhausting, and time-consuming jobs on the planet, but the rewards are huge and totally worth it. I can't wait to hear more about your new job! Good luck with it, girlie- you're fabulous! xoxo

la petite fashionista said...

i'm so glad your teaching job has turned into much more than you expected! it sounds like you're really impacting people's lives and vice versa. May you have the strength to get through the tough days and allow yourself to be proud of yourself too for all that you've done!:)

Kelly @ The Startup Wife said...

This sounds like an incredible job. I'm really looking forward to hearing more as you get more into it! And you will be AMAZING at this job. I think those are such great points about being honest and authentic with your students, and not acting like you have everything together. They're clearly responding to your openness.

Carol {Everyday Delights} said...

Wow - well done sweet friend! you are making a difference in so many people's lives. Keep up the great work!!!

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