A lot has happened in my life since my last blog post. I currently have 3 drafts on queue that were all unfinished and written at different times in the past six weeks. When it comes to blogging, I’m not gonna lie, I treat it like a college paper sometimes. Grammar has to be as on point as possible (not perfect because let’s be honest English is my second language and I struggle with prepositions), and I’ve got to have a nice intro and ending. If I could find a nice metaphor or imagery throughout it, even better! With blogging, I don’t have a deadline, and I sometimes don’t have to turn it in. So if I start to forget the purpose or “end message” of my post in the middle of writing, I usually quit.
If I had learned anything from the past few weeks, it’s that I can’t write or live my life like that anymore.
The word that comes to my mind that perfectly describes the past six weeks is humbling. Truly humbling. But before I explain, let me give you a (very) brief snapshot of life up until this point.
I was in Orlando when the massacre at Pulse nightclub occurred. I was completely shocked when I heard the news, because of how awful it was and because my family had had dinner in downtown Orlando earlier that night.
I couldn’t process what happened. Even now, I still don’t think I’m able to fully comprehend it. I vividly remembered the day after the shooting, an Orlando radio station played a special version of Macklemore’s “Same Love” with different recordings of the Pulse shooting victims’ families, survivors, and also President Obama’s speech addressing the tragedy played over the chorus. It played twice while I was on the road, and I shed a few tears. In the couple of weeks that followed, I was able to have heart-to-hearts with my fellow TFA Corps Members who belong to the LGBTQ+ community about the shooting and how it personally affected me as a Muslim. I know that I couldn’t take their pain or struggle away on my own, but it meant a lot to me for them to hear that I am, and always will be, their ally, advocate, and friend.
I was in Jacksonville for three days for Induction. Induction is basically an introduction to the Jacksonville community – not just the area but also the staff members and other Corps Members from past years. We went to a Hiring Fair or a Hiring Expo where people who have yet to be hired get the chance to meet with principals or record their interviews to be sent to principals for hiring. It ended with a charge dinner, which was incredibly powerful. The whole week was packed with activities and meaningful conversations, and I couldn’t be more excited to work with this group of people and make an impact in the Jacksonville community.
I skipped a 22-hour bus ride with the Corps to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Institute. This is the intense “Teacher Boot Camp” that you may have heard of. We spent the first week learning how to teach – keeping in mind that we’ve been notified of our placement months before and have had plenty of time to either take or prepare to take the test for certification in that particular subject. Most people were placed based on their undergrad career or previous experience; I was not one of those people, but I did pass the subject exam!
Back to Institute… After spending a crazy first week learning all about our content, pedagogy, our city/area/community/school for the summer, and each other (there were about 450 of us from all around the country in Tulsa), we teach summer school for the next four weeks. We teach from 8:30am to 12:45pm – some of us divided this time with another person, some of us had a team of 4 teachers. After teaching, we go to the Training Hub to learn even more things about how to be an effective teacher. It’s safe to say that learning occurs every day, not just for students but for all teachers, as well!
Now, this is the part where it gets mushy because I get emotional when I talk about my co-teachers and my students. I’ll first talk about my co-teachers, or “collab” as we call it at Institute. They are phenomenal human beings that I’m so lucky to have worked with. The two ladies are part of the Miami Corps, so I’m happy that we’re in the same state so visiting is not a possibility, but a must! The only male in our collab became one of my closest friends in Jacksonville. He was formerly a philosophy professor, so we obviously get along quite well. (Fun fact: one time I had a terrible, no good, very bad day, and what did he do to try to cheer me up? Text me a quote by Aristotle. Classic.)
When I tried to explain to someone else how our collab became so close and work so well with each other, I simply said that it was like magic. We all came from different backgrounds and had varying experiences with teaching. We also had different personalities. We didn’t know each other at all prior to being assigned to a co-teaching group, and to be honest, I had anxieties about that at first. But somehow, we all made it a priority to meet every day from the very first day. Later on, we found out that all of us had quality time as our #1 love language. Needless to say, all those nights (some longer than others) that we spent together paid off. Through our strong bonds with each other, we were able to foster strong relationships with our students, and for that I am thankful.
Now, on to my students. Oh, my students! I taught summer school biology to an incredible group of high schoolers. If I had told you that I was teaching summer school, you’d probably laugh at my face and sarcastically say, “Good luck with that.” I realize that teaching summer school isn’t the ideal start to a teaching career, but looking back, why wouldn’t these young people deserve the best possible education that they can get at any point in the year?
To put the responsibility solely on the students would simply be unfair. I’ve listened to the nuanced stories of a well-lived and colorful life of a tenth-grader. I watched a student struggle to write because he did not know how to spell. I had a student who realized that she “played around too much” her freshman year, and goes to school summer after summer to gain those credits she did not earn the first time around, so that she can go to college. I had student after student who were bored in class because they were not pushed to their utmost potential. I saw a student who started the summer with a D fight for an A at the end of the summer, thanking each of us, when really, he did that by himself.
In the beginning, I would leave the classroom every day wondering, “How?” thinking that if I could pinpoint a problem or someone or something to place the blame on, I could then eradicate it right away and make it all go away. But I soon learned that that is far from how things are. I didn’t learn to stop asking questions, but I learned better questions to ask. Most of these questions, however, started to sound more like an invitation, and the answers started to look more like stories, or little nuggets of knowledge packed in bite-size anecdotes. These questions are not “How?” or “Why?” or even “What?” but they are hospitable, humble, “Tell me more,” or simply humane, “How are you feeling?”
Tell me more about your life.
Tell me your story.
How are you doing?
How was your weekend?
How does this make you feel?
Despite these labels – teacher, student, Faculty Advisor, School Director, Coach, Mentor, etc. – and their alphabet soup of acronyms and plentiful connotations, I learned to saw people simply as human. We cried a lot. We got angry a lot. We rebelled. We marched. We triumphed. We failed. We laughed. We hugged. We danced. We drank. We sometimes drank too much. We sometimes missed breakfast. We occasionally missed the bus. We did not sleep.
It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.* I still can’t say that I was an effective, or even a good teacher. I can’t even say that I’m a good friend or just good to my own self (I’m actually terrible at this last one). But I grew so much – I feel like I’m ten feet tall. I feel truly humbled to have been able to learn so much from my students, my peers, my mentors, and generally everyone who surrounded me throughout this experience. Yet, I feel like I still have a lot more to learn.