Four months into the school year, first-year Teach for America teachers tell the Memphis Flyer what it’s like in their classroom. A resource teacher working with special education students writes, “My job is not just about teaching; it is about changing mindsets.”
The first few weeks, I would start a lesson or hand out work, and the students would be confused. Not confused by the material but confused that they had work to do.
“But this is a resource class, not a real class” was the phrase that I heard endlessly. Especially from Justin. He would walk into class and ask for a free day, a music day, a poker day, any day that he didn’t have to learn. I explained that school was for learning, not just hanging out, but he would just laugh at me.
I faced the same mindsets in my school staff too. Students have to take three Gateway exams to get a diploma, and one of these is an algebra exam. I looked at a practice test and realized that I would need graphing calculators to teach all the graphing and functions. So I talked to a woman at my school to see if she could tell me where to find calculators, and I heard a familiar phrase: “But this is a resource class, not a real class.” I felt so defeated when I realized that all my kids had probably ever heard was this idea — that their classes weren’t “real” classes; they weren’t even “real” students.
Many of the TFA teachers are exhausted but some are starting to see that they’re making a difference.