A real class

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.

About Joanne


  1. My daughter was a TFA teacher in St. Louis, then stayed on at the same high school to teach a third year after her TFA commitment was over because she loved her students, the school, and the challenge (though, like the teachers you describe, she ended many days frustrated and exhausted). She started AP classes at the school, helped a number of kids get into college who otherwise would not even have considered the possibility of college, and was her school’s Teacher of the Year. She would still be there except for the inutterable stupidity of the St. Louis school district — and now, of course, there are no more AP classes, no more College Summit, etc. It just makes you want to say ARRRRGH.

    But my purpose isn’t to brag on my daughter (though I of course never object to doing that!); rather, it’s to praise and support Teach for America, which as far as I can tell is a wonderfully run organization that really, REALLY is doing a lot of good all around the country. I was delighted that my daughter decided to volunteer for it, and trust that it will be around for a long, long time.

  2. I don’t want to pull up my rant on calculators, but really…people learned how to graph for decades without any calculators at all, much less graphing calculators.

    I don’t know what this “resource class” stuff is. Is it supposed to be where you go for extra help/tutoring? Might kids not take it seriously because they’re not graded on it?