Teach for Boston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 29 2009

Strong Coffee and Vanessa Got Extra Homework

It’s Sunday night, and I’m freaking out.  Tomorrow will be my very first teaching session, and I feel like I have no clue what I am doing.  Not that I haven’t been adequately prepared, it’s just that I feel like I’m not living up to the standards that TFA has created for the summer institute.  For the first time in a long time, I feel inadequate, panicked, unprepared.  In fact, I feel like a college freshman again.

However, there is good news.  I just got all my materials printed and copied 10 minutes before the copy center closes.  My lesson plan, however, unrehearsed, seems to be alright, and on a conceptual level, I have internalized it.  In addition, my rough draft lesson plans for Wednesday and Thursday received glowing reviews, and it looks like I’ll have minimal rewriting for those lessons.

Tomorrow will mark a key moment in my life.  I will finally take the first step from being a student to adopting my new role as educator.  As momentous as that idea seems now, I’m sure that as soon as I step into that room tomorrow, I’ll have my game face ready.  Or, if I’m not ready, I’ll at least pretend that I am, and not let my nervousness boil to the surface.  It’s the least my kids deserve.

A little inspiration, courtesy of TFA:


Journal of Politics and Society 

Leadership for Educational Equity

Wendy Kopp

Justin Meli, a fourth-grade teacher in a low-income neighborhood in Houston, modeled these motivation strategies. He started chipping away at students’ low expectations and lack of motivation on the first day of school, when he told his students that they were placed in his classroom on a top-secret mission to achieve academically because of their high potential for success. With the theme to Mission Impossible playing in the background, he revealed the class motto (“Work Hard, Get Smart!”) and laid out the high expectations for his class. With his daily emphasis on effort, a refusal to accept anything but their best work, and clear graphic representations of their progress toward reading, writing, and math goals, Mr. Meli flipped the switch in his students’ minds: They came to believe that academic success was within their reach if they tried hard enough.

We were treated to a little snippet of a video of Justin Meli at work in the classroom.  At the end, we watched as he created a structure in which the reward for good behavior, answering the right questions, and being exemplary in the school was to receive additional homework.  It was absolutely breathtaking to see.  As I watched little Vanessa eagerly grab the additional homework, I couldn’t help but think how sublime that moment must have been to Justin.

So for all the children in our education system that could be Vanessa, I will strive with all my might to be like Justin: to be passionate, to be inspirational, to be diligent.  I promise to expect the best, to be humble and respectful, to sense the possibilities, to be disciplined, and to be relentless.  Teachers like Justin and students like Vanessa are why I Teach for America.

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