My adventure has begun. I’m Oak Ridge Tennessee for the night and tomorrow, in the wee hours of the morn, I will start out toward Cleveland Mississippi. Once I’m there I hit the ground running. The 9th is a mass interview day during which I will hopefully secure a placement at a school. It’d be nice to have one less thing to worry about.
Midway through the drive yesterday I stopped to get two large iced coffees and a Five Hour Energy. I called a friend a told him about the drive and how hilarious it felt to be holding so much legal speed in my hands. When I hung up I realized that all the people I could normally walk to see would soon be a thousand miles away…literally. With all the goodbyes I’ve had the past month it never felt like I was actually leaving. The brain cannot process that fact that the person standing right in front of you will soon be that far. Even being in Oak Ridge it doesn’t feel like I’m that far, until you look at a map, and even then what does that prove? When you drive for that long you enter a kind of trance, especially if there’s good music on. Hurtling down through Ohio and into the foothills of the Smokey Mountains you know you’re going far, but at the same time you can’t believe it.
Place is always a complicated matter. And it is further complicated by the speed at which we can travel.
Forgive the sloppiness of this post, but I simply wanted to get the correspondence started before things really got hectic. I’m going to end with the letter that I sent to Teach for America that started this whole adventure (forgive the comma errors, but commas and I have always had a complicated relationship):
To Whom It May Concern:
Working with young adults is the most important work there is. They reward, energize, challenge, and question in a way that few adults do. But, youth, even without the constraints of poverty and inequitable access to educational resources, is an intensely developmental phase. It is a time of over stimulation, when life choices are arguably more abundant than any other time. Students need a giving and compassionate adult to help them through that time. Often that adult is a teacher.
A handful of teachers and school staff had enough compassion to encourage me to pursue post-secondary education instead of military service. As a result, I am a first generation college student; without those few teachers I would not be the person I am today.
I believe teaching is worthwhile work because people are changed by it. Lives are transformed. I have not only experienced this first hand, but, embrace it as my calling. To teach means to invest great energy into assisting others in making these gainful intellectual and social transformations.
I went through my K-12 education in survival mode brought on by fatigue, dwindling resources and distraction. When I student taught I saw this same struggle in the at-risk students I worked with. When in this mind set students are not as fully cognizant of the transformations they are undergoing. The school day is glimpsed through a fog where whatever is happening on the board, in a textbook, or the lab does not connect. As a student teacher I was able to make that connection with students, and strive to do the same as a corps member. With connection, school becomes relevant, a place for growth, a place to be heard and a place of empowerment.
Once a connection has been made I strive to make literature and writing useful and a part of students’ lives. Writing has been a constant in my life. I believe everyone can, and should, write because it is in reflection that students can create their own narrative. They can break from who they are told they are and become who they want to be.
My success in TFA would be gauged in the rapport I develop with students and their families and students abilities to express and articulate their thoughts and understanding in writing. Teaching students to write, argue, to have a say prepares them not only to participate (e.g., vote intelligently) but also to effect change. Once my students gain the spark of curiosity that sets them on a path to being a life long learners, then they are no longer are dependent on me and can change their world.
Andrew P. Stevens