Sunday, May 11, 2008

Meet Jake

Jake's a graduating senior at Yale, with only a few days left, which means that as you read this, he is either hungover or drunk. This is a binary condition, admitting no other possibilities.

Jake's a smart guy, worked hard all four years on an interdisciplinary American Studies/ Sociology/ Econ degree he designed more or less himself. He can tell you a lot about the changing face of the American worker, and how film has reflected, driven, and (re)created our (mis)understandings of the American proletariat. Kid can turn a phrase, read and think, and play Beirut pretty well. Last summer, Jake did some volunteering at an outward bound program his girlfriend was all jazzed about. Her interest soon waned, but Jake stayed involved, and managed to work his experiences guiding the underprivileged New Haven youth through the rigors of proper campsite maintenance into many a classroom discussion and/or drunken pontification. Besides getting on everyone's nerves, this became the basis of the application essay he wrote for Teach For America, and one of the experiences he mentioned in his interview.

Jake's gonna report for duty at the TFA Los Angeles Training Institute sometime in the middle of June. He doesn't know how to diagnose, scaffold, or assess. He doesn't know what CELDT stands for and wouldn't know what to do with that information even if he did. Jake thinks objectives are something second-tier applicants put on the top of resumes and he's generally aware that standardized tests are badbadverybad, but couldn't really tell you why in any great detail. Jake has a vague notion that he'll be teaching reading and writing to some kids who don't do either one of those things very well, but he has not the slightest concrete understanding of what that will entail, or how to go about getting it done.

He's gonna work hard, though. They're gonna drill him on as much of a specialized skill set as possible, giving him enough to get moving, and relying on his passion, vision, and commitment to get him the rest of the way there. Let's hope Jake soaks up all requisite knowledge like a sponge, and arrives armed with some foundational understandings of the work. Let's hope he makes good use of the myriad resources thrown his way, and puts in the time to bring structure and organization to his efforts. Let's hope the smart-and-excited-trumps-experienced gamble pays off.

Let's hope like hell, cuz Jake or someone like him will be in room D2 next year, teaching my kids. I resign on Monday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, hell. We'll miss you.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't say I'm surprised, but what a shame. Do you still want to teach? If so and you're willing to schlep 100 miles or so to Sacto. (ability here to both teach and mingle in the policy realm) let me to chat with you.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:29 PM  
Blogger Coach Brown said...


Tired of the grind?

6:02 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

So what's on the agenda now?

6:07 PM  
Blogger Sarah Cannon said...

As always, amazingly written.

Reading your reflections this year has helped me through the first-year of TFA. Whether they're of the cheerleading or ranting variety, they've kept me motivated to try harder. Do better for my kids. That reminder that many more people are out there fighting this battle, and there are people who are so much stronger than I am.

Best of luck in whatever comes next. Here's hoping that system smartens up soon before more teachers like you are driven away. To hoping Jake, and all the rest of us, pull through until then.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a damn shame, that's for sure. It's sad for your students and their families. It's a sad for you, personally, having to leave a job that you are totally invested in. However, there are (unfortunately) hundreds, maybe even thousands, of classrooms that you could inhabit next year and make just as big an impact. And hopefully, you'll get some admin support as well...

I'll keep watching this space. I know you ain't going nowhere...

7:26 PM  
Blogger Jackie Ballarini said...

*sigh* I'm sad. Sad for you. Sad for the kids.

8:40 PM  
Blogger emerald_irises said...

It's very grounding to read about what we (first year TFA) were like less than 12 months ago... and astounding to realize how much we've actually managed to grow, learn, and teach.

Good luck in your next endeavor, and thanks for all of the amazingly accurate insight.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your resignation TMAO. Best of luck in your future endeavours. Stay optimistic in your job search. From experience, there are good schools out there and supportive administrators!

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TMAO - You have given food for thought to a couple of us teachers in Hong Kong. We could see the resignation possibility coming, but its too bad. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Think about overseas teaching. Its a blast.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You just had to name him jake....

Good luck with the next step.

5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

resigning is easy.

what's next?

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out Mr. Duey's new album "Class Dis-Missed"
Rapping Teacher produced by Universal and Kaas Records!


8:30 AM  
Blogger H. said...

Good luck with whatever you're doing next, which I suspect will have something to do with closing the gaps. Thanks for lots of excuses-defying, bracing writing over the last couple years. Hope you continue to write about whatever you do next!

And a posting of a before-and-after flatbook sample would still be cool to see :) Nag, nag...

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is so sad.
i'll be keepin' an eye on this site for your next adventure.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Corey Bunje Bower said...

Sad. Very Sad. Please write more or shoot me an e-mail.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad you are leaving, but I wholeheartedly understand. The job can be a real killer. I wish you well in your next adventure.

6:10 PM  
Blogger amanda said...

You are not allowed to quit, TMAO. I know it's just the last 28 days speaking...however, with all the details you mention of diagnosing, scaffolding, assessing, crucial elements I still struggle with in my fourth year, it reveals what a sham education can seem to professionals trying to get better all the time.

Thanks for your blog. You have my vote.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

Oh man. Nothing like announcing your resignation to really drive up those hits and comments. You walk into the office with a two-sentence letter and that's it, and now here we are. Feels more than a little weird.

@ Lori, Ms. W., Mr. K: There's a plan in place, but since nothing has been finalized, I don't feel so comfortable writing. Maybe soon.

@ Pseudo: What's wrong with Jake? Am I missing some significance?

@ everyone who said something nice: I appreciate. For reals.

7:09 AM  
Blogger TurbineGuy said...

I bet you Jake isn't nearly as good as a blogger.

Good luck.

I am predicting a job pontificating for some education policy think-tank, followed by a heart wrenching book in a year or two.

What you really should do is open up your own charter school system, it's what all the cool TFA alumni do. Just to be different you could it stock with Troops to Teacher graduates instead of young 20 something college kids.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear parentalcation,
well, that is YOUR cynical take; i'm betting on a sports bar.
see you all there!

3:19 PM  
Blogger Jason Levy said...

I'll tell you what I once told a first-year TFA teacher who submitted a first draft of a resignation letter (and I got this from another TFA alum): "You can ALWAYS quit. But you can't UN-quit."

I just picked up on your blog, but from the looks of things you've got a following that is counting on you. Get in touch and I'll talk you off the ledge.

Jason Levy
Houston 93
Principal, IS 339
The Bronx

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I totally empathize with your frustration. I'm not in TFA, never was, but there are days when I really want to leave, too. Too many hills to climb.

You're brilliant and good at what you do. Stay in touch.

Middle School Mom

8:06 PM  
Blogger Dan Edwards said...

Well, its NOT yet Monday. I doubt this is a "spur of the moment" decision for you. Whatever you do for the future, I wish you well.

If you do resign, will you tell your students? I know much of why teachers stop teaching is due to "non-student" factors and it does grind you up and down. Anyhow, think some more, pray if you be so inclined. Do what your heart tells you. Maybe with some input from the brain too.

Bon Chance.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can we have an end of the year class potluck??

8:56 PM  
Blogger /g said...

I was going to put some long comment about the whole thing, but seeing as you're going to have some time on your hands I'll let you make the connections to your going and...

This Song

This Post

6:56 AM  
Blogger Golden Gate Mama said...

come to SFUSD!!!

7:53 AM  
Blogger Jules said...

wow, I know that must have been a difficult (yet easy too) decision to make. You will be missed, surely, but you will also surely continue to do incredible work in whatever you choose to do next. best of luck, looking forward to hearing about it.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. well, slap my ass and call me jake. what do you plan to do? email me back!


3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what about the kids? Clearly you do make a difference in their lives - in a way that maybe no one else can. As the saying goes, "If not you, than who?" Somebody's got to do it!

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, even ASCD picked up your resignation. That's some powerful work you've done to get their attention.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Hilary Greenebaum said...

hey - this is my disseration topic. I wish I could buy you a cup of coffee and hear, really listen, why? Altho I may have ideas. I would rather hear your voice.


6:32 PM  
Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

TMAO, I'm heart broken, for you, your students, your readers....If there's a silver lining to this situation, it's that your resignation has sparked a conversation in education that's long over due.

Good luck, and peace.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is disappointing. I've enjoyed your blog. Though I've often disagreed with that which you've written, I've always enjoyed how you've written it. Most importantly, you care about kids, and that is ground on which we both firmly stand.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...


ASCD? Clue me in.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm amazed you've learned so little in your leadership program, but I'm not surprised that your POV is so limited. Unfortunately, it seems to be epidemic. I know - I just finished my doctorate in Ed Leadership & Policy.

Subject of my dissertation, you ask? Well if you insist: teacher morale in the "Accountability Age." It is easy to blame the teachers for being poorly indoctrinated, but whose going to do it if the Lead teacher resigns? It easy to blame the adminstration, but should they hire the kids who can't get into Yale but took the courses labeled "classroom management"?

The problem is much larger, much more complex, much more political than that. The politicians (superintendents to senators; Democrats and Republicans) are looking for a specific number. They want us to solve for X and the answer must always be 70% regardless of the limitless permuations of innumerable variables.

I hope your profile was exaggerated for effect. I hope you resigned to shepherd others. I hope you are lighting lamps and not just cursing the darkness. I hope, but I'm skeptical.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

@Hilary & @Corey Bower:

The email is teachingmyassoff [at] hotmail [dot] com if you want to communicate in non-blog ways. I'm down.

@most recent anon:

What is it exactly that I wrote to prompt that response?

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

does the above mean you WON'T be on the blog?
that really bums me out.
tell me it ain't so.

6:40 PM  
Blogger ShannonR said...

so, you did it.

wish I could be around to find out what's next. it would feel very, very good to support you for once.

you're amazing.

11:01 AM  
Blogger eplybon said...

I just want you to know that I've read your blog (mostly been a lurker, I think I posted a comment once), and that you have made a difference - not only in kids' lives, but in other teacher's lives as well. After reading your post "from the edge", I was inspired to start my own blog because I left teaching and was sad about the number of good teachers who do the same. Although I post about all the things that new teachers are disillusioned with and struggle with, I have to say the relief from the stress of it since I left teaching has been amazing. I'll never put those shoes back on again, but I do sometimes think I shouldn't have given up so quickly. Best of luck to you - you are an amazing writer and have great insight - don't stop using those talents!

7:11 AM  
Blogger Kilian Betlach said...

Hi Shan,

Funny how things play out, huh? I remember telling you this is probably how it would go, sometime ago... Anyway.

6:12 PM  

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