Today in my coffee shop I sat next to two people; one a 23-year-old teacher for the Teach for America program and the other is her advisor. For two hours, I couldn’t focus on the work I was there to do because I was so distracted by the fact that this 23-year-old was way too naive, young and privileged to be in the position that she was in but yet that’s exactly the demographic that Teach for America targets. Ok, before I get judge-y, I’m going to lay down the facts for you through a transcript of the basic conversation.
Advisor: “So, what are your struggles, day-to-day?”
Teach: “Well…I guess…I don’t know. Like. I don’t know how to say it…”
A: “Don’t feel like you have to censor yourself. I’m here for you and I just want to try and help and support you with the things you might be struggling with.”
T: “I’m not trying to censor.”
T: “Well…it’s like. I have really high standards and like, I don’t see improvements. In my classroom. Like, there’s no change. I don’t do anything. These kids just are who they are.”
A: “Well, that’s something I can do for you. Because there are definite improvements and changes that are happening because of you so, I can bring concrete examples to your attention to help you feel better about your influence.”
(The teacher nods and there’s a long awaked pause.)
T: “I just. I guess a big thing too, is that my biggest support is my family and they’re like, so far away.
A: “That’s totally understandable.”
T: “I mean like, really. Like I was so excited to do Teach for America, and seriously, when I got Detroit…I was ready to just not do it. It’s not that I’m not excited about Detroit and this renaissance and totally want to be a part of it but at the same time…I mean, to be honest…like…the only thing actually keeping me here is Teach for America.”
The teacher’s cell phone rings.
T: (To the Advisor) “Just a sec.” (On her phone, without getting up.) “Heeeey. Yeah. Ok. Are you going to come to Johnny’s tonight for dinner? Yeah. 6:30. I think Trey and Brian. Yeah. 6:30”
T: “Sorry. My friend had called like 20 times since I’ve been here, I felt like I had to answer.”
A: “Oh, that’s totally fine.”
T: “I guess, it’s just like…it’s just been really hard for me to identity what it is I do need.”
A: “That’s fair.”
T: “Yeah. And. Like. I don’t know. It’s just been really hard. I just feel really alone.”
A: “That’s not something you have to have an answer for, this isn’t a test. I just don’t want you to not feel like you can’t be candid or handle/hold everything on your own shoulders…and I want you to be happy as a person.”
(The teacher still staring but now with her arms crossed and shaking her leg. Looking as though she’s trying to look like she’s thinking but really just looks like she has to go bathroom.)
A: “It will get better.”
T: “Hah.” She rolls her eyes.
A: “I promise I was just like you.”
(After another awkward pause the teacher nods and begins to cry.)
A: “We just can’t have you struggling through until June. I mean, that wouldn’t be good to anyone.”
(More awkward pauses)
A: “Let’s focus on the good. How about I meet with you once in the beginning of the week and at the end, to discuss possible day to day plans with your kids and I can give you that positive feedback that you’re not seeing/hearing.”
T: “I feel like you are really great and being really supportive and trying to help me at the place I’m at and I really appreciate that.”
A: “Well, yeah. And maybe you don’t need what you need in a moment and feeling really like alone in a moment, we can always talk that through. Even if it’s stupid. I’m just trying to encourage you to reach out whenever you need me. I want you to know, that the most important thing to me, is the people and you guys. You’re a person that I care about.”
Here’s my reaction, that I tried to give to her through my eye contact that included furrowed eyebrows:
1: Time to grow up.
2: It doesn’t matter if you were placed in Detroit, New York, New Orleans, Atlanta or Los Angeles, I guarantee your struggles would be very similar.
3: Don’t pick up your cell phone during a work meeting, especially if it’s to make social plans while you’re trying to persuade your employer that you have “no support system” in Detroit.
4: Don’t cry.