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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 11 2012

The 5 Stages of TFA

Okay, I think I’m going to need to preface this one.  I’m about to write the TFA version of the Kubler-Ross model.  Now, this analogy has to be taken with a grain of salt, because what CMs go through isn’t exactly a grieving process.  BUT it’s survival mode for the first year, and it requires a sense of humor.  After all, I’m more sarcastic now than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  It’s like if Ms. Lora had a less successful, more sarcastic teacher down the hall that TFA will not have you visit as a prospective CM, it’d be me.  (Do I sense a sequel to Ms. Lora’s Story?  A part-time summer job, perhaps? I need a title.  Suggestions are welcome.).  So here it goes.

Stage 1: Denial.

Stage 1 begins when you are accepted into TFA and continues through Induction.  Statements like, “Oh, I know it’ll be hard, but I know I’ll reach my students” and “Yeah, I’ve heard horror stories, but that won’t be me” are common, as are, “Well, I can handle working 12+ hour days–after all, I’ll be working towards something” and “I’ll definitely be prepared!”  Stage 1 continues into Institute, where statements of denial escalate to: “Wow this sucks.  I totally taught that objective wrong.  These twelve students I teach for one hour a day are acting up.  I’m not getting more than 4 hours of sleep each night.  But it’ll be completely different when I’m a real teacher.  I’ll be much more invested and I’ll get to know my students much better.  It’ll definitely be different, and SO much better, when I’m an actual teacher.”

Stage 2: Anger

Stage 2 usually commences within your first two weeks in the classroom.  Statements are much more varied, and anger is directed at oneself, one’s students, and the program itself.  You begin to resent and envy your friends who chose less-demanding jobs after graduation/are in grad school and who live in more exciting neighborhoods and get seven hours of sleep each night. Selections from the classroom: Screaming, “JOSH, THIS IS THE FOURTH TIME. PUT THE ALLIGATOR DOWN NOW.  GIVE THAT ALLIGATOR TO ME RIGHT NOW.” And,  “We will walk to lunch as soon as our voices are off and we are in one straight line.  We will walk to lunch as soon as our voices are off and we are in one straight line.  We will NOT go to lunch unless EVERYONE is SILENT and in ONE STRAIGHT LINE.  GET IN LINE. NOW.  FINE.  EVERYONE BACK TO THEIR DESKS.  WE WILL NOT GO TO LUNCH UNTIL YOU CAN BEHAVE. FINE, WE WILL GO TO LUNCH LATE.  WE ARE FIVE MINUTES LATE. ONCE YOU ARE QUIET, WE WILL GO. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE LATE TO LUNCH.”  And, “You need to stop talking so we can move on with our lesson…We have lost 20 minutes of learning time because of talking…YOU MUST STOP TALKING…STOP TALKING!  YOU ARE NOT PROFICIENT IN READING RIGHT NOW!  THAT MEANS YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO MOVE ONTO THE NEXT GRADE!  YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO WASTE TIME!”  And, “WHERE DID THE ALLIGATOR COME FROM?!?!  GIVE IT BACK TO ME RIGHT NOW!!”

Stage 3: Bargaining

Stage 3 sets in within the first month of teaching.  It includes statements to the class: “If you stop making howling noises, I will give you each a starburst at the end of the day” and “I will let you go to the bathroom once you have answered the first three questions.” Statements also occur on the drive to school and home: “Weather-God, if you give me a snow day tomorrow, I promise to grade all of the assignments from the past two weeks.

Stage 4: Depression

This stage typically lasts several months.  Behaviors include sitting silent and hopeless in your car for 45 minutes after you pull into your apartment parking lot at the end of the day, and curling up in bed and sobbing while watching re-runs of Everwood.  Your fridge contains little except for wine (maybe boxed) and yogurt, and your cabinet has a couple boxes of pasta and some Classico. Statements escalate: “I am awful. My students are awful.  This school is awful.  This school system is awful.  This society is awful.”

Stage 5: Acceptance

This stage appears to start its earliest stages after Thanksgiving, surfacing more after Christmas break.  You start telling yourself, “Okay.  So maybe I’m not prepared.  Maybe I don’t know all the pedagogy.  Maybe my twenty-billion hours of tutoring in college didn’t give me the experience I need for this.  Maybe I don’t have enough hours in the day.  Maybe I get frustrated.  Maybe my students don’t like me. And maybe I don’t like all of them.  But at the end of the day, I am their teacher.  And I will be their teacher for the rest of this year.  Which means I am responsible for them learning what they need to learn.  I might not work miracles, but I can make a difference.  I can keep trying.”

 

13 Responses

  1. Haha! I just read this to my roommate (also a TFA-er) and we are laughing out loud. So true.

  2. zacksg1

    Well, I am in stage 4. It is reassuring to know there is a stage 4+1. : )

  3. Alisha

    I would say stage 5 started a long ways after Thanksgiving for me….

  4. AS

    SO TRUE! Definitely went through these phases in my 2 years!

  5. '08

    Love this! Your stage 2 had me laughing out loud. I think we’ve all been there before!

  6. YES.

  7. els

    story.of.my.life!

  8. Golden Apple

    I couldn’t have said it better :)

  9. Wess

    Love it!

  10. smoe

    So true. I might forever be at depression… this school is awful. This society is terrible and my placement is a joke. haha i’m fortunate to have other Tfa-ers to laugh with me about it! haha

  11. Jo

    Have shared this with so many fellow corps members, all of whom have loved it. You’re voicing the thoughts of so many! Excellent entry.

  12. Gary Rubinstein

    Great post!

  13. Gail @used2bprincipal

    Love this post. I think what you said is true of most new teachers, not just TFA ers. Getting to stage 5 and remembering why you went into this profession and that you can make a difference is key. Also, remember the process of becoming a teacher takes time.

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