A Modern Bildungsroman

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 29 2012

I Bought a GRE Workbook

In college, I read an essay by Donald Antrim called “I Bought a Bed,” which is where the title of this post comes from.  The essay is about Antrim’s many unsuccessful attempts to find a bed after the death of his mother.  At the end of the essay, Antrim writes: “I stood in my empty room. In place of the bed was-shame? In place of the bed was a question, a question that is at once too simple and too complicated to answer.”

That’s how I feel as I look at the GRE Math workbook propped against my wall.

Now that I’m about halfway through my first year, I’m starting to think about what next year will look like.  It’s very uncertain.  I don’t know if I’ll be asked back to my school, and even if I am, I don’t know if I could make myself come back.  The second year is supposed to be twice as easy as the first, but just because something will be easier, does that mean it’s good enough?  I decided that to keep my options open, I will need to take the GRE.  So I bought a GRE Math workbook, math being my worst subject, the GRE being the clearest option.

See, I always thought I would be a teacher.  I never really considered anything else, or wanted anything else.  I wanted to be a teacher.  I am always reminding myself, I wanted to be a teacher.  When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a middle school English teacher; when I was in high school, I wanted to be a high school English teacher; when I was in college, I wanted to be an English professor.

And then I jumped in too soon.  Having my own classes right out of undergrad?  What could be better?  I didn’t have to wait to be a teacher, I told myself as I accepted my TFA placement. I could teach now.  This was my opportunity.  And now, half a year later, I feel like I am failing–failing my students, failing myself.  If I don’t make the right choice after this year, I’m terrified that I’ll lose even more of myself, or even lose the people I care about by distancing myself out of disappointment and embarrassment.

So now I look at this GRE math workbook, and I wonder what Antrium wondered when he asked,  “In place of the bed was-shame?”  Is that what my GRE math workbook is: shame that I feel as a teacher?  Shame that I feel because I can’t bear the thought of going in tomorrow, shame that I feel because I can’t force myself to lesson plan or grade right now because last week was so painful, shame that I feel because within two minutes of waking up this morning I started crying?  Is that what this GRE book is covering up: my own insecurities, my attempts to reconcile my feelings of failure when TFA tells me I’m doing fine?

Antrium writes about a “question that is at once too simple and too complicated to answer.”  For me, that question that I can’t answer is, What will I do next year?

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