Teaching in Kansas City, one day at a time.

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 02 2013

My Teach for America Story of Self: Why I Teach

February 2012, I was at Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care Center.  The doctor had given my mom two weeks to live, two weeks ago. We had spent the last two weeks wrapping up loose ends and saying everything we needed to say to one another, and we knew that this would be our last full conversation together. She looked at me and held my hand.

My mother had spent her whole life trying to right what was wrong with the world. She served as a spiritual therapist and led spiritual tours of war torn nations to bring a message of hope and peace. She gave everything she had to people she met on the street. She would even try to feed the hospice nurses food that people brought her. That’s just the kind of person she was. She always encouraged me to dream bigger, fantasize the craziest things I could imagine and then make them into my reality. It was that mentality that helped me conquer a long and arduous battle with addiction, that helped me lose and maintain a 100 pound weight loss, that supported me to move to from New York to Los Angeles while I was still in high school, and that led me to write to Oprah and be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show at 16 as Hilary Duff’s number one fan.  She taught me to never dream small, and consequently I didn’t.

During our somber last visit, she turned to me and said, “What if I just stood up and was all better?”

“Stop it mom.” I said through tears, “I really can’t live in the fantasy right now.” The last thing I wanted was to imagine my mom getting better when I knew it wasn’t possible.

“What would we do with all the money you raised for my care? Would we have to give it back?” She joked, we had raised over $30,000 to help with the family’s expenses

“No, I think in that case they’d let you keep it.”

“So what would we do with it?”

“We could go to Israel and France. I’ve never been to France.”

“Me neither.” She replied “We could help the children, think of how many kids we could help with all that money.”

“I’ve always wanted to start an orphanage”

“Yeah!” She perked up with excitement, “We could name it after you ‘Eagle Orphanage’” My mom also thought, “Eagle” was a really good idea for a middle name back in 1988, but that’s another story. I smiled at her enthusiasm through a flood of tears. She squeezed my hand and looked at me and said, “Continue the fantasy, Pussycat. Always continue the fantasy.”

The following month I received an acceptance letter to Teach for America in Kansas City. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t move from Los Angeles to a city I’d never lived in, to a city that my mother died it, I couldn’t. So I declined. Instead, I left my job as an Expert at the Apple Store and became a Banker for Chase. Financial security, I thought, would lead me to a life where I could follow my fantasies. Eventually. Someday. Maybe…

I was miserable. My mom’s words resounded in my head, “People First” it was a refrain of hers I had heard since my youth. Every time a teacher came into the bank, my heart fluttered a little, I knew what I was supposed to be doing. Pretty soon, I was the “teacher” of the bank. All the kids knew me and parents would bring their children to my desk while they took care of their banking needs. Sophie and Franny, a pair of 10 year old twins, came to LOVE their visits to Chase. I even started teaching a course called “Money Matters” once a week at the Boys and Girls club on behalf of the bank. It was clear I was in the wrong field.

While at my desk in the fall of 2012, I found myself on the Teach for America website daily, and I reapplied all over again.  Somehow, someway, I got in again, in the same city one year later. And this time I decided not to ignore the calling. This time, I’m going to live in the fantasy.

One Response

  1. I think it is really really good you waited a year to do TFA until you had some time to begin healing. My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer two months ago and I can barely do anything, let alone tackle the hardest job I ever knew-teaching in a place without a good support system.

    It gives me so much strength to know that without your mom you were able to take this all on. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping you’ll find your way through. I’ll be thinking of your mom’s words to dream big.

    I so want to be dreaming big right now, writing my book about teaching, making a website for math teachers, working on my dissertation study to help teachers but I end up so worn out from the hospital that I watch Glee and read romance novels and thankfully keep exercising.

    Since you mention addiction, please please please don’t ever put your students before your health-I think that everyone would tell you that if you are not healthy you can’t help your kids, but I’m just going to be one more person to say it.

    At one point my mom had to put her sobriety way way in front of her two children, my brother and I, and I am so thankful she did it. She was gone in treatment centers for over a year total and I’m so glad this happened even though I was without a mom for quite some time. If she hadn’t I would have missed out on years of her amazing presence in the world. I don’t know you, but I’m sure you have something amazing to give the world too, not just this crazy first year teaching when everything is ridiculously hard, but for many years to come.

    Take sick days at work if you need them. Give teaching your all in the moment and then let go whatever happened at the end of the day as your best effort in good faith and take care of you.
    Even though it may not feel like it after a day of being frustrated at kids, you have a great heart :)

    Here is my mom’s website-you can see about her big dream and I hope it inspires you today http://www.norahoneill.com/tigressbook.html

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Teaching for the first time… praying we all get out alive


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