ralstenin305

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 31 2009

Letter to Kenyon

I know I haven’t written in awhile.  Perhaps I’ll try to write once a week.  In the meantime, an email to my Ohio home…

************************
M-,

My apologies for not writing to you sooner; the first time I opened
your email, I was only able to skim the email but now, reading it
again, I found it both amusing and thought-provoking!  I haven’t began
to measure my life in semesters (and don’t know if I will!); if
anything, I see it in terms of units or our nine-week quarters.  I’m
teaching first grade at a charter school that meets from 8 AM to 4 PM,
Monday-Friday.  It’s exhausting, but I’m slowly seeing that I have
taught some students (some are still “flailing,” as the author of the
math article said, but we are trying to improve that).  I was
particularly struck by his realization that skills for incoming
freshmen have dropped – a colleague (that is strange to say!) and I
discussed this last night and I’m actually listening to a report on
NPR about it right now – students are not expected to do so much these
days, especially not in this region.  Things are spoon-fed to many
students here in Homestead, and, when they are not, students tend to
shut-down and refuse to think for themselves.  In a way, I am angry
with the students for being so lazy, but I’m also afraid for them.
The creme-de-la-creme of Homestead is in no way ready to compete with
a Kenyon student, but many of them believe their high school diploma
entitles them to that sort of education, has prepared them for a
four-year university experience.  I worry about those who do manage to
get into colleges; what are they going to do when they realize their
“excellent” educations contained very little excellence?  And
oftentimes, I feel I may be contributing to this as I bumble through,
day-after-day, learning to teach while being expected – more often,
being desperate to – actually teach these kids.  Luckily, I have a
group of bright, committed 6-year olds, most of whom received an
excellent kindergarten education; what about my friends teaching up in
North Miami, or my friend next door, who aren’t so lucky?
Unfortunately, I don’t yet know.

How are things for you at K?  I didn’t spend my junior year on
campus, so I’d be very interested to hear how you’re doing!  And I
really hope Canterbury is going well – I told K- yesterday (in
email) that I’ve been through a full-cycle of K-ness now:
freshmen year, I realized and appreciated the blessing of Kenyon’s
emphasis on community; sophomore year, I began to experience problems
in living so closely for so long; junior year, I went away and created
a new small community in a bigger place and experienced a lot of
independence; and senior year, I worked like crazy and resented the
way K “babies” it’s students and often cared very little for the
“community.”  Now that I’m back in the “real world” and often spend
nights sitting at home, writing lesson plans or watching TV, wondering
where I should go or what I should do to be more social, I truly miss
that community of Kenyon.  Don’t worry, I still have many friends
(from my old jobs down here) that I see regularly, but there
definitely isn’t a free concert to go to or a weekly dinner where I’m
encouraged to discuss social justice and eat the culinary delights of
yourself, P-, and K-.  I hope that you aren’t annoyed by
K now because I know you will soon miss it, too.

Alright, no more cautionary tales, M-!  Enjoy your Saturday,
especially the beautiful fall colors of Ohio!!

-J

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