Saying Goodbye to Tulsa

“It is important to teach our children to read and write, but it is more important to teach them to be proud of themselves, and of us” (Other People’s Children, Delpit, 1995, p. 89).

My children have been my children and my students for the last four weeks. But in many ways they are also not my children. I will not teach them in the fall for a full academic school year. I will not even be in their community or near their community to see them. So as much as I feel like the owner of my class, there has always been a feeling of transiency here. I am borrowing another teacher’s classroom, borrowing supplies from an office, and surrounded by rented bikes and taken down signs.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have been sick too many times and do not enjoy sharing so many private spaces with so many individuals. I long for my own bathroom, own shower, and own room. It has been over 100 degrees too many days to count, with food spoiling the cherry on top of this middle American college campus. During Week 2 I stayed up until 2a.m. each night (luckily with good friends to keep me company) and had my share of printing and copying crises.

But those are the daily physical discomforts of life at TFA Institute. One can expect as much when you gather hundreds of mostly recent college graduates in one spot from four different TFA regions. There’s a sense of  a return to college here. Empty vodka bottles in the hall, beer pong on converted study tables, and the fervent weekend partying. It rattled my routine I had grown accustomed to from Ghana to be thrown back into a world I left a year ago. But amidst the fear of food poisoning and fatigue, it will still be a place it will be strange and hard to leave. Not because of anything tangible within the city, but rather the relationships formed and the lessons learned within four walls of a third floor classroom.

I am beyond grateful for the chance to teach these children, even if they were just mine for a short time. It is easy to view Institute classrooms as your ‘guinea pig’ classroom, but it disregards the need and humanity of the children. There are so many bureaucratic issues I find hard to wade through and viewpoints that if I looked from would mire me down in the depths of despair. So I chose to think of this is my first classroom, the ones I had the chance to set the tone for the rest of my time in TFA and beyond. And I knew that Institute would have rough patches, but now that I am nearing the end of the last week, I can say that I am truly starting to understand the lengths and time that one must be willing to put in to be a good teacher. And to steal one of TFA’s favorite words, it takes giving almost everything of yourself to be the kind of transformational teacher that relentlessly pursues new life trajectories for students. Although that sentence contains words that my friends and I joke around with because they ooze from the mouths of those who lead our sessions, they do encompass what I wholeheartedly believe.

Today, we were asked to start thinking about three students: one student whose life was transformed this summer, one student who we feel that the achievement gap has closed for them, and one student who we feel slipped through the cracks. They are not the easiest reflections to make on 5 weeks that I have yet to sit down and process. I do, however, know that it will be hard to say goodbye on Friday to my students and all the memories of teaching and learning that Tulsa holds. There were the times that I would wonder what lengths it would take to invest the students who did not want to answer or turn in homework. There were the times that I would spend hours just thinking about how to explain one concept to one student. But there is nothing greater than seeing the results manifested in the work of your students. In the 4 weeks I have seen them each transform in their own way and their own amount. I see hands raising in place of cold calls, texts about homework instead of turning in nothing at all, and students reaching out for more practice and more help. Something great is beginning in their minds. I wish I could be there to see it completely blossom, but on Friday at 12:45, I will say my goodbyes, hoping that bits and pieces of that third floor classroom will stay in the hearts and minds of students that I know will never leave mine.

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