TFAbles

Shweta Tatkar
Jul 8, 2018 · 4 min read

Recently, my dad and I were FaceTiming and he asked me, “Are you still loving what you’re doing?”

BOY, AM I. This has been the fastest and slowest (almost) four weeks of my life, and every part of it has been nothing short of incredible. Sure, there are moments that are less great than others, but if you look at everything as a teaching moment — damn, am I being taught!!

Let me back up a little. I arrived in Lowell approximately four weeks ago, and promptly went to lunch in the dining hall with my roommates. The girls I am living with are so dope: we all come from pretty different backgrounds, and coming together at the end of my day is so rewarding and also so refreshing. There’s a ton of people that I really enjoy spending time with here too, from people I met in the dining hall to people I know I’m going to be spending every day with for the next two years. There are a few weird eggs, but for the most part I am enjoying being a part of the most diverse community I’ve ever known.

The sessions, for the most part, have been very informative. While some of the information is delivered in retrospect, most of them have made me feel like I’m in the right place. They range from the how-to’s of classroom culture/management to student-centered directions to exit ticket assessments. In the state of Massachusetts, every teacher is required to be able to teach ELL students, and so we have to take a Tuesday/Thursday class called RETELL with our dear sarcastic and incredibly helpful instructor.

So far, my biggest takeaway in these sessions has come from dealing with the diversity here. It looks so so different from the Bay Area and its “model minority” majority, which is exactly why I wanted to come to the commonwealth of MA (and the East Coast, more specifically). As one of 4 Indian-Americans, I am in a whole new arena, and my discomfort will only make me more productive. That being said, it is inspiring to listen to every other POC’s story and their experiences through our diversity classes. The organization is not perfect, and I am sugarcoating some of the details, but this (lack of) diversity is now a new driving factor in my pursuit of educational equity.

I can’t believe I’ve made it this far into the post without talking about my summer kiddos. The most exciting part about training (universally known as Institute) is that I get to teach incoming 7th-graders science for a month-ish!! We met them last Wednesday (so officially, I’ve only taught them for ~7 days, 6 with the July 4th holiday), and by 12pm I was already in love with them. They have so much personality, and getting to leverage their social capital is the most interesting thing. They’re lively, they’re energetic, and they are really trying. I teach them science, another teacher here teaches them math, and then they have two ELA teachers: having people that can relate almost entirely to my struggles has been such a support too. Not every day has been easy, but each day has taught me something new and convinced me that I can and want to be better for these middle-schoolers.

This past week, it was 95+ degrees Fahrenheit allll week, before accounting for the 60% humidity that made it feel like 106 degrees Fahrenheit. To make this bad situation already worse, the school I’m teaching at does not have air conditioning, which meant that some of the classrooms were at 90+ degrees by 11am. As if this wasn’t enough, the school’s water is not potable because it had too much lead in it. This week was rough, and it demonstrated very aggressively just the kinds of inequalities students in underserved schools face. The saga does not end here: lack of A/C was affecting our own engagement during our afternoon sessions of professional development. On Thursday, our site directors managed for us to travel to another school that TFA partners with that was three blocks away (they had A/C). What truly angered me was the fact that not more than three blocks away was a much bigger school that had lockers, loudspeakers, and A/C in the hallways and classrooms. Yet there was so much tension between the kids at my school and this school that they could not both co-exist. Both schools may be underperforming, but even here the disparities were tiered. In case you weren’t convinced that educational inequity runs deep in America, this might be the proof you need.

TL;DR — this experience has been amazing so far, and my school didn’t have A/C this past week (which lowers students’ scores!!). Catch ya soon!

P.S. Welcome to Room 22, art-room-turned-7th-grade-room-extraordinaire.

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Shweta Tatkar

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passionate about global development, educational equity, and the immigrant experience.