B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 26 2012

B is for Belief

Today marks one month since I left the Bay Area.  In 11 days, I will move to Johannesburg, South Africa to begin my next adventure in education.  I will serve as the Director of Development and Leadership for EAdvance, a uniquely South African education company that provides affordable private education to low income communities.  Similar in form and content to Rocketship, eAdvance will leverage individualized learning and innovative education technology solutions to close the South African achievement gap.  My position focuses on curricular development, talent recruitment, and leadership training, so that all faculty are equipped with the necessary resources and skills to serve students and their families.  Our eAdvance primary schools will be the first schools in South Africa to employ blended learning.

When I consider this 3+ year commitment, it is not lost on me that I am still very much a learner.  With only two years experience in education, I am hyper-aware of how much listening I will do in my new role, how many questions I will ask.  But I am also grateful to have been placed in Rocketship as a corps member, because the intense environment at RSED nurtured my knowledge, skills, and mindsets around education reform at an increased pace.  The philosophy of leadership and responsibility based on merit, rather than seniority, is one that I will take with me wherever I go in education.  And I will never underestimate how trust and cooperation with families can propel students to academic achievement.

My second year in the corps was more difficult than my first year, hence the drop in blog posts.  Maybe it was moving to a new grade and learning to teach new content or maybe it was teaching and tutoring after school daily, but more realistically, I think the difficulty came from higher professional expectations and daunting personal challenges.  In my second year, I became more aware of the importance of solid school leadership and the issues that can arise when teachers feel unsupported by their leaders.  I also understand more concretely the effect that staff morale has on educating students, maintaining school culture, and impacting the community.  And, above all else, I am convinced that tough personal circumstances for a teacher can heavily influence classroom results- after all, are teachers ever really not teachers, even outside the classroom or at home?  When you are in the business of educating students of the achievement gap, the hours and effort you put in are not limited to the 9-5 workday.  So, when a friend died and my parents’ marriage ended this spring, I processed it all while teaching.  And one month after leaving the Bay, I am still mourning both losses every minute of every day- even as I prepare for what comes next.  What is summer “vacation” really, but the first opportunity a teacher has to breathe?

This month, I have reflected on my beliefs surrounding education reform.  All of these will constantly evolve, but this is where I stand for the moment.

  • Students of all ages are capable of achieving any vision set for and with them.  They will rise to the occasion- whether mastering a complicated classroom procedure or mastering difficult academic material.  With high expectations, explicit directions, investment by teacher, family, and student, and love, all students can do all things.
  • Students deserve enrichment and extension opportunities.  Learning through exploration and “safe” failure yields lessons that “stick” and builds curiosity.  If I had to point to one student action indicative of future success, it would be question asking.  My strongest students academically participated in enrichment activities with their families or at school and asked thoughtful, probing questions about academic and social issues.  (Many thanks to Rocketship for funding Laura and me to co-teach the after school art program and to Techbridge for funding me to teach after school engineering!)
  • The best teachers are teachers, not computers.  Individualized, predictive software can effectively fill in knowledge gaps or provide academic previews and extensions, but it cannot replace the power of human interaction to cultivate deep understanding.  I was humbled to work with a faculty at Rocketship that built strong relationships with students, which magnified the potential for academic growth in each kid.  Great love seems to be the best hope we have to move with students to their goals and beyond.

My kiddos and their families were and continue to be my family.  I had my students for two full years, and our ability to perceive emotions in one another, to anticipate struggles, to overcome challenges, and to laugh together helped me survive an extremely difficult time personally.  I am so grateful for all 93 of my Rocketeers.  And so proud of what we achieved!

For the Kids,

Bailey

Rocketeers in Henry Cowell state park explore the redwoods!

4 Responses

  1. Sarah Newcomb

    Bailey, I so agree with your post about the difficulty in dealing with personal endeavors while teaching. It is a hard line to skate while trying to be at your personal best and not allow those outside things seep in. You will be absolutely AMAZING in South Africa if you have already picked up on this during your second year of teaching. I look forward to keep up with you over the coming years!

    • Thanks for your sweet comment, Sarah! Always grateful for your support- take care of my mom while I’m gone, please?

  2. Erica Edwards

    Bailey! Thanks for this post. It’s awesome that I get to keep up with your endeavors via online. I wish you luck in South Africa and even though we haven’t hung out as much as I would have liked, it is so nice to know I have a TFA colleague who feels the way I do about education and “being a teacher.” Keep me updated! :)

    • Erica, how has Institute been? Congrats on the end of a crazy summer! Can’t wait to keep up with your Bay Area life, too. And if you’re ever in Johannesburg, you know who to call. :)

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About this Blog

Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010

Region
Bay Area
Grade
Elementary School
Subject
Math

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