miss m in memphis

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 31 2012

broken promises, mental health, and second chances.

I broke a lot of promises this year.

The promises I broke kill me. I broke promises to my kids, to their families, to Teach For America, to my fellow corps members, to this horribly broken school system in Memphis, and selfishly, promises to myself.

But I was just tired.

I was so tired of waking up every day trying to convince myself that it was going to “get better” when the reality was the it was getting worse and worse.

I was so tired of being bullied and harassed and blamed and made to feel like a worthless, shitty person.

I was so tired of looking at this horrible, raging monster that I had become, who didn’t eat or sleep and screamed and ranted and cared more about data than the kids I had come to serve.

And mostly, I was just so tired of looking at my kids and knowing that my depression had gotten so bad that I couldn’t muster the strength care how massively I was failing them, day in and day out.

No matter how many times I looked at the data saying my kids were performing at or above grade level, I collapsed into a panic every time my principal called me to her office to tell me my expectations were too high, that I didn’t care about my students, that I wasn’t capable of teaching in an inner-city school…it never stopped, despite my best efforts and TFA’s attempts at intervening. By the time I was hyperventilating through weekly therapy appointments, I knew my students and my health were both too far compromised by my incessant “shortcomings” as a teacher and a leader.

The breakthrough this year was the realization that is is okay fail. And when you do fail, it is okay to ask for help. Perhaps that is counter-intuitive  to say, “set big goals, but you probably won’t reach them.”  But I know of far too many corps members who sleep a few hours a night, down anti-depressants on the way to work, put in a 12 hour day, crunch data over and over again in a feeble attempt to convince themselves they aren’t a complete failure, then collapse into bed to do it all over again. Our only resource is a mental health hotline where operators have never even heard of our organization.

This is not okay.

This is not healthy.

And it is okay to ask for help.

But out of this messy, tragic, failure has come something unique. I found a principal who decided to take a chance on me. I owe her so much for seeing the potential underneath the fragility. I’ve had the opportunity to share my experience with the Memphis staff so they can better address mental health in the corps. I’ve been forced to admit that I am not perfect, and that there is no shame in that.

So, here is where I impart my advice to you 2012s: This year will be incredible. It will change your life in more ways that you can comprehend. It is a chance to change the lives of your students, your family, your friends. But it is going to be as hard as hell. And don’t be afraid to tell someone when you need help.

One Response

  1. G

    I hope all the 2012s read this post. I have seen too many CMs fall victim to “I have to be perfect…everything has to be perfect or I am a failure” syndrome. It’s ok to fail and get help. It is not OK to think that you can do this alone.

    Thanks so much for baring your soul. It took a lot of guts to post this, and I hope that someone gets something out of your experience.

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