Jessica Shyu, now in her second year with Teach For America, is a special education instructor at a Navajo Nation K-8 school in New Mexico. In her blog On the Reservation, Shyu chronicles the good and the bad in the unerringly unpredictable world of her classroom. Here’s a sampling from a few recent entries:
As I start my second year, I think I’m finally finding my own niche. As a 23-year-old Asian American teacher from the East Coast, I’ll never quite blend in with the staff that is about 90 percent Native American and past 40 years old. Even the click-clack of my high-heeled sandals seems out of place on this mesa. Yet, this profession and land are feeling more familiar. Teaching is still the hardest thing I’ve ever tried, but at least I’m more confident with myself as an educator and as an outsider in this rural community.
I have 10 kiddos running around my classroom, glue and papers on the floor, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s blue paint slowly drying on my carpet. I still have a head cold, and I stopped being paid an hour and a half ago. Yet, eight little paper scarecrows on my desk tell me this is all worth it.
I have a 13-year-old student with mental retardation who is learning to count by fives. Despite all of our practice and strategies, he hasn’t been able to get past 15 for the past month. Some days, it feels like a lost cause. Some days I think he’s not trying. And today, I am just tired.
But as we sat down for math class today, he called me over for “a surprise.” He counted a handful of nickels on his own all the way to 45 cents. I was floored.
And then he looks at me shyly and says, “Ms. Shyu, I’ve been practicing. I practiced all weekend when I was herding sheep. I wouldn’t stop counting until I got all the sheep in. I didn’t let myself stop practicing until I got home with the sheep.”
All I could do then was give him a high five.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher Magazine