Sunday, July 10, 2011

L E A P I N G: Dear God, Please let me make it to the other side.

leap of faith

The act or an instance of believing or trusting in something intangible (

            After a month of learning a priceless amount of things, deep personal debate, and I’ll admit…plenty of tears…I have decided to resign from Teach For America. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.
                Teach For America is an absolutely extraordinary organization and I am extremely proud to have been accepted and gone through a month of the program and a half a year to just prepare for it. I know there is a lot of controversy with TFA but if those against it would come to TFA institute or really listen to the people working for TFA, all controversy would be gone. There are obviously plenty of amazing teachers who have not gone through TFA, but there are not enough. TFA is making it so low income schools are packed with amazing teachers. TFA doesn’t just give members the skills to be a teacher, it gives members the skills to get every single student in the classroom a shot to have a bright future and to truly have the opportunities to pursue happiness.
                It’s easy to think that any teacher with a good work ethic can push his/her students to greatness, but over the past month of teaching summer school I know a good work ethic isn’t enough. Knowledge and experience is everything, and TFA relentlessly finds and uses ever bit of it. Over the past month I’ve learned to be humble enough to know that if a student didn’t do well on an assessment that it was completely my fault. I have then learned how to figure out where I went wrong for students and how to give my best shot at doing a better job. I learned that if a kid isn’t paying attention I might need to be more entertaining, that I need to figure out a way to make my lesson more understandable, I need to give better directions, or I need to teach students how to listen.
                For example my co-teachers and I had one student who was all over the place the first week of school.  We spent so much time trying to control him we didn’t have enough time for other students. This is the student who normally would be labeled as the trouble maker who doesn’t want to learn. Then we taught him how to listen. During carpet time we gave him his own special chair to sit in and he could rock side to side when he felt the urge to move. A week and a half later I gave him a classroom culture survey and I asked him what he had learned. He told me “I learned how to listen.” (side note:  when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he said a bird because he wanted to fly. I did too. He also told me he wanted to go to college.) This may not seem big, but when he learned to listen his grades had a drastic improvement and he participated willingly in class.
                I also learned how to change a kid’s mindset. I helped teach kids they could go to college if they worked hard. The first week of school one girl told me that when she grew up she wanted to work at McDonalds. Last week she was set on going to college.
                One of the hardest lessons I learned no matter how hard a kid’s life is that he must be pushed as hard as every other kid. Let me explain. On Friday a past TFA teacher told us about a boy she taught who was  4 years behind his grade level.  The first year she taught him he lived in foster care and he made about a year and ¾ worth of growth.  He was still behind grade level and so he repeated the 4th grade. This time he was back living with his grandma. His personality changed. He wasn’t always being fed, he missed a lot of school, he’d come home from school to people drinking and paying no attention to him. The TFA teacher loved him as much as she possible could. His life was so hard however that she stopped expecting him to do his homework or other little things she expected from other students. By the time his second year of 4th grade was over he was still behind but the school had to move him up to the fifth grade. That student will remember his teacher as loving, but because she expected less from him he may now never have the skills to ever get himself out of poverty. As the TFA teacher was almost in tears, I realized that all of the other teachers in training will make sure that every student is pushed to their best no matter their circumstances.
                There are also the students who some people say are lazy and don’t want to learn. I’ve seriously heard principles say don’t waste your time on that one.  It’s probably more likely that no one in his/her family has ever done well in school or has taught him/her the importance of an education. That student has quite possible thought he’s dumb or school isn’t for everyone for years. I’ve learned skills to help get these students to college and have seen proof that “these” students can go to college.
                Obviously, I cannot say enough good things about Teach For America. What I’ve said above is only a very, very small portion of what I learned. I deeply appreciate these things and I will be sure to use them. It is also why this decision was so incredibly hard. I am head over heels in love with the kids I have taught, I think TFA and its purpose is incredible, but I hate being inside all day, working 13-16 hrs days, and most importantly I don’t love teaching. My passions have no longer been at a balance. Barely any time for running and when I did have time, I was exhausted.
                I’m not normally one to ask for help but for the first time in my life I asked for it. Many people told me to try TFA for at least a year, but whenever I heard this advice I was unhappy. Then I had 2 people tell me it was okay if I didn’t feel like TFA was the right fit. That it was okay if I wanted to pursue other dreams and find a way to balance both passions. That it was okay to find other ways to guide kids and still have time to run. I noticed I instantly relaxed when I heard that. I then talked to my faculty advisor for a few hours about how my life would be at a TFA the next 2 years.  I realized that if I decided to fit in running that I would be choosing running over family and friends and I would probably be tired even when I did run. Then he had me make a pro/ con list and rank each point of importance from 1-10. The pro TFA side went like this: I LOVE the kids (10), Help close the achievement gap (7), Resume builder (5), Teaching license (4), Stable Salary (3). A lot of the things I had on the con list that I would be giving up were ranked pretty high and I had a long list of things I wasn’t happy about. I also realized that teaching wasn’t the only one way to guide youth to a better future. It took a month for me to realize that it was okay for me not to feel like I was meant to teach in this wonderful organization and to not beat myself up over needing to find a balance to pursue other dreams as well.
                With that said, it’s time for me to learn how to be genuinely happy. There are some “demons” I have left that need to be gotten rid of once and for all. I know it’s time for me to defeat them. It’s also time for me to get the hell out of Arizona. I realize that some people think AZ is beautiful, and it is in its own right, but it is in no way my type of beautiful or trail running. And I HATE rattlesnakes- they freak me out! I need trees!  Seriously- I love trees. Lol.  A cactus just doesn’t cut it for me. I have absolutely no desire to do Badwater any time soon. =)
                So I have thrown away a stable salary/life for the next two years++. I bet you’re wondering what exactly I am planning on doing and what I feel the best way for me to learn how to be happy is. Well I have sent applications in to some wilderness therapy programs for troubled and/or low income youth. (I feel like that has me written all over it and I bet you do too). I have already gotten 2 phone interviews set up. One is back in the east coast in the mountains. Until I see where that goes however, I am doing a west coast adventure. I don’t have much money, but I have some money saved that was going towards a teaching license and so I’m getting myself a tent and some camping gear and going exploring. I probably shouldn’t have read Into the Wild, Lost Girls (3 girls quit there NYC jobs for a year to travel around the world), and Becoming Odyssa (Jennifer Pharr Davis’s first Appalachian Trail hike through- She’s actually doing in again for the record right now!) all in the month before I left Ohio. Lol. I have wanted to do something like this for a long time though and I’m not about to pass up this chance. I’m going to climb a mountain in Colorado, head into Wyoming, run in the Redwood Forest, and only God knows what else. I completely realize doing this alone is going to be hard, scary, and lonely, but I need this. I know I do.
                I know I’m throwing away a lot, but I think I have a lot to gain. If you read my last blog it was probably easy to tell I wasn’t happy. I thought I was a bad person for not feeling happy about being a teacher. I felt really bad that I didn’t want to sacrifice my running. I never want running to come before people, but I hope you can understand that when I started trail running, something in me just felt at peace. I started becoming more of the person I wanted to be. I need running in my life right now. I think working with youth outdoors might be by answer to finding a balance.
                Obviously, my first 6 weeks away from Ohio have been way harder than I ever could have imagined. Thankfully, I am now at a place where I can reflect back and be thankful for all the incredible lessons I have learned….and boy did I learn a lot!

                If people want me to, I will write about my adventures for the next month. Just let me know. Also, I’d appreciate it if you keep me in your prayers… I’m a little nervous being a 23 yr old girl, not exactly sure what I am doing, and being out in the wilderness by myself. =) I promise to keep you in my prayers as well!

So here I go on my BIIIGG ADVENTURE! If someone wants a tv or stereo let me know…. I need to get rid of things I don’t need.

Again, THANK YOU to anyone who has supported me and taken the time to help me out. =)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” –Helen Keller.


  1. Go find your trees, my young friend. There does seem to be a schism between our east and west running. I would wilt without my forest.
    Kudos to you for realizing this career decision was not working out for you and moving on.
    Happy trails to you, Sandi.

  2. Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.

    - Henry David Thoreau

    “Go forth and set the world on fire”

    - St. Ignatius Loyola

  3. Sandi, I will DEFINITELY keep you in my prayers and thoughts. I am 43 y.o. but am still asking similar questions and seeking similar answers. (With a husband and 2 kids, many of my ?'s are answered, but I'm still searching!) I have to disagree only a bit with this part:

    "Over the past month I’ve learned to be humble enough to know that if a student didn’t do well on an assessment that it was completely my fault... or I need to teach students how to listen."

    At first I thought this was a typo - it ISN'T just your fault. You've been trained enough to know all the factors involved in these kids' lives. Yes, you can make a HUGE impact, but don't beat yourself up if you can't fix them 100% in one semester or one year or even longer. You DID make a difference and thank God for people like you! However, don't take all the blame, please. You are going about your search the right way - you will land where you need to be. And hopefully, there will be lush, moss-covered trees... PEACE!

  4. You're kind of, really inspirational. FYI. I want to one day have that kind of courage!

  5. Hello Sandi,

    Kat B. gave me your info and suggested we talk about Outward Bound and Outdoor Education...? I would love to be in touch and chat about all of it! Find me on facebook, or write: kevin.shon @


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