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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 08 2009

An introduction to Chicago

Hello and welcome to this blog!

I’ll be teaching elementary school in Chicago and I’m starting Institute in a few days.

Excited? Yep. Terrified? Totally.

I’ll mostly be using this blog to chronicle life as a teacher. In addition to this one, I’ll be running another, more restricted blog, to keep up with friends from highschool and college so if you are one of those folks, shoot me a line so I can direct you to it!
But for all things school related, well, this is it! So here goes:


I just got back from my first glimpse at Chicago. I had to fly in for a whirlwind weekend trip in order to take the ICTS exam. This is the test that decides if I’m certified as qualified to teach or not. Besides the long hours of testing and two mornings of waking up at 5 AM it was a good weekend and I got to form my first thoughts about both TFA and of Chicago. Here are the thoughts as arbitrarily chronicled over the time in the city-

First things first, Illinois is flat. Oh so flat. That fact is very strange to me having grown up in a valley and then going to school again in a valley. But now, IL is superdeeduper flat. I noticed this while flying in and surveying the ground below me. You can just see everything laid out below, the suburbs in perfect grids and then off in the distance the spires and towers of Chicago rising straight up like a manacled wrists and claws or a strange and terrific crown of sorts before it all just drops away into the blue flatness of Lake Michigan. It was really cool to see though, the city really does spring from the ground suddenly. It reminded me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when they first encounter the gleaming green Oz in the distance, that’s what my descent into Midway airport felt like.

Also while landing I realized that I was approaching this city and this city with an element of skepticism that had not been present in my going to London. That time I had been a hot mess of emotion and the sight of the Thames and the Eye from up above had sent my thoughts free-wheeling and tumbling and I was a jittery mess. This time however, encountering the Chicago skyline for the first time, I felt a lot more like some sort of surveyor of lands, mentally taking notes without really feeling much more than curiosity.

The exception to this were the moments when I’d notice we were flying over particularly affluent suburbs, especially the schools in those parts. That’s when I really realized the degree to which I’ve started internalizing my focus for the next two years. More so than ever before, I noticed the large houses. I noticed the blue pools in every backyard. I noticed the large school compounds with their athletic fields and manicured lawns and facilities and I was aghast. “But this is nothing like what my kids will have!” I kept thinking before realizing the (sweet?) absurdity of the way I had claimed these children I haven’t even met yet. Perhaps, despite the doubts I’ve had and despite my inability to feel emotionally compelled about anything in the last few weeks, perhaps I have already begun the transformation into the 2009 Corps member I am only days away from officially becoming.

After landing in Midway I took the L (Chicagoan for the elevated metro transit trains) to the hostel where TFA was putting us up. The L is pretty awesome. Unlike most city metros, which are subterranean, the L runs above the city. The elevated tracks mean you get a cool view of things as you whoosh by, including sometimes peoples windows of their apartments. I rather enjoyed the L.

My first impressions of the city were mostly surprised. I guess I had come to expect my cities to be like London and NY- active to the point of being manic, bustling, energetic, spaces where buildings pile upon each other in a rough and tumble madness. Chicago is, from what I saw of downtown, nothing like that. The buildings are tall indeed but they are spaced apart. The sidewalks are wide, the bike lanes and the roads even wider. This amount of space makes even the tallest of skyscrapers, even the Sears Tower, look much more friendly. People too are far friendlier than any city-folk I’ve encountered. So many smiles, nods, goodmornings, how are yous, and wow! you’ll be a teacher! from perfect strangers. Everyone, everyone, from the security guard at the L stop to the random woman waiting to cross the street acknowledges you and asks you how you’re doing. Pretty rocking.

I also met a whole bunch of other TFA kids! I think that was the best part of this weekend, I’m so glad I’ll know people, even if it’s just their names, before turning up at Institute. I think in the madness of the ensuing weeks, it’ll just be good to get there and at least have people to say hi to on day 1. Also, when the last few weeks have just been about constantly saying goodbye and not having any certain plans to see anyone again it was such a relief to have two days of saying hello and to say with perfect assurance that I’d see someone in 10 days.

So fun was had, despite the two straight mornings of waking up at 5 AM.

Speaking of which, our room of bleary eyed TFA girls at first were consoling ourselves with the fact that this was just one weekend of horrid waking up hours. Until reality kicked in and we realized that this was but a preview of the weeks and weeks of 5 AM mornings that await us in a few days.

Well….I’m pumped. And exhausted.

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