Olubunmi Fashusi is a member of the 2011 Teach For America—Baltimore corps.
Between 8:40 and 8:50 a.m. on the third day of school, I sat at my desk with my head nestled into the palms of my hands. I was feeling overwhelmed and defeated. I had just finished testing a sixth grade student whose family arrived from Vietnam in July. Throughout the exam, I watched in anguish as he struggled to understand what he was being asked to say, read, and write. I wanted to stop the test so he wouldn’t have to struggle further, but I didn’t. Having the test results would help me understand exactly what he needed to learn, and that would be more beneficial in the long run.
When the student had gone back to class, I began thinking about the other two newly arrived ESOL students I’d be working with this year: a fifth grader who came from El Salvador in April, and an eighth grader who arrived from El Salvador last May. They were joining my other 40 ESOL students in grades K-8. I was perplexed about how to balance my time so that I could provide all of my students with the great teaching they deserved without sending myself to an early grave. It’s hard to help close the achievement gap when you’re dead.
This mini-meltdown surprised me. I had spent the entire summer reflecting about my first year of teaching and reassuring myself that this year would be perfect, tear- and stress-free. In the past week and a half, I’d been excitedly preparing my classroom for the new year. There was my classroom painting party with some of my closest friends. There were the constant trips to Office Depot and Staples for stickers, scented markers, and paper borders. And last but certainly not least, there was the beginning-of-year conference with my Teach For America instructional coach, which left me charged up and ready to teach like a champion! (Get it?)
At around 8:52 a.m., I came to the realization that all of the paint, stickers, and scented markers wouldn’t matter if I felt that I wasn’t providing my students with an excellent education. It was OK to be excited about decorating my classroom and shopping for back-to-school supplies, but I also had to be excited about my instruction. I had to do this in spite of my fear and doubt about my ability.
I needed to be honest with myself; these meltdowns would sometimes be inevitable. But trying to make changes in the way I thought and taught, with the hopes of avoiding even just one future meltdown, was inevitable as well—that’s just the fighter in me. I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself, and instead began preparing myself to go toe-to-toe with the achievement gap for yet another round. I made a commitment to myself, to my school, and most importantly, to my students—in spite of the highs and lows of my teaching career, the meltdowns and the celebrations, I had to teach. At 8:55 a.m., I accepted that fear and doubt were great problems to have: Acknowledging them was the first step to doing what I needed to do in order to get my students where I wanted them to be.
I made a quick phone call to a friend who’s a Teach For America alum. He offered great advice about how to address my concerns with administrators at my school and with Baltimore City’s ESOL Department. At 9:00 a.m., I began drafting an email to my ESOL mentor teacher, requesting a meeting in order for us to brainstorm together on how I could be the best teacher for all of my students this year. And between 8:55 and 9:35 a.m. the following Wednesday, I taught my sixth grade newcomer from Vietnam his first ESOL lesson: school and classroom vocabulary words.
Olubunmi Fashusi teaches ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) to K-8 students at a public school in Baltimore City. She joined Teach For America after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 with a B.S in psychology and communication studies. In addition to her undergraduate studies, Olubunmi devoted time to a spoken-word club, a public-service organization, and the Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. During her junior year, she began volunteering at an after-school program for middle-school students, where she discovered her passion for working with children. Olubunmi is currently pursuing an M.S. in education, with a concentration in urban education, at Johns Hopkins University. She is a proud New Yorker (Brooklyn, to be exact) and a proud Nigerian American. In her free time, she enjoys reading (books and blogs), shopping at thrift stores, and doing arts and crafts.