Graduate Address: Robin Purman
Last August, after a summer of graduate school classes and weeks of waiting in anticipation for our school and mentor placements, I was finally, finally in Solorio Academy High School, setting up my classroom with my mentor. As we got to know each other while organizing, cleaning and decorating our room, she said something to me that I will never forget: “This will be the hardest year of your life.” She was right.
We all came to the Chicago Teacher Residency for different reasons. My colorful cohort is made up of former bartenders, chemists, business-people, marine biologists, new college grads and lawyers. We are from all over the country. We vary in education, religion, race and socioeconomic class.
We came together this year because we all believe, wholly and truly, that education is a human right. We came together because we can see that even in this country, the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, some children are being denied that right. We came together because we see teaching as a tool to better society and to change lives. Lofty goals, I know. But those lofty, some would say unattainable, goals are what drive us, our mentor teachers, our MRCs and those who run the CTR and AUSL to do what we do every day. And it isn’t easy.
I think I speak for all residents when I say this year was exhausting. There were early morning commutes and endless cups of coffee. We made thousands of copies, stayed late to help a student finish a test, attended a school basketball game because a student asked us to watch them play—even though we should have gone home and done homework. There were moments when it was hard to keep emotional constancy.
I don’t even want to guess the number of times I self-interrupted. There were hundreds of Checks for Understanding and targeted questions (some good, some bad). We ran from home to school to our graduate classes and back home to do it all over again. But through all of that, we had a community to support us. I could not have done this year without my cohort, my mentor and my MRC. Whether you needed to vent, cry, or brainstorm, there was always someone there to catch you.
Over a year ago, I gathered with other accepted residents in a restaurant in Chicago. We sat eagerly, nervously, soaking in what everyone was telling us about the year to come. At one point, Terri Gierke had us go around the room and say the name of the teacher, the one that changed our life. For a room full of excited future educators, this was hugely powerful. Everyone has that teacher, and we all want to be that teacher. Now, at the end of our residency year journey, I do appreciate all the amazing and wonderful teachers I have had and continued to have. But when I am exhausted and tired and frustrated and feeling defeated by the obstacles in my way – because everyone in this room knows what we face in our classrooms every day – it is not the names of my teachers that inspire me to pick myself up, dust myself off and continue with my work.
Instead, it is the names of my students. Next year will not be easy. I challenge each and every one of us, myself included, to remember our students when as we begin to navigate our new classrooms and schools and the obstacles we know they will bring.
So instead of saying Brandon Foat, the sixth grade history teacher who changed my life, I say Victor. Paola. Darionte. Andrew. Makya. Because they are the ones that matter: the reason we do what we do lies with them.
Posted on June 16, 2016 by Robin Purman