Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Garage Sale: A Badass Teacher’s Story by Wilma de Soto

This blog post came about as the result of a rather vigorous discussion on the Badass
Teachers’ Association Facebook page. The topic of discussion was Teach for America, an
organization not very well appreciated by those of us who have made teaching our life’s work
and vice versa.

I have my own opinions about TFA and other such organizations because I feel very strongly
about teaching and that goes double in areas where the most needy students are having their
one and only shot at getting an education.

So, what does this have to do with a garage sale you ask. Allow me to relate a recent incident.
By a happy coincidence, I happen to live in a large city and next door to TWO former TFA alum.
One is now doing his medical residency at a local university hospital and his wife is in law
school at another local university. They are both very nice people with a lovely child. It’s
obvious that both are highly intelligent.

When they learned I was a teacher, they told me they were both in TFA program before
pursuing their present courses of study, I stifled a grimace. It was clear from chatting with
them they did not have much respect for the teachers they worked with during their tenure, but
at least they were polite about it.

Well, one recent Saturday my husband and I were having a garage sale. Our neighbor's
driveway is adjacent to ours and they grow vegetables in the space in front of his house. The
husband was tending this garden while we were conducting the sale.

After one particularly hard sale I made, he remarked to me that I was driving some hard
bargains. I jokingly asked him, “WHADDYA mean?” He replied that he was really enjoying
watching me get those sales.

I responded that I had been in sales for over 30 years, to which he said, "I thought you were a
teacher." I said, "What do you think teaching is?" and he looked a bit quizzically at me as if I
were making a joke.

I then went on to tell him that sales was a great part of teaching as well as showmanship and
other qualities. I told him I spent my career selling material to an audience who didn't want to
be there, wasn't interested in buying what I was selling, and making them buy what I asked
them to and making them love it. That I had worked the better part of 35 years getting people
to accept what I say and do what I want. I saw a light go on in the eyes of this medical
resident and I believe he understood what I meant and he looked at me with a newfound
respect for who I was and what I do.

Experienced teachers will understand this immediately. We know how hard we work selling our
material. We also know how many different ways we have to play it in order to get the
message across. It’s sales, show business, it’s theater and the hallmark of our craft. We tread
the boards five, six, or more times each day. We present. We perform. Some us even

We are like psychological locksmiths or safecrackers. When one entry is blocked to us, we’ll
try another and another and yet another way until we gain entry. I know once I get in, they’re
mine and I mean forever. I get in and I stay in because I have created an indelible footprint and
change in the neurons of my students. I know it’s there because my students often tell me that
when I meet them years later.

I submit to you that TFA doesn't understand what teaching is. They think if they get people
from high universities and colleges, (BTW, which I also attended), that is enough.
It isn't. You cannot teach that star quality so easily and certainly not in five weeks. That
intangible quality is quite hard to measure and evaluate, especially by the current means of
evaluating teachers.

By the same token, there are people I know who haven’t had a lick of college or teacher
courses that if I could, I would snatch up in a heartbeat by back the of their collars and drag
them in front of a whiteboard and a roomful of students and let them teach what they know,
because they’ve, “got it”, whatever “it” might be.

Scripted curriculums kill “it” and the person who has, “it.” No wonder administrators and
reformers find teachers resistant to their ways and methods. When you kill “it”, you kill me! It’s
personal! Those of us who teach know that our very essence and how we do things cannot be
measured simply by arbitrary evaluation instruments any more than our students’ knowledge

In closing I wish to remind those who remember the film, “The Wizard of Oz”, of the scene
towards the end of the movie where the wizard bestows a heart upon the Tin Man and
counsels him by saying, “Remember my galvanized friend, a heart is not judged by how much
YOU love, but by how much YOU ARE LOVED by others.”

Good advice that was for The Tin Man, and true. If I might paraphrase it for TFA and for those
who are thinking of entering the program: Teaching is not only about what YOU know, but how
WELL you are able to CONVEY WHAT YOU KNOW to others.

Oh one more thing, I made $562.30 during my four-hour garage sale.

Bio: Wilma de Soto is a recently retired ESOL teacher

1 comment:

  1. Excellent my friend! I try to teach my music educations majors this all the time. I try to impart how important personality, enery,excitement, desire and enthusiasm are in getting young people excited and interested in learning.


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