Guest Blog by Brett Good ’11
Hello everyone. I’m sorry I’m not Laura, who I’m sure provides much more insightful and interesting blog posts than I ever could. My name is Brett Good, and Laura was kind enough to allow me to guest blog. I graduated from Vanderbilt this past May in the College of Arts and Science.
Currently I work as a middle school teacher as part of an organization called Teach For America. Teach For America recruits recent college graduates who do not necessarily possess any prior teaching experience. I, for example, took as many college courses on monster movies (1) as I did teaching (also 1).
With a hearty two months of training, TFA ships us newbies into some of the worst educational environments in the nation. They offer over 40 placement regions in the United States, notably including New York City, Baltimore, Compton, Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Los Angles, Memphis…you name an under performing school district, we’re probably there. Obviously there’s a lot which comes with working in low performing schools. I’ve been told things by a fifth grader that would make Lil’ Wayne blush. I’ve had stuff thrown at me. After school bus duty has turned into my personal Stalingrad. The list of challenges could go on forever.
My official title is English Language Arts Specialist for Middle School (the fact that I’m called a “specialist” in anything is pretty laughable), which is a big fancy way of saying I’m a reading interventionist. At 22 years old, I’m responsible for around 50 students who are all at least four years grade level in reading. Most don’t speak English at home. Most have behavior modification plans. I’m sure for my students’ parents, discovering how young and inexperienced I am is the equivalent of finding out that the captain of the Hindenburg is piloting your domestic flight.
Communicating with parents can be somewhat of a nightmare, but it is essential. I’ve found that if I’m in contact with my students’ families, they are so much more on board with me and are in invaluable resource for me to draw upon as an educator. Almost all of my parents speak Spanish, with maybe a basic understanding of some English. Vanderbilt is renown for their strength in foreign languages, something I neglected completely to take advantage of in college. I’m decidedly monolingual. As a result, I rely almost completely on Ms. Frank, one of two teachers at my school who are fluent in Spanish. Through her and some creative use of Google Translate (it’s awesome) I manage to get along. What Ms. Frank doesn’t know is that I slip Airborne into her diet coke at every opportunity and have a baby monitor turned on when she sleeps. I CANNOT afford for that lady to get sick and miss days!
Despite all of these challenges, my experience at Vanderbilt definitely gave me the tools I need to succeed. I learned to problem solve. I learned to work hard. But most of all, I learned to give. My professors cared at Vanderbilt. I’m in the education field today because of Professor Donna Ford. Professor Ford helped me to recognize that I had a gift with children, and really pushed me to give back to community via a Nashville mentoring program. I became connected with Teach For America through the mentoring program. One thing led to another, and right after graduation I packed my stuff up and moved across the country to become a teacher. Professor Ford still keeps up with me to this day, asking how I’m doing and if there’s anything she can do. That kind of stuff sticks with you. I’m not exactly sure how much traffic Laura’s admissions blog gets, but if you’re reading this professor, you’ve meant a lot to me. My adviser in college was Professor Thomas Schwartz. Despite being a professor of history, political science and European studies, Professor Schwartz always made time for me and treated me with the utmost kindness. You have your bad professors at every college I’m sure, but it was absolute pleasure studying under all of my professors at Vanderbilt save maybe one or two.
Teaching is hard. Especially students that face the challenges that mine do. But I come back every day, and every day I’m thankful that I did. I’ve had my successes. I managed to get an entire room of kids to answer “yes, sir” and “no, sir” to me. My classroom has gone from something out of a Wild West movie to structured, ordered, and efficient. My kids now want to learn, and what interests them always surprises you. It turns out middle school kids go nuts for Sherlock Holmes and Greek mythology. However, the things they don’t know can surprise you just as much. A few days ago I discovered my kids did not know who Bob Barker was, which led to a fifteen minute impromptu mini lesson on important pop culture figures from the 80’s and 90’s. There are people these kids should know about. I’ve failed them as a teacher if they think Drew Carey always hosted The Price is Right.
Despite the stress of teaching, I find myself thinking back to Vanderbilt daily. Some things I miss about Vanderbilt:
1. Tons of great food options on meal plan, both on and off campus. My diet is now roughly 60% Subway, 15% peanut butter and jelly, 15% Hormel canned chili, and 10% meals girls cook for me out of pure sympathy.
2. The people. The best people I ever met went to Vanderbilt, and I miss them dearly. Whenever I’m in a rut or feeling down, they always pick me up, even from 1500 miles away.
3. The campus. I was a tour guide in college, and every tour that I gave I caught myself admiring the elegance and beauty of campus. It really is stunning.
4. JJ’s Cafe and Market. JJ’s is about a 10 minute walk from campus, but it’s simply THE BEST place to study in Nashville. I went there so much the owner came to my graduation. And we’re facebook friends. No big.
5. The live music scene. The Nashville music scene is world famous, but Vanderbilt always brought incredible acts to campus. During my time in college, I saw Jay-Z, Kayne West, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews Band, U2, and the list could go on and on. I live in Colorado now, and if I have to sit through one more John Denver Tribute Band, I may go insane.
6. The admissions staff. I worked in admissions for about a year, and the staff really is incredible. I needed some Vanderbilt stuff to trick out my class room. I picked up the phone, talked to Sarah Quin and John Nesbitt in the admissions office, and they obliged with posters, pennants, you name it. With the help of Admissions, my Ford Taurus of a classroom has now been tricked out with 24 inch spinners and chrome paint. It looks goooooodd. I also worked with All-SEC linebacker Chris Marve in admissions. Chris maintains a triple major while playing football in the most competitive conference in the nation, and is a damn good guy on top of it. He offered to Skype my class to help motivate them. They all went nuts when they found out they were going to get to talk to a future NFL player.
I always dreamed of going to law school after graduation, and that may still happen. But I’m loving what I’m doing right now, and it never would have happened without meeting the people I did at Vanderbilt. They influenced me in every way imaginable. Vanderbilt invested in me as a person, not just as a student. I’m better for it, and I could not have asked for a more fulfilling college experience. I’d recommend Vanderbilt to anyone.
I come home exhausted every day now, but I believe in what I’m doing. It’s things like this that get me through. A student of mine named Jason left this note for me on my desk:
“Dear Mr. Good. Not many people ever tolded me that I culd ever go to collage. But you are always so sure about it, like you kno its gonna happen. It makes me sure too. I kno I’ve got a lot to work on, but don’t give up on me and thank you for believing in me.”
I wish everyone reading this blog the very best.