SoDak it Hurts

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 02 2009

Blink and Refocus

We must remain within earshot of our last terrifying moment

I set out for my own classroom today – Room 202. This morning my palms were sweating by 5:30 as I stepped out into the already cooling dawn of the South Dakota prairie. Immediately all feelings of preparedness and confidence I felt after my training at Institute slid out of my mind and into the quiet corners of my classroom.

I frantically printed my syllabi and went over the first words that would come out of my mouth – becoming less brilliant than I imagined a few weeks ago by the second. An announcement over the intercom reminded me it was time to herd the 10th graders into the library to go over the student handbook.

As the session commenced, it was obvious which students planned to disrupt the goings-on of the first day proceedings. Prominent among them was a young gentleman with a polo hanging to his knees and a hat to match it. Just minutes after the presenter covered the no cell phone policy, this student pulled his phone out of his pocket, answered it and stepped over bodies to leave the room as he began a conversation. I was standing in the door way and he pushed past me to finish the talk everyone had been privy to. He walked back past me as if nothing happened, took his seat and when the presenter tried to confront him he cut her off and said, “I’m back now, keep rolling with the program.”

I was livid – that I didn’t do anything and that he was acting this way. I immediately crossed him off of the list of kids I’d care to impact.

Just a few hours later guess who waltzes into my classroom?

I was thankful that his buddies weren’t in my class and he was quiet with his head on his desk most of the period.

I finished my day with little interruptions from students and less than satisfied with my own preparation; but satisfied that there seemed to be good students that were eager to learn.

At home after a long day, I’m in my recliner looking over my student surveys when I come across the student with the unlimited mobile to mobile minute cell phone plan. The front of the survey indicated that he failed English 10 and Speech 10 last year – I think to myself, “I’m not surprised.”

On the back of the survey, I provided a space for my students to write me a letter detailing anything else they think I should know. Here is what he wrote:

I am 17. I love reading it is my escape & writing but I can not spell that well. Im a sophomore & I want to be able to walk across the stage by 2011 so I need you to help me out K?

This student reminded me why I’m here.

It is hard.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve got lots of work to do.

15 Responses

  1. Nathalie

    Wow! What an eye-opening first day.

    I’ll definitely be checking back to see how things are going.

  2. Luke

    You are going to change the world; I know you will.

  3. Kandyce

    This brought me to tears. What an incredible opportunity you have to impact his life. “Every Journey begins with the first step..” He just took a big step by asking you help him along the way.

    Best of luck Reagan!

  4. love that your on this journey and that student is in your class.
    this is the perfect job for you sir. no doubt about that.

  5. Dalton Sweat

    The eye-opener is great. Everyone loves to hear about the person who deep down really wants some help. But the Regan Pugh I know wouldn’t dismiss any kid in the first place. Remember my friend you inspired thousands including myself. Just imagining what you could do with a class full of children is amazing. Every one of those kids is lucky to have a person like you dedicate your time to them and something like teach america. You will make such a difference in all their lives.

  6. Reags-

    Glad to see you’re spending a little time recording some of these formative memories. I wish I’d done more blogging during my first year. Constant reflection is a necessary process for growth, and as you’re already learning, opportunities for growth will abound during the coming months. You’re in the struggle. Good luck.

  7. Chelsea

    In the words of Mike Broda: “This is hard. This is important. You can do it.”

  8. Summer

    Reagan, you totally made me tear up (no surprise, I know). Ms. Heffner and I were just talking about how we love and miss you- you’re going to be great

  9. Alexa

    Thanks for your post.
    As long as you teach from your heart, you’ll be fine. Your students will guide you– they’ll tell you what they need, which might not be what you think they need. I’m learning to check my assumptions.
    I feel like we all assume that if we don’t do amazing things in our classroom from Day One then we’re failures. What I’ve been finding, however, is that what these kids seem to need *as much as a good education* is someone in their lives who believes in them and will never give up on them. Just the fact that I come to school every day seems to mean an insane amount to my rambunctious middle schoolers. It’s crazy: they like to push me at the same time that they’re clearly crying out “don’t leave us.” That seems to be what is going on with your polo-wearing rule breaker as well!
    Do you believe that we are exactly where we are supposed to be at any given time? And that we are the only one who can fulfill the role we were called upon to do? That’s my homework for right now… a lesson in faith..
    O ya hehi. You can do it.

  10. aisha

    This is really amazing. If he didn’t see you as a good teacher who was there to help him , he would have never told you what he said. Makes me think, you must be a really really fabulous person. Keep us informed and I am really curious to know how to handle these “difficult” kids.

  11. Meghan


    I’m really excited to see what this year has in store for you. I know I can’t compare me going to South Africa and hanging out with kids there, to your time with teach for America… but I’m going to – in that it was the most unexpected season of my life and hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I will be forever changed because of it.

    I know that is how you’ll feel at the end of this. There will be good days that will come easy, and there will be rough days where you are going to have to fight and make a choice to keep going. I’ll be praying for you, that God shows you his plan and purpose for you during this season, and that he gives you strength to get through those rough days.

  12. Sara Gautille

    I’m so excited to hear you’re doing Team for America! Here are some of my favorite quotes about teaching…

    “…Only a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow. “ -Ivan Welton FitzwaterWrite something about yourself.

    “I’m a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children.”
    -Marva Collins

    “You teach little by what you say.
    You teach the most by what you are.”
    -Dr. Henrietta Mears

    The students who give you the most trouble are the ones you love the most and will never forget. I have a couple of boys (and girls) who gave me a lot of trouble last year and one of them walks by my room every morning to say hi and get a hug. You have to get to their heart before you can get to their mind and open them up to learning. I’m like you..I wanna save the world. Good luck this year and keep up the good work!! I always knew you’d do amazing things!

  13. Justin Collard

    Hey Reagan,

    You are awesome. You empowered me to lead and got me where I’m at on this campus today. You have some of the luckiest students on the planet, and I’m glad that you are using your gift.

    Call ya soon bro.

  14. Lanita

    Reagan, you are going to make such a difference in the lives of the students you encounter this year! That young man has certainly recognized that in you, regardless of his cell phone plan! I will be anxious to hear more of your experiences, knowing that you’ll be growing right along side the students in your class. You are in the right place at the right time…doing the right thing! Miss you! L

  15. Marie

    Thank you for keeping up on your blog. I hope to work with Teach for America in 2010 and have been reading these sites for a few days. There are a lot of discouraging situations posted and am glad to have stumbled across your stories. I am hoping that I can have such a positive presence in whatever community I am placed in. Tomorrow is my phone interview and I am incredibly excited. Once again Thank You.

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About this Blog

I taught 10th Grade English on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota between 2009 and 2011. Currently blogging at

South Dakota
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