Presentation on theme: "Epilogue: The Moral of the Story is... A Critique of Teach for America and a Tiny Bit of Hope November 29th, 2006 05:01 pm if you are considering tfa,"— Presentation transcript:
Epilogue: The Moral of the Story is... A Critique of Teach for America and a Tiny Bit of Hope November 29th, 2006 05:01 pm if you are considering tfa, you should probably read this this is an emotional rant about the blind spots of teach for america. teach for america’s main philosophical tenet is that teacher actions influence student actions which influence student performance. therefore, the teacher ALWAYS, according to this philosophy, determines how well the students do. i understand the importance of this philosophy in terms of the effects it has. if a teacher truly believes that they are personally responsible for how well each of their children does, and if this teacher is already a crazy overachiever, being invested in this philosophy results in education that does not excuse or pamper based on socio- economic, family, or any other conditions, but rather pushes all children and tries with great might, again and again, to make kids learn. there are, however, some problems with this philosophy. for one thing, it just isn’t true. though it’s very empowering and usually helpful to believe that you as the teacher can change everything, you can’t. you can make a difference, sure, but there are certainly circumstances beyond your control. secondly, teach for america teachers are completely unprepared and ill-equipped. all they have, really, going into the classroom, is their passion and their indoctrination into “mindsets”, beliefs, and philosophies like the one above. teach for america’s universal “big goal” is for students to make a year and a half worth of gains in both math and literacy (or, for secondary, two years growth or eighty percent mastery of the subject being taught). guess what percentage of corps members actually make these gains with their students? 24%. the percentage of corps members who make significant or acceptable gains (a year of growth in one year – in other words, the minimum that should be expected or accepted in schools) with their students is higher – around 79%. unfortunately, there is not data from non-teach for america teachers to compare this to. and let me remind you that they did not disclose to us that only a quarter of us would probably make significant gains until the very end of the summer. because their goal is for 100% of us to make significant gains. but they propagandize and present it like everyone in teach for america does this.
i just had a phone conversation with my program director, in which she told me a lot of things, like how i was abandoning the children and how selfish of me it was to do that and how especially because they were already left by one teacher and so on and so forth. she laid on all sorts of stuff like, “you know, i’m going to be able to deal with this just fine, i’m just deeply concerned about your kids.” and i’m not going to lie. she made me feel guilty, and i got off the phone and started crying. but. but but BUT. all of this guilt is premised on the assumption that having me in the classroom is better for these kids than having someone else. and part of my decision to quit was based on the fact that i don’t think my presence in the classroom is any better, and may in fact be worse, that anyone else’s. maybe if i had more experience or training or had more time to get my shit together, maybe then i could be this awesome teacher for social justice and rock my kids’ worlds. but, right now, honestly, i am barely stopping them from fist-fighting in the classroom. whoever replaces me may not be as impassioned or, let’s face it, nearly as cool, but they will probably do at least as good a job of running the classroom, which was really all i was doing. no one was learning very much. it was like daycare with the pretense of education. the point being, it is not worth it to me to struggle through three, four, maybe even five or six more months of this in absolute misery until something clicks and then, just maybe then, my kids can start to learn. if i thought i was going to teach for the rest of my life, then sure, that’d be worth it. you know what? it IS shitty of me to “leave these kids in the lurch” (the dramatic and pointed words of my program director). it really is. i’m not denying that. but: 1) if i’m not taking care of myself, i’m not any good to anybody. 2) i shouldn’t be given extra guilt for being the second teacher to leave them – i didn’t have any control over mr. doyle. 3) i would not be doing them any good by coming to work to every day tired, half-dead, unhappy, and doing the minimum amount of work to get by because i am not truly inspired by my work or invested in the belief that i can change these kids’ lives, because i don’t have the skills right now to make the kind of difference i want to make. i would not be doing them any good by holding my decision longer, until they were more used to them, and then making the same choice. in short, i do not think i was doing them much good at all, and not being there with my whole self was totally unfair to them. 4) i cannot save the world single-handedly. i maybe cannot even save the world at all. and i think it’s unrealistic to expect that i, one naive, white, young college graduate with bright eyes, an idealistic vision, and very little skill or experience should be held completely responsible for the educational fate of twenty-five young black kids in one of poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. i think it is ridiculous that, having known them for just a week and a half, i should be made to feel by my supervisors and superiors that by leaving i am failing them, abandoning them, surrendering them to horrible things, that by leaving i am depriving them of their only chance to learn. that is not only unfair to me, it is insulting to them. 5) i do not completely believe in what i’m doing. i do not feel like myself when i do it. they deserve a teacher who actually wants to be a teacher. not only do i not truly feel like a teacher at my heart, i’m not very good at it. someone else who actually wants to teach and thinks it is the answer will come along and teach these kids. and they will be okay. the kids are going to be okay. and so will i. now i just have to go to the teach for america office and survive the guilt parade. i will probably just say it bluntly, to everyone who tries to intimidate me into staying, “all of that is between me and my conscious. i do not have to justify or explain my reasons to you, and no matter what you do or say, you cannot change my mind. now please, just give me the papers i have to sign.” lord knows i’ve been bullied enough the past few weeks. when this is all over, let’s crack open a bottle of champagne.
[edited out daydreaming about future plans, including the possibility of organic farming and intentional communities and discussion of unseasonably warm weather] my graduate advisor called today and told me that she thinks i could have been a great teacher and not felt like i was drowning if i’d had the right support system and a better administration. she was kind and sincere and made me feel better by telling me that principal benardo has been terrorizing folks for 25 years. it was nice for someone to allow that, after the enormous resignation fiasco, the entire situation changed and it makes rational sense that i might end up quitting, with legitimate reasons. it was also nice for someone to simultaneously acknowledge that i have the potential to be really good at this but that i also have the right to quit. that felt good. still no word from the tfa hounds of hell. whatever. i’ve left them voicemails. i’m not going to keep calling them up so they can waste my time trying to make me stay by sending me on massive guilt trips. the moral of the story is, this is all going to work out this fine. it feels good to not really know what i’m doing and realize that i will still be completely okay. the universe is full! i am ready! December 8th, 2006 05:13 am it all boils down to this: -all told (student loans mostly, credit cards, teach for america loans, loans from parents, much of this for moving expenses etc), i am approximately $22,000 in debt. around $3,000 of that is due basically immediately. i have $626.50 in my checking account, a rent check that hasn’t been taken out yet, and a horrible overdraft trainwreck that has left me owing my other bank $450 i don’t have. it would not be wise for me to spend more than five more dollars between now and january. -i have three more resignation letters to write before i am officially freeeee. -i have decided to bail on graduate school, and i am not entirely sure (need to talk to the registrar) if this will mean Fs on my PERMANENT RECORD or not (at the price of $2,400, no less). -i am not getting very much sleep. -i work in a factory, where i mostly assist corporations in sending boxes of chocolates to other corporations, eat bon-bons for free, listen to my bosses utilize passive-aggression in their fully engaged power struggle, and slowly stoke my class hatred. and yet
yet yet yet i am happier than i have ever been, i have more energy than i’ve had since getting to nyc, i am less worried about all of the above than i normally was about a single lesson plan, and i have never been more sure that i’m on the right path in my life than i am now. confidential aside to miss e.c. eagle: your postcard arrived at absolutely the perfect and most necessary time. thank you. so much. [the text of the aforementioned postcard, which is still on my alter: 26 november 2006 Emily-- Saraswati is the goddes of education and fine arts. see -- she plays a sitar, has a book in her hands, and holds the jewels of knowledge. I think you have the energy, the mind, and the heart to be an incredible teacher. I believe you will be. But you don't have to be that teacher right now, and you don't even have to do it in a public classroom. But you can be if you want to be. Trust yourself, the greatest teacher of all. Wishing you the best,