Jacksonville Journey

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 18 2012

Pre-insitute work Parts 1-3

I’ve completed the first three parts of the pre-institute reading. Personally, it was not super helpful.


I think it will be super helpful to those who have never been exposed to any women studies ideas and find that facts are the best argument and motivator to change. Or those who have role models.


I’ve never had a role model. No seriously. I never looked up to anyone when I was young and wanted to be like them.  Thinking about this the past few days made me wonder why. I never admired anyone the way people talk about the role models they had. I had examples of strong young adults: Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Babysitter Club, and The American Girl Doll’s Books. And I think that made me believe in myself and hold myself to an unrealistic high standard. I never judged myself against others really.


This I think is part of my problem when I’m reading this pre work so far. The direct instructions are “read and be inspired.” But since I often hold high expectations, the fact that these examples are meeting those expectations, makes me want TFA to answer the “so what?” question of research. So what that this guy radically redid education in Harlem? What does that teach me? That with the right location, and the right financial backing I too can make a change? I already knew that, that’s why I joined TFA. So what that this lady helped to add design to a school system in rural North Carolina? She had her own company that allowed her to have the financial backing to do that and the time.


I guess that’s one of my problems with this stories: none of them are teachers doing something in the classroom with what they have. (Kopp’s book did have a few examples, but that’s all there were antidotal stories of a few people’s success). All of the examples showed people with financial resources making a difference. How is this supposed to inspire me? I won’t have that backing or ability? What am I supposed to do?


The facts are what got me into TFA. Did you know in an urban society, kids are 2/3 more like than solider returning from Iraq to have PTSD? That there is a huge gap between test scores based on socio-economic factors? That not every kid has the opportunity for an excellent opportunity? (That is seriously shameful in the USA!)


But of all the questions and all of the readings, it was a conversation with my roommate when I was expressing my sadness of the quality of instruction in this pre-work she asked me a question that  was more helpful than anything TFA had asked so far:


What is your purpose as a teacher in TFA?


Now, to be honest, with full disclosure: I had wanted to be a teacher when I was little (they say those dreams are the most important), but I was drawn to the State Department from 9th grade and it was a stronger draw. Then I heard about TFA and the ability to “try” teaching. I knew I needed a break from school and if I went on to a MA degree I wouldn’t make it.  And I liked the mission of TFA. I believe in equality and that a person’s skin color or zip code should determine the rest of their life. While life isn’t fair, I believe in giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. And our education system is not doing that. It hasn’t for a long time. The fact that I never noticed that I never really learned about black American history before college, or the strong black role models (or Asian or Hispanic, etc.) before college, that I never had heard of why people would hate America before college, showed me the failings of our school system. And I came from your average middle class white single parent home. If I was missing that, what were those kids missing.


I want to give these kids a chance to change their future. I want to show them what I fell in love with. I want them to know that someone cares for them. I want them to feel safe in my classroom. I want them to learn that they are not alone, that the world needs them.


Yes, I want to change the world. But I have to accept that I won’t be doing that alone. That I can’t do that alone. I’m realistic in my expectations of myself and my first year of teaching. I don’t expect to move a mountain, but if I can show just one child that it is possible- then I have accomplished my job as a teacher.


But how does that desire to change the world fit into TFA?


Sure our mission statements are similar, and even the same outlook. But couldn’t I have just joined a alternative certification program? Why do this with TFA?


Because movements have power, and large groups of people working together can change the world. I might not be able to lift a car. But with the right leverage and number of people- I can lift a car.


I think the next section will be more about actual teaching strategies. We also have a call this week about the reading that we have done so far. Maybe that reading will really open up this work for me and explain why they are actually using it.


*Note: I am sure it is helpful to someone somewhere. But it has not been for me. That’s all I’m saying.

9 Responses

  1. I’m glad that you are critically examining some of these bigger questions regarding resources and funding. You hit the nail on the head. The idea that you might want to “try” teaching is a little bit worrisome, but that aside, I would encourage you to look critically at the organization you are joining. TFA has become very controversial in education and has, unfortunately, lost its way. (See http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2011/10/31/why-i-did-tfa-and-why-you-shouldnt/ ) Also, an even more critical piece can be found here: http://education-radio.blogspot.com/2012/04/ongoing-sham-of-teach-for-america-part_15.html ) I hate seeing young, good-intentioned people like yourself being pulled into what TFA is today. Please keep asking questions. And if you don’t like the answers, get TFA to change!

    • I use “try” in so much as anyone who embarks on a new career. I heard a quote the other day that said the average American has 3-4 different careers over thier lifetime now.

      And I believe in being honest. Right now I am torn in what I want to do when I grow up. I am totally open to teaching for years and making that my main career. But I refuse to stay in something that I am not good at. If I have problems (ie not able to reach the students, not helping them succeed) I should get out of the profession. That’s all I mean by “try.”

      • I completely derigsae with the statement that teaching is for people who can not do any thing else, and the saying that goes with it, If you can’t do teach.’ There are many reasons why I feel this way. One reason is that teachers need to be knowledgeable about their content area. Not all people are knowledgeable about all of the content areas. For a teacher to truly get through to students and get the students engaged in lessons they need to be able to thoroughly explain content while also making it interesting and relevant to the students lives. In addition, teachers must also be good public speakers. This is because they are presenting lessons to many students everyday and new teachers also get observed by supervisors. Not all people have the ability to be effective public speakers. Also, teachers must be organized. This is because they need to plan lessons for everyday or every other day with modifications for many students. In addition, teachers must also grade tons of homework, quizzes and tests. Another thing that teachers must be is passionate about helping each and every student learn and grow. This is probably the most important part of teaching.

    • Just whatever you do, don’t focus on metnal disorders. Teens are confused enough that many of them are going to go off thinking they’re bipolar or some crazy thing when in reality only a small percentage of the teenage population is actually metnally ill. Focus on metnal health. Perhaps make them do some sort of stupid skit or some crap that high school teachers love to do. Basically though, most teens are not going to find your class either interesting or worth while. -5

  2. Meg

    If the section about leaders doesn’t speak to you, focus more on the sections that talk about the challenges faced by kids in similar situations to the ones you’ll be teaching. The purpose of this part of the pre-work is to introduce you (introduce being a key word, doing some pre-work is NOT going to mean you know your kids or what they’re dealing with) to the problems and the movement, sort of to give you a groundwork.

  3. SBeans

    One of the things that this pre-work is meant to accomplish is for incoming corps members to get a grasp or a groundwork as Meg said. Based on your reflections, there is a lot left for you to learn about the systems of advantages and disadvantages that our children- not ‘these’ children- face each and every day. It seems as though you feel as though your students should look to Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc. as examples of strong young leaders. I would think about that- when you start teaching, how will your own archetypes and perspective affect the way that you approach your students? Let yourself ask real questions because the reality of what your students are facing is vastly different from your perception- and that’s okay- but just let yourself learn about yourself before deciding that you can’t be moved.

  4. Luna

    I liked this post but can absolutely agree that this wasn’t super helpful namely because I felt like it was written largely for white middle/upper class corps members who need a crash course on how to relate and then instead of being consumed by white guilt, feel inspired. How then, as a black female corps member who went to these schools and grew up in these situations, am I suppose to engage in this material? I feel forced to distance myself or go thru the same “difficult conversations” that I had to in high school and in college. I learner about myself, but not in the ways expected. I have to translate my life experiences into being a teacher, not necessarily into being an antiracist educator. I am already that by default. Although I can give TFA credit for the materials used this round–these are like my canonical texts. Now I have to work on being patient and open for those that don’t have that knowledge. But if so many corps members need this work before teaching, then who is TFA after/attracting and why?

    • Maybe that was my problem as well “who is TFA attracting if they need this material?” Going into something like this, you shouldn’t have to be patient anymore. We should all have been on the same page or at least the one right next to it!

  5. I don’t think it’s handing out a cndoom in health class is saying, “Well, I know you’re going to have sex. Just use protection.” I think it’s at least knowing in health class the different types of contraceptives. Learning about Planned Parenthoods nearby. Learning about the pill, patch, shot, cndoom and how they’re used properly. But also knowing that none of those things are 100% preventable from a pregnancy and the only birth control that is 100% effective is abstinence. +4

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