Today we had our final Teach For America professional development Saturday. It was quite emotional for many as it entailed feedback, reflection, and suggestions for how TFA can improve itself. Second years, who are preparing to exit the program in June, were gathered together for what is probably the last time, and received certificates of completion. Many people cried at the different sessions I attended—some out of complete shock that we have collectively gotten to this point, some out of feeling very emotional at all we have accomplished personally and profesionally over the past two years, and some out of frustration with TFA as an organization and the way its employees feel they have not been supported by the institution.
You know, of course, I spoke up, saying that the way TFA does some of its corps members is dirty (the word I used was actually “criminal”) to the CEO of TFA Baltimore in a session she held for suggestions on moving the organization forward. I wasn’t trying to be rude, merely illustrative of the fact that TFA expects a one-size-fits-all training model to work for the widest spectrum of corps members experiences. I teach at a school with virtually no institutional leadership, PD, support, and when I got there no curriculum—in fact during my first year we didn’t have a principal for 6 months—while others teach at KIPP and other top performing charter and public schools in this city. The idea that we should be able to produce the same results with such wildly varying school placements is laughable. I said in the session that I can count on one hand the amount of times a TFA staff member has been in my classroom to observe me teaching—and I meant it, this is criminal. I didn’t know what I was doing, and no one helped me, not TFA, not the city, and certainly not my school. I managed to find success anyway, but no thanks to TFA or anyone else.
So why do I feel bad about this? I’m not sure because I don’t feel I owe TFA anything except gratitude for getting me into the classroom in the first place. I am not a mouth piece for any organization, especially not TFA, which preaches an agenda I don’t inherently agree with. I am interested in seeing how the organization expands over time and especially how it improves its support of early childhood teachers. I think I just am aware that I’ve burned a lot of bridged throughout my past two years, both in and outside of TFA. My basic feeling toward TFA has been “FUCK YOU” for the past year and 10 months. It’s not a great way to be.
I also felt guilty. So many second years have found ways to stay at their schools or stay teaching. I am unsure of what I will be doing. I am hoping to join a more progressive movement of education reform that is more aligned with my own personality and politics, but nothing is set in place at the moment, and that’s really scary. Even one of the second years at my schools announced today that she will be staying for a third year. Is she weak, or am I? I’m not sure.
One theme, though, throughout today that I really appreciated is that many of us feel that we have more grounded ideas of who we are. This I agree with 100% and it’s something I’ve voiced before. Despite the trauma that being a TFA corps member is (and it is), I persevered. And in my perseverance, I came out on the other side with an incredibly clear picture of what I can and cannot accept in a workplace or organization that I hold membership in. I hope to never again find myself in the position I’ve been in throughout my time in TFA—fulfilling the agenda of an organization that I’m not completely on board with. This is why I am thankful I didn’t get the KIPP job. Because it would’ve been the same thing, and I’m not sure why I even applied. I was, honestly, just afraid, and searching for something familiar. In a weird way, despite how hard it is, staying at my school would be the easy thing. But I can’t do my job to the fullest degree there, and that makes children suffer. I won’t be a part of that anymore.
My mom reposted a facebook video I left on her wall in March of 2011. It’s unbelievable how different I am, now, in May of 2013. My demeanor, my voice, my spunk—it’s radically different. Even my face is different. I’ve aged prematurely. I have bags under my eyes and lines across my forehead that have no business being there. It is actually frightening how much I’ve changed. I’ve never considered myself a particularly idealistic or optimistic person, but I suppose in my heart I must have been, to have ever joined TFA. I knew this experience would be very challenging. I thought I was competent, strong, and wise enough to undertake it anyway. I have survived. By some accounts, I’ve even prospered. But I am so glad it’s over. One “non-traditional” (read: over 23) corps member spoke while receiving her diploma of her own military background, commenting, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I could stand and fight in Operation Desert Storm… but I almost couldn’t do this.”
I would like to continue my work on the path to educational equity. I really mean that. I think TFA does some good work, in some ways—but not in all ways, and TFA’s rigid denial of dissent and criticism makes it less of a progressive organization and more of a cult. I hope never to be in a group think environment like that which I’ve encountered over the past 2 years, ever again. I’m glad I know this now. I like to think I’ve made a difference, though. I like to think that I did the best I could, and that the best I could was pretty damn good. I like to think that I changed the lives of my students and put them on a trajectory of academic achievement that they will maintain for the rest of their lives. But I’m not stupid. I’m not naive. I know that the good I did for my kids and their families can be undone by a few harsh gusts of wind. I wish I could’ve done more. I can’t imagine that I will ever forget what I’ve been through over the past 2 years, and all the things I’ve seen. I don’t regret my decision to join TFA (only because it put me in the classroom), but I could not be happier that it’s over.
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- moyru said:I’m a second year TFAer too. totally get what you’re saying. like, everything.
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