Sometimes, I get tired of feeling like a TFApologist. I get tired of being called an elitist money-grubber who’s trying to pay off my student loans off the backs of poor children- c’mon now. At the same time, there are many teachers who may not fit my demographic but who are doing great things in the classroom. These characterizations I hear and read about are even more unfair to them. I recently read this blog post and while I agreed with many of the points, the following irritated me:
“’Standing in line for #CPS BOE meeting, people behind me from #TFA& #KIPP. They look like money-starkly diff from other teachers/parents…’
I ended up talking to a few of them, and they spouted the usual talking points. (Someone actually said to me “I don’t believe poverty is destiny” and “I think all children can learn”.) And some of them did go up and speak at the board meeting and unsurprisingly were all for school closings and turnarounds.
These types, these upper-middle class–and I will give them the benefit of the doubt—most likely well-meaning people were unequivocally on the side of the 1%. Their views, their dress, their worldview all aligned perfectly with the mayoral-appointed school board of millionaires and business elites. They were the voices of the moneyed powers that be.”
When I look at my pay stub at the end of the month, I often wonder what it would be like to be part of the “moneyed powers that be.” Yeah, pretty sure I’m going to need Bill Gates to spare a couple extra digits to join those ranks. My tax return won’t quite get me there. Please don’t get it twisted.
Contrast: my school recently voted for teacher of the year candidates and three of those on the ballot were TFA corps members (we don’t know who won yet). I could go on and on about them all day. These women are not from Mississippi. Two of them don’t look like our students, but they are making a greater impact than most. For example, I’m inspired to do my best everyday because my students compare me to their favorite 7th grade science teachers. I know that my students have a high expectation for me, which is perfect, since I have high expectations for them. If it were not for TFA, my school WOULD NOT HAVE HALF A SCIENCE DEPARTMENT! This doesn’t even mention all the work they do outside of the classroom to provide enrichment opportunities for the children and to keep our school in compliance through endless paperwork.
The math teacher next door to me works constantly with her kids to make up the ground they lost before they got to 8th grade. They need more of this personalized, thorough instruction. However, she would not be here without TFA though she’s far from a “TFA-diehard” who goes around droppin’ TFA knowledge and lingo. She keeps it real; she gets the job done, and then some. As the only third year corps member in my school, she inspires me. And it really is about paying it forward as she was influenced by my current MTLD, who is a major reason I’m still here. Regardless, we all have to work extra hard to compensate for other people not doing their job at some level (for whatever reason) in the broader context of poverty.
You can argue that for every rock star, there is a corps member that quits and you may be right, but we should encourage TFA to figure out what differentiates success, which they already do, but not recommend that they close up shop. It is possible to praise the hard work, results, and dedication of TFAers without degrading the merits of traditional teachers. We have many wonderful veterans as well. The problem is this, at the end of the day, we are ALL thrown under the bus because “test scores are not up” as a whole, so forth and what not. I have plenty of concerns with TFA as an organization but I’m not going to demonize all corps members! I have plenty of issues with some poor traditional teachers but I’m not going to demonize all traditional teachers! That’s not called being pro-union or pro-choice or even pro-student; this is called being a rational human being.
Hello? Please, don’t get it twisted.
Also, folks, please come off of the New York-centric mindset, for a moment, and recognize that there are areas of the country where TFA still fulfills its original mission. If one day, the biggest problem facing the Delta is that glossy-eyed TFAers are taking the jobs of “real teachers” then we’ll have made progress. I sympathize with the struggle for job security, but no one was fighting over poor minority children before the recession. NCLB was heavily flawed, but at least the focus is in the right place now. It’s what we do with it that counts.
In the fight to humanize the ill effects of poverty, the reform movement has claimed the mantra that “poverty is not destiny.” If anything, this conviction paired with extensive data collection of sub-groups achievement has helped society personalize poverty by acknowledging that all “poor people” are not the same. So, why are we so quick to make sweeping generalizations about everything else? When we fight over poverty, poverty prospers. The movement for educational equality will not progress if we continue to have reformers on one side who view traditional teachers (and unions) as a monolithic group. By that same principle, however, we won’t get far if those same groups (Ravitch, NEA, etc.) consider Teach For America (and it’s corps members) and corporate “rheeformers” as a monolithic group. When grown folk become so preoccupied with character assassination and ad hominem attacks, we should know there is a problem. Why haven’t we learned this from watching C-SPAN and the GOP 2012 campaign? All traditional teachers aren’t preoccupied with their pensions and all reformers are not elitist TFA opportunists trying to mooch off the public. Can we move on to actual solutions please? Besides, what we need to worry about is the elites who ARE preoccupied with THEIR pensions. While we waste time debating silly stuff, we are losing sight of what matters and SOMEONE is benefitting. It’s a vicious cycle because we keep pointing fingers claiming the other side is said beneficiary. Again, we claim politicians are petty? It’s a people problem, not #MGM but #Universal…
We’re not at a private school / we’re teaching in the trenches.
You say we’re taking someone’s spot? / No bodies on the benches.
Note, I said “no bodies” not “nobody’s.”
We’re not all elitist do-gooders. Again, please don’t get it twisted.