Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 25 2009


It’s the third day of Induction (strictly technically,’s Thursday at 2 am) and I can’t sleep. I am exhausted, but my mind is occupied with so many questions and thoughts. For the most part, Induction has been a good experience. In the past few days alone, I’ve met people who are super chill and all-around rad. Funny people. Nice people. Interesting people. DRIVEN people. I like that. And while I definitely have met people I don’t really like automatically or who don’t really seem to like me, I’ve learned to just take what I can from any interaction and not expect more. There are definite cliques, but the freshman orientation sense of Induction will fade, and then it won’t be so damn nettling when I am not part of any given posse. Because the posses won’t break up–I can see that from the way older corps members interact, and even staff members, too. The possess continue on. But that’s okay, ’cause everyone who is in “my” posse thus far is ridiculously awesome. And by that, I mean that they laugh at my jokes and don’t mind that I tend to violate our induction Small Group-established “norm” of having humility and learning from everyone…some people, I just plain don’t want to talk to long enough to learn from. And some people? Make it way too easy to mock them. Sorry, but what are you doing in this organization if the prevailing thought in your head is: “I turned down that awesome grad program for this. It better be worth it!”

Which leads me to my next point. Yes, socializing is cool, but the meat of Induction for me is the figuring out what led me here, and what will keep me here. Institute is the time when I reconcile myself with what I am going to do for the next two years. But this? This is where I reconcile myself with WHY I am going to be doing what I am going to be doing for the next two years. And so far, Induction has been hit or miss in terms of convincing me that my ideals align with TFA’s perfectly. I enjoyed a session on the achievement gap today because it made me really evaluate the inequity of the system…how racism and a sheer–almost inhuman–will to ignore the problem has contributed to the cycle…how kids can be abandoned by a country that touts education as a right, not a privilege. I know the session got preachy, and much of it was very self-reflective and also repetitive (and smacked more than a little of more TFA branding) but when the principal of a new KIPP school in Philly came to speak…look, whatever you believe about KIPP, I’m a convert. After meeting Mark? I think that in places like Philadelphia, where bars across doors are the norm, where kids are treated like felons, where school is a prison instead of a haven for kids to be intellectually free, KIPP gives structure without treating the child like he is a ticking time bomb. It is a little bit soldier-y, but I’ve grown accustomed to seeing education reform like a war anyway. Mark was incredible, though. I have so much respect for his No-BS, heartfelt, matter of fact, intelligent way of speaking…he talked to us on a level, not like we were younger or inexperienced. He shared with us his frustrations and he told us we had valid points while challenging the things we said that he himself did not believe in. I might be a bit enamored with him, actually. I really really liked having him there, because his vehement agreement with my point in our small group breakaway (about how breaking the cycle of educational inequity was a task that must be taken up individually rather than necessarily as a collective, because it’s up to an individual to assess where they see the weakness…in the classroom or in the community or in the system) gave me faith that how I viewed education wasn’t a freakish or out of the normal way at all.

Induction has taught me to trust my own individual views regarding how I reconcile teaching with a child’s right to an excellent education. While I appreciate the “norms” that TFA core values try to instill, and the goals of Induction seek to maintain, I feel like all the activities have shown me how much I hate the hive mentality. While I agree with the basic tenets of the TFA ideology, there isn’t only one mindset that achieves success. There isn’t only one bottom line that procures results. There isn’t only a mass production line of smiley, aggressive, driven TFA corps members spouting the “respect others and have humility” line. There’s also every single one of us and what we individually bring to our own individual classrooms. And while TFA insists they realize this, and indeed, that is why they HIRED us–our individuality–Induction leaves me unsure of that “truth”. However, knowing that no one can stamp my individuality out of me is quite heartening…

I am really excited to learn more as the days go on and see how much my views differ and change. But one thing that won’t change? How outraged and indignant I am on behalf of every single one of my future students. How DARE the educational system shortchange them by not giving them the resources they need, by ignoring them, by letting them fall by the wayside? How DARE people claim my students cannot achieve, because they live in a town or are a certain color? How DARE people ignore the possibilities and potential and only focus on the lack of growth that poor literacy and math instruction has created? How DARE you tell me it’s not worth it when somewhere, my future students are waiting to go above and beyond everyone’s expectations, except their own and my own, because we will be partners in our secret knowledge of WHAT THEY CAN ACCOMPLISH! And finally, how DARE people not be outraged? The worst thing someone can do is just accept the world as it is. I finally, FOR THE FIRST TIME, get why people devote their lives to “causes.” Because it is a cause that can light the fire in your life, it is a cause that can become the candle that guides you down the darkest roads and keeps your fingers warm even when the rest of your body is subjected to the worst of the cold.

It sounds so cliche and cheesy but please understand. For the first time, I know that learning can be made as simple as hard work and the will to succeed. And that knowledge comes from a deep belief, either your own or someone else’s, that the impossible is possible. Thank you, Induction, for showing me that, at least!

Okay, off to bed for 4 hours of sleep, and two more days of Induction. I will next update at Institute…whooo!

One Response

  1. '03 CM

    You CAN do TFA and not feel locked into TFA-speak, TFA-think, etc. There is a lot of good to take away, but there are also many things about TFA that need to be pushed back upon. If you can keep your spirit of looking for the best way to do things, and not the “TFA” way of doing things, you will be very successful. If you liked hearing about KIPP Philly, you should try to make some time to visit this upcoming school year. Many days when you will have a 12:30 dismissal, KIPP will be in session until at least 3:30.

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