I just returned from a massive celebration in Washington D.C., where 11, 000 TFA corps members and alumni gathered to look back and look ahead at the way the education reform movement has (or hasn’t) progressed.
And can I tell you something? I am feeling PUMPED. UP.
There is something about being part of an organization that is so big and has as much history as TFA that can make a person feel tiny. Almost insignificant. And absurdly, very much alone. I am sure this is also a feeling held by even corps members in newer, smaller cohorts. But for me, it was a sobering realization a month or two back that I was…despite being surrounded by 400 others doing the same exact thing as me…lonely. And somewhere along the line, before I went to Mumbai and got re-energized, I felt myself withdraw from the movement as a result. I was sure I couldn’t make a significant immediate impact, let alone a lasting one. I was there for my 2 years and then done, off to find other pastures and fondly recall my brief stint as an educator, and at best, passionately argue with a stranger about the need for education reform.
And then I went to Mumbai. I met others from across the world, facing the same issues as me. And I didn’t feel so alone. In fact, I felt connected to something massive and global– an international effort to connect and eradicate educational inequity. I came back to America missing that interaction and collaboration desperately. Because as soon as I came back to my region, I felt it again…
Loneliness. Indignant, frustrated, and annoyed with my region and its seeming deficiencies, I struggled to retain my optimism and my drive to move forward.
Cue the thing I’ve been waiting for. A lightswitch. A guiding hand. A laser pointer aimed at the exact way to flip my mindset over and pull me out from self-indulgent, quasi-apathetic maudlin ruminations.
The TFA 20th Anniversary.
Imagine being in a room with Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, Joel Klein, one of founders of KIPP, Geoffrey Canada, Malcolm Gladwell, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis, John Legend, and countless other movers and shakers committed to teacher quality, educational equality, and social justice. Imagine being in a room with 11, 000 others who have been where you are, and who are still as committed today as they ever were. Imagine looking around and looking to the future and for the first time, KNOWING that you CAN stay involved with this movement without necessarily being slotted into an administrative or teaching role. Imagine the enormity of being an indispensable part of something much larger than you ever knew. No longer was I just a Mid-Atlantic CM…now I was a TFA CM, a future and current leader, someone working to make a difference.
I heard speeches that made me cry (watch the broadcast of the last plenary session and look for Michael Johnston, senator of Colorado) and speeches that got me riled up (watch Joel Klein in the opening plenary and his quote of: “We give the poorest kids the crummiest education and then we say poverty is insurmountable.” TRY not to cheer. I dare you.) and in the end…
I again left feeling bereft of that larger network. But absurdly confident that even without them physically with me, I could access all that vim and vigor whenever I closed my eyes and thought of the Friday when it all began, the rising tide of bodies as every last one of us walked into the convention hall and towards a weekend that would move us one mile closer to our goal.
I can’t put into words how inspiring it is to know we have been at this for 20 years and have made so much (even though it’s not enough) progress. I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to hear people help me stop saying “I can’t because” and instead say “I will even though.” One day, I am now convinced–
No, not THAT one day–
But one day, I am convinced that our movement will again celebrate a milestone. Because the work is hard and it is a long time coming before we see our fruits. And until then, we bring on more people who help chip away at the boulder a little more. The task becomes less Sisyphean.
And we all become less alone.