Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 07 2011

Why TFA isn’t sustainable on an individual level.

I will preface by saying, I have drunk the Kool-Aid. (Drank?! I teach English!) I sing TFA praises, I write in my mostly-TFA-endorsed blog, I am an ICEgroup leader, and I am seriously considering applying to be a M,TLD.

But one thing I’ve been thinking about, a lot, especially since peeking at that M,TLD application, is why do I believe in TFA? Or why don’t I? It’s a toss up. I believe in my needing to arrive at the present point in my life, and I believe in that impossibility without TFA’s existence, and that’s entirely selfish but also I believe in the organization as a vessel for over-grown adolescents to grow up, like I’ve done. I think it’s necessary for society at large to have mature 20-somethings that have seen a life entirely unlike their own before “entering into the [implied: real] work force”. I believe we need this experience to develop empathy, awareness, and rage for our society at large.

That said, I believe we are all fully capable of taking our flawed districts (some to higher degrees than others) and improving them. Improving them massively.

Here is one major flaw that I thought of while driving from Little Rock back to Dumas, AR (the trip is necessary as a background and context). Coming back to my tiny town, which I adore, I was thinking of how empty my car is (aside from the piles upon piles of… recycling, work clothes, graded and ungraded papers, coffee mugs, conference papers, pay stubs, hats, trash, more trash, half-filled bags of …). I thought who I would most like to have sitting next to me in that seat, who from Arkansas.

Then I started thinking about what would happen if I ceased working at Dumas. First, would I ever want to come back to visit? (Gust answer: YES, DUH.) Second, who would I stay with? If this projected “mass exodus” happens (in which we expect all current corps members to leave this summer, as there are only eight of us and none of us are in the first year of our commitment), who would house me? Who would I feel close enough to ask? To spend a few days with?

A few names come to mind, but mostly out of courtesy. I have developed very very few legit close relationships to anyone in this town, or county, that are not TFA members.

How can TFA sustain if there are no or very few or strictly professional relationships between corps members and communities? All these articles are right, that we are self-righteous and arrogant and housing “holier-than-thou” attitudes. It’s incredibly frustrating to be aware of, and to have the desire to fix, but feel the work is overwhelming.

How easy is it to adapt to an entirely new society? To commit a sizable chunk of your life to living in it, and attempting to mold traditions and values that have existed decades before your ability to speak? Especially when given a pretty solid, comfortable, pretty crutch that is not just handy, but is mandated to be attached to you? It’s a lot harder than learning to teach, I assure you.

How will our kids ever adapt to these habits and mindsets when they are completely, entirely, surrounded with what has always been here? TFA teachers might change a life trajectory of one child, just like every teacher will. But is TFA a solution? Even with all these charter movements that reduce families to tears year after year, when their children’s names aren’t called in the lottery? (I know that one was entirely off-topic, but I just read an article in the Oxford American that reminded me of the other side of charters, the side TFA is so cautious to speak of.)

I love TFA for awareness, for generating outrage, for putting me in my place and consistently making me feel like a continuous failure with an excessive amount of endurance.

But as far as backing up their (our) desire to be a sustainable movement that keeps not all teachers teaching, but more of us, we have so much work to be done.

There is always, always so much work to be done.

(Sidenote, I have millions of other things to update [read: Chicago, alumni plans, my classroom, my to do lists, my head] but I know I need this sleep.)

5 Responses

  1. April

    Thank you so much for posting this. As someone who attended graduate school for education, I recognize the good and the bad in both ed grad programs and TFA. However, I have to say – it has been quite frustrating to talk to my undergrad peers who have gone on to do TFA. Despite the fact that we are friends, they are completely uninterested in talking to me about methodology or hearing any of my thoughts/opinions about education – nor do they seem willing to share any of what *they* learned at institute. It’s actually strained my relationship with these friends. I don’t appreciate being looked down upon simply because I took another route in becoming a teacher.

    • Yeah, TFA puts up a very strange mental barrier between “us” and anyone else. It’s really frustrating from both sides, and counter-productive (I think). I wish I could apologize for the attitude we house– or come up with a solution for avoiding it.

      Not even I wish I could, but I am apologetic I haven’t. Priorities are a struggle! gkajdhfa!

      Sorry for the delay on this response. :)

  2. simplewords

    “I love TFA… for putting me in my place and consistently making me feel like a continuous failure with an excessive amount of endurance.” You just gave me words. Thanks.

  3. hereandnow

    I like this post, Clampy.

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