Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 04 2012

Why I Teach For America.

This is not groundbreaking, but reality set in.

I remember a point, somewhere in that haze of a two year commitment, during which I took a breath and realized that my lives had converged. That what used to be “real” but then seemed like a dream– Michigan and graphic design and having friends and not being overwrought with guilt– and my current life of teaching and stress and loving and the south… it fused. I remember feeling calm for the first time in seemingly interminable months, remember feeling a soft glow around my heart for the people I was surrounded with. I remember feeling safe, and how new that feeling felt.

It seems like in the past week, I’ve re-lived that at Institute. Just this time it’s my life outside and inside Institute have fused. Life within a life within a life. Still Caroline. Still thriving.

Ask Leaf and she’ll tell you: I’ve gone cray. My social life now is dramatically different than it was two years ago. My confidence, my poise, my language, my concerns. This rampant uncertainty I lived with for so long, that shouts at me every once in a while, it’s changing. Re-manifesting in other things, sure, but in the big picture it’s fading out. Thank. God.

I grapple with so many Teach For America issues and controversies and disconnects constantly. Definitely on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis because of the nature of being a CMA. But through all of it, through my accepting the commitment in my last year of school until now, the culminating effect is that I am proud of who I am as a human, and I’m confident that I’ve changed in a positive way as a direct result of this organization.

Pessimists, or maybe realists, scream that all these fundamental TFA flaws are actively ruining a lot of things, that psyches are being destroyed, that this is not the answer.

This is so selfish, but my bottom line is this is the current answer for me. Without Teach For America, I would never be a teacher. Without TFA, I would never understand the south on even the most basic level. Without TFA, I would not understand my absolute passion for writing. Without TFA, I would not feel I had the ability to connect to a class full of children. Without TFA, I would not realize that I can get through months of chronic failure and come out feeling like it was worth it. And you want the hard ones? Without TFA, I don’t think I would be able to have straight-forward conversations with people that aren’t white without feeling a gut-white-guilt and anxiety that I’d say something “wrong”. Without TFA, I wouldn’t have the confidence to feel like I have an opinion worth saying on a blog like Gary’s, or on NYTimes.com, or to sustain my own blog for over two years. Without TFA I would be uncomfortable (to say the least) when the majority of people around me were of a different class.

Selfishly, so selfishly, without TFA I would be an entirely different person, and I don’t think I would approve of myself quite as much. I am by no means special, by no means doing tremendous things. But I am substantially different than I would be if I had decided to move to Brooklyn to focus on art, business, parties, and being “cool”, which I honestly think would have been my life’s trajectory without this organization.

TFA gave me a chance to walk away from a standard white, American, middle-class, female, college grad lifestyle.

I’m still trying to sort out why writing that makes me feel guilty. I am not a martyr, I am not saving anyone (except myself), I am not deserving of any props because of this. I’m just so entirely grateful that there was a formal way for me to walk away from the major I wasn’t successful in and wasn’t passionate about, and walk into a mission and a lifestyle that I am, in the words of Mary-C, “clinically obsessed with”.

Teach For America is obviously not the answer to our education crisis. But it was and is the answer to my life crisis? (I’m laughing at that statement myself, here.) I found something that challenges me, that loves me, that makes me genuinely happy.

It’s a pretty substantial hope that as a result of that I can make some kids learn, too.

8 Responses

  1. How is a career in teaching NOT a “white, American, middle-class, female, college grad lifestyle”? I think that is a point-for-point description of the majority demographic of US teachers.

    • Maybe that’s where my wrong feeling came from… the inaccuracy of the statement.

      While I agree the job as a teacher absolutely fits my stereotype nationally, almost alarmingly so, it’s the context that is completely off. I know absolutely zero friends from my community that decided to go teach in rural America with the lowest teacher salary in the state. (Though I do know quite a few that teach, and a few that teach in a similarly foreign environment overseas…)

      The difference is my friends that decided to teach went to college for it, and looked for jobs close to home and/or jobs in similar economic and social settings to how we grew up. Or ended up changing careers completely because they couldn’t find jobs in Michigan.

      You’re totally right, to the degree that I might change that line. My intention in writing it is that the expected path for me based on my background and college experience (not that I went, but that I studied graphic design) was to go into an urban area, and work with people I’d be immediately comfortable with in an environment that fits what I studied. Instead I did something completely different and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

  2. Wess

    What makes TFA right for you is somehow the same thing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I really did do this to help others, but I feel like I’m the only one who benefitted.

  3. Meg

    Beautifully said! I absolutely agree that TFA is not for everyone, and that maybe the recruitment process needs to do a better job figuring out who will be successful rather than just who won’t quit. At the same time, however, TFA was absolutely right for ME, and has given me opportunities for professional and personal growth I wouldn’t have thought to look for elsewhere. And I don’t feel bad about saying this because I don’t feel my growth came at the expense of my kids. They learned a lot with me this year, and while I’ll attribute most of their success to their own hard work, I absolutely don’t think that me as a first year teacher was some sort of roadblock to their success. Again, not everyone’s story, but it’s mine.

  4. Charles Lampinen

    Dear Caroline, As a teacher you will meet many challenges, however, knowing you all you have to di is set your mind to meet those challenges by saying to yourself i can do it. I’ve met so many and conquered them and grampa says without a doubt you can conquer anything. P. Grampa knows. love always. Grampa

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