with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 02 2013

Yes

I don’t update this blog often.  A recent post on here questioning the relative silence of the 2012 corps and suggesting perhaps there is a rather insidious explanation (such as widespread mental breakdown) for this silence inspired me to write on here.  I may be a 2011, not a 2012, but for posterity’s sake, I felt I should post because I am NOT having a mental breakdown.

If someone would have told me this time last year that I would be planning to stay in the teaching profession for longer than my commitment to TFA, I would have been quite certain that they were horribly mistaken.  Though I came into TFA open to the idea of continuing to teach after the 2 years, I quickly decided that this was not going to be a viable path for me.  I found teaching to be unpleasant and, quite frankly, depressing.  Not even the act of teaching, per se, but navigating a hostile work environment and constantly telling small people what they should be doing, I just, I don’t know, didn’t like it very much.  From August through March of last year, virtually every day was very, very, stiflingly  DARK.  In March of last year, some (though not all) of the cloud lifted as things began to fit together more easily.  Every day was no longer a struggle.  I had some entire weeks that by without any problems at all.  My students EXCELLED.  Things felt, if not good, at least sustainable.  Again, if someone had told me at the beginning of last year that my students would do as well as they did at the end of the year, I don’t think I would have believed it.

Fast forward to now.  I’m filling out job applications for kindergarten positions in different cities.  I am pretty sure I am going to be teaching next year (and pretty sure I am going to relocate, at least to a different school, if not a different city).  Quite frankly, I enjoy the community I work in, many of my coworkers, and the families and students who come through my class.  Leaving my students from this year and last year will be very sad for me.  But I need to be in an environment that cares more about early childhood and doesn’t (literally) store trash in my classroom (a very blatant, very real metaphor for the level of importance my current administration places on early childhood).  No, no.  No more of that for me.  It’s going to be early learning centers from now on (fingers crossed).

I’ve come to an impasse, though, in that I find myself half filling out applications for the burgeoning charter movement I’ve professed in the past to be decidedly opposed to.  This is a level of hypocrisy that is so rotten to me that I haven’t actually finished an application.  I am not against these schools as individual entities (provided that they are actually successful schools, for children), but I am against the impact schools like these have on schools like the one I currently work at.  I am also against a widespread movement to privatize a public service.  It is difficult to frame the charter movement, to me, in a way other than this.  As I tell my students when they tap me repeatedly, “I don’t like that.”  What’s a girl to do?  I know I want to stay teaching in the inner city (if not Baltimore, then New York, or perhaps Philadelphia).  I also want to work at a school that is not inadvertently (or even intentionally) disadvantaging the students who don’t attend it, i.e. destroying inner city communities.  I mean, I’m not saying that all charter schools are doing this.  I quite liked the charter school I did my institute teaching at in West Philly.  I guess I just know what it’s like to be one of those CMs (or not) who teach at general enrollment public schools in cities enamored (and perhaps blinded) by the charter movement.  It feels pretty bad, by the way.

Anyway, just to weigh in on the question of why more new CMs don’t post on here (if anyone is still reading my rambles!), I can say that I honestly don’t post on here because I believe TFA keeps tabs on its members in a slightly creepy way and I am quite certain that people in our respective TFA offices read our blogs.  Not that I have a problem with this exactly, but, I mean, we all know that TFA is not overwhelmingly receptive to, uh, dissent, either inside or outside of its movement.  I voiced a lot of my complete and utter disappointment (and disgust) at how little support I received from TFA holistically last year and I guess I just don’t care as much anymore because I never once obtained an adequate explanation (or apology?) for that.  I know a lot of people seem to experience guilt and shame from the TFA staff they deal with (like people who choose to quit or who don’t have sufficient/good data, etc).  I didn’t have this experience.  Instead, I experienced being basically ignored by TFA from start to present.  I don’t even fill out those little surveys they give us anymore.  Any support or help I received last year surely did not come from TFA, and I don’t expect that to change much.  My “need” for TFA has severely diminished.  I am excited to finish my commitment and teach without any obligations to TFA anymore.  I don’t even harbor bitterness towards TFA for this.  I don’t know what else to say about it.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for blogging! It’s nice to see some proof that this widespread mental breakdown might not be real.

    In my second year, I found myself in a very similar situation to you. I loved my job but needed out of my placement city, and I was deeply anti-charter. Long story short, some certification issues kept me from getting a public school job, and I ended up having to take one at a charter. I found one that’s working intentionally to be a partner to public schools (rather than the villain) and learned never to trust anyone who complains about charters in general… there are terrible ones, but there are also great schools that are trying hard to do the right thing by public education. I’d always advocate for a public school job if all else is equal, but don’t feel guilty applying to charters too. Just make sure you do your research before you take a job at one, and you’ll be fine either way.

    • Educator

      Interesting thoughts. Thanks aea107 for posting. I think you’re correct in thinking that TFA monitors stuff. They do promote data use, and they definitely live by that. (For the record I don’t work for TFA but do have knowledge about what they do.)

      Mathinaz, I agree that it’s troubling when folks paint the entire charter system as horribly evil. Afterall, I believe it was Shanker, the union organizer, who originally came up with the idea to have charters where teachers and parents could work together to innovate.

      I also think it’s terribly wrong for politicians/media/reformers to paint American public education as failing. It’s misleading. But I ask myself, Why do these leaders convey the idea that public education is failing? And I think there are motives behind this that aren’t what’s best for students. (I also think people get mixed up between inner city urban education and middle class education)

      They way I see it, the traditional public education system, with a local school board, is slow, but that’s democracy. With charters, the checks and balances are diminished (ex: in CA, charters don’t have to follow the entire CA education code), and charters run more like the private sector. Hence, you get private sector problems (ex: Charter CEOs getting paid middle hundreds of thousands of dollars, student counseling out in order to get a bottom line of high test scores). But, with charters, I think it is easier to innovate.

      The problem I see is that politicians aren’t getting correct information about what some charters have been doing. As Gary Rubinstein points out in his blog posts, it’s highly misleading. and major decisions are being based on this false data. This affects students, and career educators, and it needs to be more scrutinized.

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