I received a mass email from TFA New York inviting alumni to submit a speech for the ‘graduation’ ceremony of the 2006 New York Corps.
I’m a very old timer (1991!) and I have a unique perspective since I went back to teaching after a few years of doing other things. Anyway, maybe I’m a sore loser, but I really liked the message and tone of this, so I’m going to put this out on the blog and maybe someone will read it, at least.
If you have any theories (conspiracy or otherwise) what they didn’t like about this, let me know. (If you think it just isn’t good, that’s OK too.)
My name is Gary Rubinstein and I’m a TFA alum, Houston 1991. Now, in case you’re wondering, that does not make me ‘charter corps.’ ‘Charter corps’ was 1990, and you wouldn’t know that because when you meet a 1990 alum, they always refer to themselves as ‘charter corps’ rather than 1990 since if they said 1990, you might not realize that they are, indeed, ‘charter corps.’ As a 1991 alum, I’ve developed a bit of a complex about this. We don’t have a special title. It’s like being the second person to cure Polio.
But there is something that my corps has in common with the 1990 corps which is, when we began, there weren’t any alumni yet. So when we finished our two year commitment, it wasn’t clear what our role with TFA was at that time. It was explained to us that after teaching, we were to become ‘educational advocates’, but what that meant was unclear. I thought that it might mean that we’d become lawyers or doctors and then eventually we’d be at a fancy dinner party with other lawyers and doctors and we’d wait for one of them to say something negative about public education so we could stand up and say “Watch what you’re saying. You’re looking at a former teacher.”
In the summer of 1993 when it was my turn to become an educational advocate, I had just finished a very successful second year of teaching after a very horrible first year. I almost didn’t make it though that first year. I remember, during one of the low points, being inspired by Wendy Kopp and the slogan “One day all students in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” At the time, this was too overwhelming a goal, so I thought it would be nice if One day all students in my class could have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. And with hard work, wouldn’t you know it, I accomplished just that in my first year. The one day was March 5th 1992.
Instead of becoming an advocate in 1993, I taught for two more years in Houston, winning ‘Teacher of the year’ at my school in my fourth year. I kept teaching for several reasons. For one thing, the first two years went by very fast, and I wasn’t ready to stop. For another, I felt that by having three good years compared to one bad one, I could feel that 75 percent of my teaching days were effective, rather than a 50 percent effectiveness rate if I stopped after two years.
In 1995, though, I did leave Houston to pursue some dreams I had put on hold. I moved to Colorado, where I spent part of the next year sifting through notes and scraps of papers I had saved while the experience was still fresh in my mind, and wrote down my story. This is something I recommend to every one of you. For me it resulted in a published book, but even if it didn’t, I’d have a record of what I experienced. Then I set out to accomplish another goal: To prove that I could make a lot more money. So I became a computer programmer. For five years I sat at a desk fixed errors in the desktop publishing software called Quark XPress. Sifting through the cryptic million lines of a computer program, however, taxed my eyes, my posture, and my mood. I wasn’t enjoying being an advocate.
Around this time, news broke of the accomplishment of a TFA alum who was elected to his state senate. This was hailed as the decisive direction in which alumni should head. To be a true advocate, I’d have to become a Governor, or something.
Depressed and bored as a computer programmer, intimidated by the pressure of being a good advocate, six years after leaving Houston, I moved to New York where I grew up, and got a job as a teacher again. I’ve been at the same school since then. My ‘effectiveness rate’ is up to 90%.
I don’t know if anywhere in Wendy’s original mission for TFA there is anything about the possibility that some corps members might become life-long teachers. Sometimes I feel like I’ve betrayed the mission by only completing stage one. The two year teaching being merely training for the fifty year stage two of advocacy.
So to the TFA 2006 corps, feel free to follow your dreams. If you want to stay for a third year, I support that, but won’t judge you if you don’t. If, years from now, you decide you want to teach again, you should. The thing I realized about teaching is that once you’ve taught, you’re always a teacher. It’s like being an alcoholic. Even if you never teach again, you’re still a teacher. You’re just a teacher in remission. Thank you.