teachforus.org has been very quiet lately. For whatever reason out of 10,000 1st and 2nd year CMs there is only about a post or two a day. I’m surprised it isn’t more. I’m sure that many of the CMs have thought about writing a book about their experience and writing a blog is a great way to collect thoughts. Even re-reading about the mundane things that happen during this experience can bring back a lot of memories.
Well, I read a post today by a first year called It’s Not About You. In the post this CM is having mixed feelings about getting her / his placement switched from a ‘conventional public’ school to a charter school. From the analysis, it is clear what they are — and are not — teaching the new CMs about what is really going on in ‘public’ schools.
I want to empathize that I am not doing this to hold this new CM up to ridicule. This CM is just revealing what she / he learned this summer. It is a reflection of what sorts of negative stereotypes are propagated at institute.
Here are some key quotes (I’ve all pasted the whole post at the end since lately every time I write about something, it mysteriously disappears the next day):
I had envisioned myself teaching in a conventional public school where most of the teachers and students are burned out or apathetic, but I’m actually teaching at a charter school where the teachers all extremely focused and energetic, and the students are desperately seeking ways to put themselves on college-bound trajectories.
Where did this CM get this idea that most of the teachers at the conventional public school are burned out. My concern is that this CM had a charter-friendly trainer who has never seen a conventional public school.
I had envisioned being THE teacher who made THE difference in the lives of students in a down and out school. But I realized that attitude was completely vain. My school didn’t hire me to be a light-in-the-darkness for students. They hired me to work really hard alongside a bunch of other people who are working really hard. I may or may not be THE teacher who makes THE difference, but my students will be better readers for having been in my class.
This, again, is very revealing. Basically she / he is saying that if she / he had been in a conventional public school she / he would be THE one to make THE difference. Now at a charter school she / he can just be one component of a perfectly functioning machine.
I’m really bothered by this post. Keep in mind that the Tulsa institute ended two weeks ago. So this new CM somehow made it though five weeks of institute and various other trainings with this view that the ‘public’ schools are a mess and in need of a savior while the charters have already solved all the problems that the publics have not been able to.
I should also note that I ‘get’ what she / he is saying. I remember not wanting to go to too ‘good’ of a school my first year either. You join TFA to ‘make a difference’ so you want the toughest possible placement and a ‘high performing’ charter seems like a place where you are not ‘needed.’ It is one thing to want to go to a public school — I’m all for that, but another to believe the stereotype about the burned out teachers there. The truth is that it is probably better for first year TFAers to go to charter schools where they can inflict the least amount of damage. Then, ideally, they would transfer to the public school for their second year.
I would say that this is TFA’s fault, though, for not being ‘accountable’ and either encouraging this mindset or, at least not discouraging it.
Here is the entire post. There was no place to leave comments on the original, so I encourage the author to make a comment here if she / he would like to. Again, I’m not picking on you. I’m picking on your training that did not break you from this dangerous stereotype.
In a speech sometime this summer, someone said something like “It’s not about you, but it’s all about you.” What I think he meant was that this achievement-gap-closing-teaching-working-hard-never-sleeping work isn’t FOR me. It’s not for my benefit or glory or vanity. But at the same time, more and more the research is showing that the single most important element in the classroom (as far as student achievement is concerned) is the teacher. More than technology, textbooks, facilities, or prior knowledge, it is the teacher who does or does not make good learning happen.
My original Teach for America placement was high school English, but as anyone will tell you, placements are fluid, and I’m actually teaching sixth grade. I had envisioned myself teaching in a conventional public school where most of the teachers and students are burned out or apathetic, but I’m actually teaching at a charter school where the teachers all extremely focused and energetic, and the students are desperately seeking ways to put themselves on college-bound trajectories. I thought I’d be doing ELA or some combination of reading and writing/composition–it’s actually JUST reading. I thought I’d be writing curriculum (it’s mostly written). I thought I’d be the only teacher in my room (I’m co-teaching). I thought I’d be struggling to maintain high expectations of my students. In reality, I’ll be struggling to meet the high expectations of my school.
Needless to say, I’m not getting the Teach for America experience I thought I would be. As some of you might know, in my former life I’d get really upset when plans changed. I like to know what’s coming. I like to visualize the future. I like to plan. I dislike anything that prevents me from doing those things.
The thing I realized about two months ago is that that attitude just won’t work anymore. Plans change, period. My commitment to TFA was not contingent on what school I’d be in or what subject or grade I’d be teaching. My commitment was to work really hard to help students who are born into low SES neighborhoods change or improve their options. Ultimately this isn’t about the quality of my experience at all. It’s not about me at all.
So, those plans that changed, that’s okay. I was on the fence about teaching at a charter school for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest was this feeling I had that they just don’t really need me. The culture of this school is so strong and the expectations so high and the support system so good that I really believe any teacher who was placed there who was willing to do the work could help these students make the gains they need to make. I had envisioned being THE teacher who made THE difference in the lives of students in a down and out school. But I realized that attitude was completely vain. My school didn’t hire me to be a light-in-the-darkness for students. They hired me to work really hard alongside a bunch of other people who are working really hard. I may or may not be THE teacher who makes THE difference, but my students will be better readers for having been in my class.