It is nearly July which means that it is the time of year, again, where I offer my unsolicited, and generally unwanted, analysis of some of the blog entries by the newest cohort of TFA corps members. I generally take a lot of criticism for doing this, even from people who regularly read my blog. Mainly this is because people don’t understand my intentions or because they don’t believe that my intentions are what I say they are. So, for the record:
I am not trying to pass judgement on the CMs, themselves. I am using their writing as a window into what is / is not being taught to them at the institute. My primary purpose is to show the deficiencies in the TFA training which can help others, especially the bloggers whose posts I’m writing about, be aware of them.
The most reflective bloggers are generally not offended and upset by my choosing their blog posts as examples. One of the best blogs on this site is called ‘Middle School Hero.’ Last year I featured one of his posts about his first day of teaching in the fall. Afterwards instead of being upset he wrote a post thanking me for taking the time to offer feedback. We even correspond, from time to time, through emails. Others aren’t so thrilled about my writing about them. There are even a few people who have stopped blogging altogether after I’ve featured them. Last year I critiqued a CM who then publicly responded and thanked me in this post, but then never wrote again. This past fall, a blogger named Yo Teach wrote a post called More Unsolicited Advice for 2012ers: Don’t Let Gary Rubinstein Bully You. Which I responded to in a post called I Am Not A Bully.
One of the more interesting new blogs to appear this year is called Teach Houston. This CM has the handle ‘houstonheart’ and, just as I was placed in 22 years ago, is assigned to teach middle school in Houston. In her first post she actually mentions me by name as one of the bloggers that she has read and who has influenced her. Also she expresses very clearly that she welcomes feedback. So for those overprotective readers, I hope that you will take this into consideration before you start blasting me. Maybe wait to see if houstonheart is offended before you get offended for her.
So the post that caught my notice was called “Everyone you see was once someone’s student.” Here is a passage from the original post:
At one point, we drove through an extremely low-income area of Houston. There were so many people outside – loitering, dealing drugs, or just passing time. The 2012 CM said to us, “everyone you see was once someone’s student.” Every adult in this world struggling to be self-sufficient and struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle was once someone’s student. And those teachers are failures. There is so much wasted potential in this world; if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them, it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.
Now it is not clear if the text after the quote that the title is based on is a summary of what the 2012 CM said next or if it is houstonheart’s beliefs. Either way, it is worth analyzing. Someone must have pointed out to houstonheart that the sentence “And those teachers are failures.” was too judgmental and accusatory so she edited the post so it now reads:
At one point, we drove through an extremely low-income area of Houston. There were so many people outside – loitering, dealing drugs, or just passing time. The 2012 CM said to us, “everyone you see was once someone’s student.” Every adult in this world struggling to be self-sufficient and struggling to lead a healthy lifestyle was once someone’s student. And for whatever reasons, societal or in-school based, structural factors or individual factors, circumstances didn’t align such that that student was able to succeed. There is so much wasted potential in this world; if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them, it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.
OK, so I can hear the lynch mob getting ready to say “She changed the post after realizing that what she wrote did not accurately represent her views. Why are you scrutinizing the original draft?”
My answer is that the implications of “those teachers are failures” is still evident in the edited version, as it would be even if that one sentence had been originally left out completely. The updated sentence actually contradicts the rest of what remains unchanged. Even the title of the post “Everyone you see was once someone’s student,” a quote from a 2012 CM who was driving her around the streets of Houston, implies this. And the unchanged last sentence, “if students do not have even one person who cares about them and won’t give up on them, it becomes so easy for them to just give up on themselves.” certainly implies that not one among the fifty or so teachers that one of these adults hanging out on the street corner once was a student of actually cared about them and that they all gave up on them. While these adults certainly were all many teachers’ students once, they were also sons or daughters, members of some kind of church, most likely, and interacted with so many other people for a lot more time than each of their teachers have.
Now maybe I’m being particularly sensitive since it is quite possible that, having taught in Houston from 1991 to 1995, that I was one of those teacher ‘failures’ who taught some of those adults.
As part of TFA’s diversity training, they have CMs “examine their assumptions” about different categories of people so the CMs can “own” their, sometimes subconscious, prejudices. I encourage houstonheart, and all new CMs really, to add to your list of minorities you need to ponder this about, career teachers who have previously taught your future students.
Teach For America appeals to people who, at least on some level, believe that they can make a bigger impact on students, after five weeks of training, than the ‘average’ teacher has accomplished. Otherwise, why join TFA, just to continue the ‘average’ thing which hasn’t been working, right? In many ways, TFA survives on the perpetuation of the stereotype of the uncaring average teacher.
And, as houstonheart points out in her first post, she is just one person and not representative of all the new CMs. Still I see this sentiment come up in other posts — the idea that ‘the problem’ is that all those other teachers did not care about the students. Most recently is from a new blog that just appeared called Uncomfortable in TFA, which had this quote: “This past week has been the most upfront and realest form of discrimination/inequality I have seen. How the hell have these children been promoted to the 2nd grade when they are performing so low? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they are held to ridiculously low standards.” I don’t know if this is something that TFA is actively teaching to the CMs or if it is just something that CMs have in common which made them want to be part of TFA. Is it something that comes up in TFA training sessions and gets debated, or is it something that is presented as a fact? If any new CMs care to comment, I’d appreciate it.
And to houstonheart, I hope that you were sincere about wanting feedback and even criticism. Posts like this are meant to educate four audiences: the general public, other new CMs, the TFA organization, and you.