Some will undoubtedly argue that my opinion is biased, and without jumping into a philosophical discussion regarding the inherent biases of all those who read any of the blog entries on this site, I will acknowledge that I am an ’06 alumni who now works on staff.
Without going into my underlying motivations for creating this blog, I want to first just record my thoughts on one of the responsibilities I have as a manager on staff – after each round of applications/acceptances throughout the year, members of the regional staff reach out to newly accepted teachers (you will rarely see me refer to new TFA teachers as corps members, and hopefully, at a different time, I will explain why I purposefully refrain from this title) to answer any outstanding questions they might have regarding the organization or the region. This is NOT one of my favorite job responsibilities (for more reasons than the simple fact that I cannot hold a coherent phone conversation – ask any of my close friends, and they can confirm this) because I really do not look forward to engaging potential new teachers in what I sometimes think is a “sales pitch”. Here is what I mean by that statement – I firmly believe that every one who is offered a position as a new teacher with TFA should explore all of the resources made available to them in order to learn about their potential new region, its schools, its communities and most importantly, its children and their potential future students. Moving to a new area, starting a new career – these are critical steps in every person’s life and they should not be entered without a thorough exploration of what is possible. My problem with this job responsibility is when the conversation begins to take on a sales pitch tone – perhaps the newly accepted individual has competing offers , maybe they are waiting to hear back on an acceptance to grad school, maybe they are considering a job in the private sector – the potential list of “what’s next” in a typical TFA applicant’s life is endless. But, here is what gets me, as someone who not only pressed the, “Confirm” button within 10 minutes of seeing it come up but who then stayed for five years in her placement district, if you are wavering, even for a second, on whether or not the work of an educator is right for you – press “decline”.
I’m sure you can read countless blog entries from current teachers and get their first hand account as to what you can expect in the classrooms they are in now, but I hope you’ll humor my opinion as well – Let me be the first to tell you, in case you didn’t hear this clearly during the interview, the work that teachers do is incredibly challenging. It is emotionally draining. It can leave you questioning your self worth and it can fill you with a level of self doubt many do not experience until they step into their classrooms and in front of their students that first week of school. If, after you receive the acceptance letter you think, “Well, I can do this for 2 years – how hard can it really be?” or “Sure, I’ll teach, it can’t be that hard – and then I’ll go to ‘x’ to get my masters, or M.D, or, J.D., etc” then let me tell you right now – THERE ARE MUCH EASIER WAYS TO GET TO THAT NEXT STEP. And – you won’t potentially damage your self worth and the lives of children in the process.
Failure is a reality of life. Repeated failure is a possible reality for new teachers – It goes without saying that the character of a person is measured by what they do when they fail, and as a first year teacher, this is an incredibly true statement. It is challenging – it is heartbreaking – but working to change the broken education system in our country is not going to be easy – and it’s not going to be something that someone who needs to be convinced is a “great option” should be a part of.
I am deeply passionate about education reform – I wouldn’t have stayed in the classroom as long as I did if I didn’t fundamentally believe that the lives of children can be positively affected by the person who stands before them each and every day (even the bad days – and believe me, there were many of those throughout my teaching career). And, I believe that the success of schools depends largely upon the people we ask to come in and do the immeasurably challenging work in our classrooms each and every day. I deeply respect the teachers I support and the work that they are doing. It breaks my heart to see them fail, to hear about the frustration they feel – and I know it is not for their lack of trying. But, what breaks my heart more, is to think that perhaps they were “sold” on the idea of ed reform and are now regretting that decision – and, in the process, they are also potentially affecting the lives of children in a negative way.
This work is beyond challenging – I know because I was there less than a year ago and that was year five. So, if you’re not sure, or you think something else might be better for you, then please, don’t accept. I want to be working with teachers who know that failure will happen – but who also realize that change will not happen without hard work, without repeated failure and without the deep conviction living within their heart to continue.