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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 09 2011

Disingenuousness: We’re Small Potatoes, Y’all

It’s not said, but it’s said: we’re supposed to be somehow better than the teachers in schools now. There aren’t teacher shortages at my school. My school hired me, an English major with zero teaching experience, over someone more experienced who was traditionally certified in social studies. Maybe it’s because they can pay me less, maybe it’s because principals like that we CMs are a known quantity (all picked, trained, placed the same), or maybe it’s because there actually is some meat to that argument that my brand-name school and youthful enthusiasm means something (ha) in a classroom.

But let’s go with it. I’m going to be so much better than those traditionally certified, far more experienced, leagues-ahead content-proficient teachers. Even suspending my giggles, here’s what I still don’t get: I’m still working in the same structures as the teachers that are the object of the reform movement’s disdain. We’re working the standards hard and backwards planning the heck out of the state assessments and… aren’t these the standards and assessments that (according to Kopp, Rhee, et al) have been screwing these kids over?

It just feels like some logical discord in the idea that I can have this transformative effect in kids’ lives when even if I’m the most capable, charismatic, and creative first-year teacher they’ve ever had, I’m teaching in the structures and institutions that are so broken. Can surface-level pedagogy really make that much of a difference?

Maybe I’m missing a step. But I feel like we’re inundated with a constant barrage of how the system’s broken right before we’re sent out to uphold the system.

Ravitch says we’re small potatoes, that it’s disingenuous for us, as an organization, to say “We’re the difference that’s going to change everything.” From where I’m lesson-planning, lady’s got a point.

3 Responses

  1. thelearningcurve

    Yeah. I think it’s disingenuous for ANYBODY to think they have “the thing.” If we knew what the thing was, none of us would have jobs and education would be a highly-industrialized service. The truth is, we are working very hard, as are many other teachers no matter their certification routes, and we are (hopefully) working toward the same goal. It won’t happen that one day we wake up and realize our jobs are done here. It’ll happen slowly, surely, and it will push on. There is no “one” solution. Different things work for different people; it’s why in over 20 years TFA hasn’t actually done much to close the actual national gap. Does that mean that TFA teachers aren’t good? No. But it does mean that we are not the be all, end all to anything, and neither is anybody else. We could all benefit from a little more collaboration, and less vilifying of those we don’t agree with.

    Sorry for the digression; this was a great post.

  2. James

    Are you currently a corps member?

  3. parus

    TFA has a major disconnect between its administration-level goals and its classroom-level goals, and that’s been true for quite a while now. It really bothered me as a CM, and even as an alumni it still nags. At the risk of sounding like a crazy person, I think TFA is being used as a stalkinghorse for various interests, and I resent having been duped into playing a role, however small, in an agenda I don’t support. I appreciate what I got out of the program, and I do think I did right (more or less) by my students, but if the whole thing is very discomfiting.

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