Saturday, September 3, 2011

No offense, my TFA friends......

.......but I'm not a fan of Teach for America.

I know quite a few people, both friends and colleagues, who are part of TFA. I'm not saying that they are not good people because they are. They have genuine hearts and strong minds and, like a lot of us in my cohort, want to give a couple of years in service (though unlike the rest of us, they're making salaries). A lot of them do want to impact children's lives and there are those who end up becoming good teachers because of it. Heck, I know some WONDERFUL teachers who started in TFA.

However, TFA is a temporary program. Unlike other teaching programs, it's meant to have college grads, many of whom have never taught before, teach in inner city schools for two years before they start the rest of their lives. "No, I'm not going to keep teaching, I'm going to law school afterward," is a response I hear often. On top of that, they're placing these temporary teachers in schools that need consistency above anything else. With all of DC's restructuring, my students need someone who is going to stay. Someone who doesn't just know the kids, but takes time to know their parents, siblings, and community. Though I've only been in my school for a couple weeks, I've noticed that the best teachers are the ones who really take their time to get to know the kids, their friends (and whether or not it's a good idea to let them sit together), their families, their interests, and their needs. One who the parents can go to and know that this person cares about their child's education. One who knows the community and can use resources to help their kids learn.

Of course, all of that takes time. It's not easy to be a teacher, it's not something you can quickly master. If I've learned anything from my music teachers, it's that practice makes perfect all the time. Even if it doesn't make you perfect (though 10,000 hours should do the trick), it should make you better. It takes years to hone your craft. While there are people who show extreme talent in the beginning, even they have much to learn about their craft (hence, a child who's talented at singing is given MORE lessons and coaching, not less). Teaching is not easy, it actually requires supreme dedication and the willingness to learn as much as you can about your students. That doesn't happen in two years, even for the really good ones.

So, is it really fair to use these kids in the inner cities or the rural areas as your experiment, while you take time (and a salary) to figure out if you're even up to the task? Is it fair to these kids, who desperately need someone who's willing to stay with them? Is it fair to these parents, who, like most other parents, want what's best for their kids, including education and opportunities that they themselves might not have had? Is it fair to the communities, who look to teachers as leaders and consider them vital resources?

No. If I do become a teacher, something I'm giving some serious thought, I'm in it for the long hall. Even if I take time to go overseas, I'm always coming back. I WILL teach in the inner city because those kids have every inch of potential (and sometimes more than) that their well off counterparts have. I will shamelessly admit my bias and say that my students are awesome and they deserve someone who's willing to stay.

Oh, you're worried that I'm in an unsafe area? Puh-lease. We're as secure as the White House and the kids know us pretty well. What are they going to do, sneer at me? Oooh, I'm so scared!

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