by Justin Timberlake
Lately things have been interesting:
I’ve gone from intense disappointment and intense anger with TFA to a sort of compromise between myself and the organization. Now this isn’t to say that all is well philosophically between TFA and me, BUT I think I have a better idea where TFA is coming from. Let me first summarize the criticisms about TFA that I don’t care about:
- TFA teachers are inexperienced. So are all teachers, so are all surgical interns when they first cut a patient open. Everybody’s a novice at some point. We all gotta figure shit out. Really good teachers have a ton of technical skills that develop over time but also have intangibles that they’re born with. Those people come to teaching through TFA or some other route and can manage a classroom. The rest takes lots of experience, but only the kind that happens while doing.
- TFA teachers leave after 1 minute in the classroom. To put it bluntly – who gives a shit? I get that teacher turnover is a problem, I really do – because most 5th year teachers will be better than most 1st year teachers, but teacher retention rates are already low. Teaching is hard work, for low pay and little respect. Two years is longer than many non TFA teachers end up serving. Also – ask my kids if they care if I taught for 10 years or not. They don’t care, and nor do their parents. They were just glad we were together for their 6th grade year.
These are stupid criticisms of TFA. Why do people always go to these when there are much more fundamental critiques that are leagues more important?Like this one:
TFA thrives on white supremacy (the hood will be fine if we bring white yalies in!) TFA actively maintains the status quo by insisting that individuals need more motivation / accountability to overcome poverty. It makes poverty a motivational problem instead of a systemic one (the underlying attitude of TFA – and this is undeniable, is that if folks worked harder, they wouldn’t have to be poor. The only way this thinking can exist is that if one excepts that people are poor because they aren’t motivated. That’s the wackness, but it’s true).
I mean, TFA does exactly what it says it does. It’s developed ways to teach so that kids can do better on tests. They weren’t the ones who made high test testing the thing, but they’re good as hell as figuring out how to get kids to do well on tests. So I feel like they’re doing what they set out to do – and it doesn’t address racism or poverty. Expecting TFA to address those things would be like expecting a rock to make water, water that would destroy the foundation of the rock – and that ain’t happenin’ anytime soon.
So I’ve adjusted my expectations for TFA which have allowed me to engage with some of the good teaching things I learned from folks involved with the organization.
In other news – I’m working on my school’s charter petition (did I forget to tell you I’m starting a school?) and I’m on page 7 out of 330. I want to cry and kick and scream, but instead, I’ll just go on ahead and keep listening to Justin Timberlake on repeat and write 20 pages tonight.