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Nov 13 2013

Not a Bad Thing

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.

8 Responses

    • adrilicious

      It’s Hermana!

      • I should have definitely used herman@, and not assumed. Mis disculpas!

        • adrilicious

          No worries – I just emailed you!

  1. Ian Rae

    I think you might be confusing two things. Poverty is a systemic issue and can really only be solved on a large national level. That will take a few decades and if successful, like Finland, the US will have few poor people.

    However being poor is a reality now. If you’re ten, you can’t wait decades. The only way out is hard work, luck, persistence, and all the other skills of personal transformation. If TFA only helps this second group, that is fine.

    • adrilicious

      1. It’s considered rude in common parlance to comment on someone else’s mental state. Next time – try stating your opinion or simply addressing the content of the argument.

      2. If you accept the premise that working hard will get you out of poverty than you also have to accept the counterfactual that all poor people are just lazy. Since the counterfactual isn’t true, it just doesn’t make sense to believe that hard work is the cure for poverty. Money is the cure for poverty. Ask Switzerland who is considering paying citizens for being alive, therefore eliminating poverty. It actually isn’t that hard. (Though you are right that poverty is systemic – it isn’t that way by accident. It’s done it a way that continues to give some groups advantages for having white skin and others disadvantages for having brown skin). Also – let’s not kid ourselves, we don’t live in a meritocracy and it’s won’t “take a few decades” for the US to morph into Finland. Many people in the US like poverty because they profit from it. There’s no political will to address poverty and it makes capitalism work so alas, it’s here for a minute.

      3. What poor kids needs is for people who don’t know shit about their lives to stop telling them what’s best for them. Listen – I’m a teacher so obviously I think education is important. However, I don’t think it’s okay to place the burden for undoing poverty and the systemic racism that facilitates it on the burden of kids. Lastly – even if they master calculus, it doesn’t stop a bullet, it doesn’t cure their asthma and it doesn’t change the fact that their family is poor, and not only is poverty correlated with just about all the things, it’s expensive as hell to try to live through.

  2. Meghank

    You make a lot of sense, but I have to tell you, the parents (low-income) that I have known do really care how much experience you have and they really do care whether you stay in their school long term or not.

    Don’t let me get started on the kids! As long as they’re in the same school (and it’s true that there is a lot of mobility in my district – kids change schools all the time) it’s very important to them to see you in the hallways, to come talk to you if they’re having a problem, to just say hi. They definitely care whether their elementary school teachers stay in their school long-term.

    • adrilicious

      I think you’re totally right! I just think kids would rather have a teacher who loved and cared for them for two years than one who didn’t love them dearly but was there for 10. Your point is well taken though, relationships definitely matter and those, like wine, get better with time!

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