I didn’t intend to start here. This is, after all, a blog about technology education; if it’s a soapbox, it’s meant to be a focused one, not a platform for everything that goes on in my head. But my first post included a link to a bio that’s now out of date, and it seemed like a good idea to set the record straight.
Long story short, given a lifelong love of teaching and words, I started on an ESL education track as a sophomore in college. Most of the way through, I got cold feet about the content area and started considering TFA as a path to trying a different one without having to go back to school – it seemed to me that the primary criticism was that five weeks couldn’t possibly be adequate preparation, so a person who’d done all the coursework for a traditional license was bound to do fine, right? – and applied. My acceptance letter (placement: special ed) came two days into our special methods class, two days I’d spent falling in love with teaching ESL. Not ready to give up the license I’d been working toward and intrigued by the overlap of the two fields, I deferred in order to student teach after all.
That’s the point at which I wrote that bio, and that was the plan for months. But as I student taught, I was surprised at how not good I was at it. My classmates experienced the same thing: that nothing is like teaching other than teaching, and that for all of our training and preparation and microteaching and field experience, for all of of our past successes in and out of school, for all of our passion and motivation and idealism, we were not good yet. Getting your head screwed on straight as a teacher takes a couple of years – exactly the point at which TFA teachers are released from their commitment. It seemed to me that letting teachers back out right as they reach competence can’t possibly be reconciled with a stated belief that all kids are equally deserving of a quality education. And if I became a “success story” of a career educator despite starting with them rather than because of it, would that not be perpetuating an organization I could now no longer believe in? So I declined their invitation.
These ideas are neither particularly novel nor constructive, a major reason I was hesitant to begin with this post. But then today I finally got around to reading Dana Goldstein’s article on how the organization is changing under new leadership, and now I have a note other than frustration to end on. I see two hugely important things happening under co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matt Kramer: first, the recognition that cultural tourism is happening – that many applicants are driven by a Freedom Writers-inspired white savior complex – and curriculum being added to institute to actively combat that. Hats off to them and to anyone reminding us naive twenty-somethings that we need to mature past thinking we can do anything, into understanding enough complexity to realize how arrogant it is to think any of us can singlehandedly save the world.
Second, there seems to be a tacit recognition that the shift from the original goal of alleviating national teacher shortages to a focus on developing a generation of leaders – without more acknowledgment that that was the case – was shady. It’s a good and necessary thing that people likely to influence policy are given a chance to see classrooms other than their own, certainly; it’s just also unfair to students to pretend that those people are quality teachers. The development of tracks of more intense and content-focused training and longer commitment implies awareness of that problem, and it’s what gives me hope. I’d love to see that idea pushed even further, to see the two completely diverge: one pathway for people ready to commit to a future in the classroom (whether that’s people changing careers or majors, or who couldn’t otherwise afford the semester of paying a school to let you work full time that is student teaching, or whatever other reason) to receive a year or two of focused training from veteran educators, and a separate path for future policymakers, administrators, and lobbyists to commit time to studying education in both theory and practice without having to be students’ teacher of record.
Yes, a lot of these conversations can get ugly, and existing legislation is flawed, and there is much temptation to despair. The fact remains, though, that the conversations are being had. We’re engaged in thinking critically about the directions we want to go, and the internet allows for more information to be accessed and more voices to join the dialogue than ever before. This idea of not losing sight of small gains is the tie-in to the computer science world as well: like education reform, attempts to diversify perspectives in tech have yet to succeed widely. However, they’ve gotten crucial matters to take root in public consciousness. We are thinking and talking, and that is step one. Don’t lose hope.