The Mess of My Mind Pre-Institute

I am a natural optimist. I’m told that’s one of the qualities TFA recruiters select for. So, in that sense, I’m here because of my optimism.

But since being accepted into the 2013 corps, I’ve had the opportunity to be around a bunch of other optimists, and I’ve realized that there are other significant parts of me that are ignored when I so flippantly classify myself as an optimist.

Because I am very excited. But I also have some very real concerns about what I’m doing.

I’m excited to join a nation of educators.
I know dozens of amazing educators, both TFA corps members and TFA detractors, both young and old, both urban and suburban, and I’m psyched to get the chance to learn from them. Teachers are among the most incredible individuals I know, and I’m honored and humbled that someone somewhere thought I could be a peer in that group.

I’m excited to build into my community in Detroit.
Over the past couple of years, I have learned how much power people have in local politics. And I’m so excited to live in the same place that I work so that the decisions I make socially and politically will have real impact on my community and surroundings.

But I’m concerned about what I’ve been chosen to teach.
I have a degree in English, but I will be teaching secondary mathematics next year. It would be unfair to place all of the responsibility for this decision on TFA. Of course, I made it clear that I preferred to teach English, but I also marked I was capable of teaching math on my application. When I thought of my life as a teacher, I always imagined those idealistic clips from Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams has his class stand on desks and read poetry. I was about that life. And I was so pumped to be that kind of teacher. But that’s not in my immediate future. I’m afraid my students will find me out. “He’s not a real math teacher,” they’ll say. Or worse. I’ll fail them. And then the responsibility will totally be mine. I will know I should have turned down TFA’s offer.

I’m concerned about my race.
Historically, teaching was among one of the first professional careers to open up to African American women in Detroit in the mid-1900s. And there is research that shows that it’s beneficial for students of color to see themselves reflected in their teachers. According to the Detroit Public Schools District Profile, almost 90% of the students are African American. I am not. Thus, I worry I may be depriving my students of a teacher of color. And even when I start to be okay with the fact that I am an individual, and my fate (and my students) should not be decided by race, I reflect on the fact that my 2013 Detroit corps is nowhere near 90% African American, meaning even if I am an amazing teacher, I might still be part of an organization that is whitening the teacher pool in Detroit, even when there is research suggesting that this might be detrimental to students.

So I’m excited and concerned.

Then, there are things I know and things I don’t know.

I know that I am not doing TFA for solely altruistic purposes.
In fact, most of my reasons for doing TFA specifically, are selfish. I’m in education because I want to make a difference and because I like the pursuit of knowledge. But I chose TFA over traditional routes because I didn’t want to spend the money on more schooling, because I wanted an opportunity that awarded me a little more mobility and a little more prestige than the traditional teaching route. I have no illusions about why I’m here.

But I do not know whether or not TFA, as an organization, will be responsible for “transformational change” in Detroit.
Mostly because I’m still lacking important knowledge about the existing teachers there. That’s mostly my fault. If I was better researcher, if I was more comfortable with asking difficult questions, I might have some of these answers. But TFA was sold to me as a solution to teacher shortages across the nation. I don’t know if Detroit is a region with a shortage or what subjects are specifically lacking.

So, yes, I’m an optimist, but sometimes I like to mix in a dose of realism.

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