Celebrating - not denigrating - commitment to educational equity
Alex Russo at This Week in Education is calling Teach For America's 20th summit celebration ?premature,? ?unwarranted,? and an ?expensive-seeming birthday part/slick celebration,? among other things. As a TFA alumna one who attended this ?revival? with a ?sense of accomplishment? that Russo calls ?immodest and premature ? reminding [him] of the kid who expects praise for doing his homework for a few days in a row or the football player who starts celebrating before he's reached the end zone? ?I'm inclined to feel defensive.
I'll admit some of his post is funny; I can be as self-deprecating as the next person and point out the quirks and oddities and intensity and weird inflection of TFAers -- the oversized teaching bags, hipness of how they dress, etc. (as one tweeter said, many female teachers can be identified by their ?flats? and ?mustard-colored sweaters?).?
But here's the thing about TFA teachers or alums. Being compared to kids who expect praise for doing homework isn't that insulting. Anyone who's been a teacher in a poor urban or rural classroom will be the very first to admit that celebrating the small successes, the day-to-day victories ? including cheering on a student for homework completion -- is what keeps you going. It's part of the formula for success. I don't care how arrogant or na?ve or stupid Russo thinks the TFA community looked/acted/came across this weekend. Perhaps to some, celebration ? especially when achievement gaps persist -- seems like a waste.? But it isn't. Anyone who's jumped for joy when a student spells a word right, or doesn't get into a fist fight, or has been nearly moved to tears when a parent expressed high expectations for their kids for the very first time ? knows that small victories are important. ?(And I wouldn't call TFA's track record and the reform movement largely driven by alums all that small, either.)
Why shouldn't alums, 28,000 of them in total, and 11,000 who gathered in DC this weekend, feel a sense of accomplishment? What is premature about celebrating the fact that hundreds of thousands of our nation's poorest students have or had effective teachers for two or more years? Teachers who may have changed their life trajectory? What is immodest about declaring that your efforts in the face of tough odds resulted in tangible gains for kids who need them the most?
If one thing is for certain, every panelist and speaker this weekend ? including Wendy Kopp ? said that teaching in low-income communities and closing achievement gaps is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Don't mistake the TFA community's zeal and energy for naivety or delusion. It's born out of a deep commitment to kids and to educational equity that we'd do well to foster, not denigrate.
- Jamie Davies O'Leary
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May 8, 2013