Well, there’s a question I never in a million years thought I would have to ask myself. Yet, it’s the question that has been keeping me up at night and made me come back to blogging about my TFA experiences after over a year away.
So, am I? Am I a scab? A union breaker? What if, even more than that, I’m contributing to the privatization of public education? Just by…being a public school teacher?
But that’s the issue. I’m not just a public school teacher. I’m also a Teach For America 2012 Corps Member. And right now, that means a lot more than my title of “teacher.” Because now, more than ever, public education is under attack. And one of the organizations that’s been named as a front runner of the opposition is Teach For America.
Now, I educated myself on TFA before I started. I knew that it was an self described leadership organization, not education. I knew they supported and encouraged the charter school movement, and that the co-founders of the nation’s largest charter school network (Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP) were TFA alums. I knew that this was the organization who had turned Michelle Rhee loose on DC schools. I knew that TFA was not the answer to our public education woes; at best, it was a band-aid slowly peeling away from the wound, and at worst it was an infection that was making our wound go from bad to worse.
Yet, I still chose to do it. It was a way to start teaching. It would give me credibility later on in life when/if I chose to go into education policy. It was a way to turn my theoretical work on education inequalities into practice.
And I love my job. I love teaching for better or for worse, and I love my kids – even when they are acting out due to their twelve year old middle school hormones. I love my curriculum, and I’ve spent hours and hours this summer planning units and creating performance tasks. My principal supports and believes in his staff 110% and all of my colleagues are amazing. And not a single one of my coworkers view me as a scab.
Because I’m not. I live and work in Eastern North Carolina, in one of the poorest and most rural counties in the state. I’m not a scab because, first and foremost, North Carolina is a “right to work” state. “Right to work” as in, “lack of workers’ rights” state. Second reason I know I’m not a scab? There is a very serious teacher shortage in Eastern North Carolina. There are school districts that would probably be forced to close if not for TFA. I’ve seen classrooms in my school staffed by long term substitutes for months because our administration could not find replacement teachers.
I am fortunate enough to be in a TFA region where we are still living out the original purpose of the organization. TFA is putting people into classrooms that otherwise may not have a qualified teacher. Was my Institute training adequate? No. Am I better than the alternative in my region? Yes, I think so. But I still wonder if, just by being associated with Teach For America, I am contributing to the devaluing of American teachers and the demise of public education. How can I be a TFA CM who underwent five weeks of training and consider myself in the same ranks as people who go through five years of training in a traditional program? And how can I say that I’m not devaluing the traditional teachers, when the entire premise of Teach For America is essentially that they can take people who have no formal education training and put them in classrooms, and they will be just as good as those who have gone through traditional programs?
At the end of the day, I consider myself a teacher. And it sucks spending hours creating performance tasks and completing assignments for online classes to continue my teacher education, only to read another article or Facebook comment about how I’m not a “real” teacher, I’m a scab, I’m adding to the racist and classist policies of our current system.
All I want to do is teach my kids in good faith. And I feel like that’s being taken from me because of Teach For America.