Teach for America’s mission is that one day all children will receive an excellent education across America, no matter their zip code or economic/racial background. This is a mission that I believe in and have for quite some time now.
TFA has spread their mission and made it into a huge movement. Thousands of teachers have gone through TFA and continued on to become principals, education reform leaders and more. Even those who are no longer in teaching, I am convinced, have a few of those babies still in their heart that drive their day to day work. (How the hell could they not?)
As we go through training, corps members hear several stories from alum about their students and their experience- from the challenges to the amazing growth of students who beat the odds. The focus is on the achievement gap and this huge movement of closing it. We want our mission to be real.
I don’t disagree with the mission. In fact, as I mentioned, I believe in it with very piece of me. Why else would I go to work every day? My issue, however, is that I feel as if we are supposed to be so focused on this mission that we do not break. It’s as if we should have the achievement gap and the horrendous inequalities of public education on our mind daily to drive us. Duh, you might be thinking, right? Well…when you go through day-to-day like I do it’s hard to remember.
I am a human. I don’t always use best practices and sometimes, unfortunately, I yell at my students. Sometimes I say things that shouldn’t be said and use words that I shouldn’t use. I lose my cool. However, I do not always feel comfortable being transparent about this with TFA, or many of my colleagues.
Another reason that this undying focus on closing the gap bothers me is because it’s hard for me to always think of my students as underserved youth who are getting a less-than-excellent education. Instead I see other things– I see Dabrelle who is smart and innocent and has been asking to read Dracula for weeks; I see LeJuan who only does school work when he is sitting in my rolling chair and when the left light switch is off (not to be confused with the right), I see Reginald who can’t stop beating and tapping his fingers like drums; I see Janee who knows way more than she should about the world; I see Broddrick who is incredibly charming and sweet- even though no one would ever guess; I see Darrell who, despite his ankle bracelet, wants to be a vet. I do not see them for their low reading levels and poor math skills. I know that they are behind. I know that there is an achievement gap because I face it every day. I know that a lot of my students are overage. I know that many are living in poverty when they go home. But the thought of One Day, All Children does not drive me in the moment. ‘One Day,’ a term often used for magnificent teaching, does not happen in my classroom. But, for a 10 hours a day, I hope my students feel that they are valued as humans.
To me, the meaning of One Day, All Children has changed. When I think about One Day I will forever remember my 8th graders and their amazing and unique selves and hoping that they are achieving their One Day.