One of the biggest criticisms of Teach for America corps members is that they “aren’t dedicated enough.” They cut-and-run after only two years of service, leaving their school worse off than before. They couldn’t possibly make a lasting impact in that amount of time, so why would we want to have them around?
I am sure I am going to catch some flak for this as I prepare to leave my placement school to… what? Oh, that’s right, continue teaching.
I have been given an opportunity to work at a supportive school which will help me rapidly develop as an educator and possibly put me on a track to school leadership. I’m ready for the challenge of working in a school that actually has high expectations for both teachers and students, and actually helps teachers and students meet those expectations. I’m ready to feel valued as a professional. I’m ready to make an impact in educational reform.
And so, I have to ask, why wouldn’t I want these things? I graduated from college with highest honors. I was the president of my honors fraternity. And as an educator, I have made significant academic gains with my students.
So, why on Earth would I ever want to stay in a place that simply wants me to uphold the status quo? As I’ve been talking with friends and family about my decision, one person said to me, “They hired you to teach, not to lead.” This sentence has stuck with me as the main reason in making this decision. It’s not in my blood to simply do my own job, let everybody else do theirs, and watch nothing change. I’m a leader, and I can’t give that part of myself up. To keep my sanity, I need to be in a place that will nurture that part of me. Right now, that’s not where I am. Not that I haven’t tried to take leadership roles at my placement school; it’s just that every time a task gets “delegated” to me by my principal, she ends up just doing it herself anyway, without any communication.
Furthermore, I’m not willing to spend the next 10 years of my life killing myself fighting mediocrity. Every day, I know I make an impact in my own classroom, but beyond that door, I see nothing change. The district is too big, overwhelmed, and powerful to respond to one teacher. As I see it now, it would literally take an entire cohort of teachers who agree on what the changes should be working in tandem for years and years to flood the district office with a new staff. The sheer enormity of that task makes it nearly impossible. Not to mention that the people in power over there wouldn’t give up without a fight.
On the other hand, the charter school where I will be working is already quite successful, after only 2 years, teaching the exact same population that I currently teach. The difference is not the students nor the families at this school (which is a silly argument I hear a lot.) The difference is in philosophy of education, and that is what effects educational reform.
So I guess the question of dedication depends on your point of view. If you’re my principal, or somebody working at the district office, you probably will think I’m not a dedicated teacher because I’m not willing to accept that education has to be this way. But I think if you step back and really look at the bigger picture, you might see the situation differently.