L a t e last month, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on the “TFA Truth Tour” — an event organized in opposition to Teach for America. As a current Teach For America corps member and Penn alumna, I was concerned when I read the piece — both by the misinformation and divisiveness the event aims to promote and by the extent to which my own experience as a teacher was left out of the “truth” the panelists put forth.
Like all teachers, corps members face a wide variety of responses when we identify as educators. Some question why we would take our hard-earned college degrees and apply them to a field with so little opportunity for financial gain. Others fixate on how lucky we are to have summers off. Others still launch into their own personal views on how to fix the broken public school system in which they tell us we’re mired. (Many of my own relatives are hoping I end this “phase” soon and apply to medical school, for the record.)
In too many of these responses and in the event that took place last month, a common problem emerges. So often, the conversation feels like it’s about adults more than kids. It’s about problems, not solutions. And it vastly underestimates the possibility and promise in schools like mine — where students prove every day what they’re capable of achieving.
The panelists were right about this: Teaching is hard. Over the last two years, I’ve experienced tough conditions and supported my kids through tougher ones. I’ve switched schools. It was several weeks into the school year before I found my first teaching position. But what they leave out is the fact that even in the face of all the hard things about teaching, many of us love doing it.
As teachers, we get to watch our students grow intellectually and personally. We’re invited into their families. And because of it all, we rise early, stay late, coach, plan and get up the next morning and do it again. To be clear, this does not solely describe a typical TFA corps member: This is what every passionate teacher who truly values his or her job does. We have this in common with graduates of every teacher prep program under the sun and with the growing number of Teach for America alumni making long-term commitments to the classroom. Among TFA’s alumni, teaching is the most common profession. They know what we do. Do what we get to do and it’s awfully easy to fall in love.
Every experience with Teach for America is different — just as every graduate of an education program will have a different path. This summer, I’ll transition from corps member to alumna and continue teaching — setting aside the plans for med school I always thought I’d be pursuing. I’ve made this decision not because I feel guilty, not because I feel pressured and not even “because of the kids.” I have carefully made this decision because I feel passionate and invigorated by my work to change the status quo through my classroom practice. After these two years, I am grateful for the opportunity that TFA has provided by connecting me to my current school.
The decision to keep teaching that so many corps members make every year reflects another aspect of our work so deeply absent from the “truth” offered on the tour — the fantastic mentors who have made our work possible — at our schools, within our communities and from TFA. Second only to our students, these people inspire us with a deep sense of possibility. We’re privileged to work side by side with them every day for the common future we seek.
Tomorrow, I’ll head to school and continue to do my part — however small it may be. And that’s the truth.
Sarah Ahmed is a 2012 College graduate and current Teach for America corps member teaching 9th grade algebra and geometry at Oakland Technical High School. Her email address is email@example.com.