Post-Teach for America: What's next?
Last night was Teach for America's 2018 New York Corps's Alumni Induction ceremony. It was a bittersweet moment for me partly because of the current state of our country and partly because it marked an ending.
As I take time to reflect on my time in the corps I remember being told that TFA is a "bandaid" for a much larger problem. We are only further corrupting the system by coming in for two years and leaving. We can't possibly make any change in such a short amount of time. I found myself wondering in the beginning if this was true. Was I negatively impacting my students? Was my presence a greater set back?
Teach for America's mission statement is "One day all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education." The more I learned about TFA the more I wanted to be a part of it. It seemed like the right fit for me as a science major with no desire to go to a lab and no plans on attending grad school. Why not try to give kids the science education I would have wanted? When I was interviewing I was asked the question, "So why TFA, why not just donate money?" That question has stuck with me two years later and my answer remains the same. Sure I can donate money, but how am I able to see what that money does and where it goes. I want to be in that classroom leveraging my strengths to create an impact, even if it is just one student. I want to be in it, not on the sidelines.
I don't think educational inequity can be solved by a two year commitment. I think it's going to take a lot more than fresh faced, optimistic young people. But it's a start. These two years have opened my eyes to the systemic and systematic racism that is affecting young black and brown students everyday. Where are their textbooks? Where are their computers? Where are their resources? Why don't my kids have what I had growing up? All it took was looking at the areas we are sent and seeing how redlining districts has impacted the allocation of funding, preventing those in a lower tax bracket from receiving the funds they deserve and need to run quality schools. For example my district, District 8 in the South Bronx has far less resources and funding than District 2 in Chelsea where the average income is $169,000. Money talks.
We are not going to save the United State's education system in two years, but taking motivated change makers and alerting them to exactly what is happening is a start. I may not have dismantled the education system in two years, but I dismantled something in myself. I came in with the assumption that I was going to "save" my young students and set them on a path towards greatness. I still believe my students will do great things, but I don't believe they need to be saved. They deserve a teacher who is compassionate and will lift their voices so they are seen and heard. I will always carry the lessons I learned from them with me.
So what now? What's the purpose of this? Am I just shouting into a void trying to make sense of what all the ups and downs of these past two years mean and find a stable emotional place again? Maybe. When I boil it all down, I am left with the thought that I will miss "belonging" to something. We spend a majority of our lives tied to something, whether that be our families, schools, organizations or jobs. As much as I'd like to deny it, I do place a small piece of my identity in the work I do and the places I "belong to." It is going to be strange claiming another alumni status, but I am now able to take the tools I have and use them to push for change in the spaces I occupy next.
We can't change the system in two years, but we can change ourselves. It is up to us now to use what we have learned to keep pushing for change, keep pushing for equity and dismantling the system piece by piece until "one day" is here.