Teach For Learning
October 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
In the autumn of 1999, I wanted to make a difference. I was motivated by social justice and social impact. I felt I possessed what TFA’s website at the time was calling for: the relentless pursuit of one ideal, that every child in this country deserves an excellent education and the kind of future that comes with it.
And when TFA said, “We are looking for applicants who will have a lasting impact on student achievement and who will become lifelong leaders in the fight for educational equity from a variety of professions.” I knew I had found my calling and my purpose.
TFA’s recruitment and marketing has gotten even more inspirational since then. I challenge you to watch this clip and remain unmoved:
However, when I think about most of my time in the classroom – especially my 2 years as a TFA corps member – I think I was there for the wrong reasons. Initially, I was motivated by a ‘do-gooder mentality,’ by social justice, by being a part of the ‘civil rights issue of our time’ and to attain ‘significant gains in student achievement.’ All of these are fine reasons to be a teacher, but dramatically insufficient to being an excellent one. Just the other day I spoke with a fellow alum who confided in me that she was motivated to work hard for her students because she felt pity for them, a sentiment with which other alums would sympathize if they are being honest with themselves.
I have arrived at the conclusion that great teachers are motivated by student learning. I know that as a parent, I want student learning to be the top priority for my children’s teachers. While it’s true that “every child in this country deserves an excellent education and the kind of future that comes with it,” I’m afraid that we have let excellence be defined as student achievement, which is an effect of learning and not the cause of it, and you just can’t take the effect and make it the cause. As a result, the ‘kind of future that comes with it’ has come to be defined as college. College completion is certainly a higher expectation than what had come before, but I still think that bar is too low.
I am interested in schools and teachers that aim above those accomplishments and focus on a pursuit of mastery for the sake of it, and learning as a never-ending journey of success, failure and self discovery. That would be ”a school I would send my kids to,” and it’s a educational experience every child deserves.