One of the biggest things TFA claims to fight against is the myth of meritocracy in the U.S.: the belief that anyone can be successful/climb the proverbial ladder if they only work hard enough, and that those who are not successful must be lazy and unmotivated. This is a classist, very dangerous view, and TFA is right to fight against it.
I’ve recently come to the conviction, though, that while TFA claims to fight the myth of meritocracy, we are also perpetuating it in some ways. We acknowledge that the systematic oppression of our country is preventing our students from succeeding in life, but we say that education is the best way to fight this, mostly (though not completely, I know) ignoring the other dysfunctions in our students’ lives that will prevent them from succeeding, dysfunctions that even the best teachers can’t overcome.
TFA also has a myth of meritocracy with its corps members, I think. Maybe they do it on purpose, but, much like the United States does, TFA pumps its CMs full of idealism and lofty ambitions, then dumps them into a situation with so many factors working against them, then expects them to be incredibly successful.
At Institute we are shown video after video of these miraculously successful teachers and (basically) told we can be as successful as they if we just work hard enough. But, like our students, we are blind-sided by so many other issues, both on our end and on our schools’ end, that prevent us from being as successful as we are supposed to be, even though we are working as hard as we can. We are given completely inadequate training and resources, and to be thrown into a profession with the training/resources we are given is a joke not to mention an insult to the world of education.
To continue this line of thought further, TFA must believe that teachers in the United States are ineffective because they are lazy. The notion of people who work 60+ hours a week for a salary that barely pays the bills are lazy is as ridiculous as saying that my students’ parents who work 3 jobs to pay the bills are lazy. Sound familiar?
While there are some bad teachers out there, almost every teacher I’ve ever worked with is there for the kids and truly wants the best for them. Adding more good teachers would help the situation, but there are so many other factors to consider that it is impossible to predict success in the classroom based on sheer personality.
As a CM, if you’re not successful, it must mean you’re just lazy. I struggle all day every day with the belief that I’m not working hard enough. I succeed in ignoring that niggling little voice most of the time, but it’s still there in the back of my mind all the time.
By how little training CMs receive, TFA must think teaching isn’t that difficult, or is something you can “just figure out” if you work hard enough. I know that no training can adequately prepare a teacher for his or her own classroom, but 5 weeks?! Really?!
Instead of addressing all of the other issues that make educating children a difficult task, TFA oversimplifies our roles by just saying “work harder! make fancier powerpoints! track your data!”. And if you don’t jump through all of these hoops and, God forbid, get more than 6 hours of sleep a night, you’re just lazy. This myth of meritocracy thing, both in TFA and in American society, is glossing over a myriad of issues that must be addressed if our kids are to truly be successful in life. Like health care, for example. I don’t care how good you are at differentiating instruction; that kid whose parents don’t have health insurance and can’t get him glasses will not succeed in your classroom if he can’t see the board.
I’m tired of being told that if I work harder, I’ll be successful. I’m starting to understand a small facet of the cycle of poverty. Wouldn’t it be better to just say “Hey, teaching is incredibly difficult and there are innumerable obstacles you face; just try to stay alive.”?
Ugh. I could write about this all night. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. 4 more weeks of school. I’m starting to think about how I’m going to do next year differently in general, but I’m too overwhelmed with almost being done with my first year of teaching to go there yet. 4. more. weeks.