Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 27 2012

What do I wish they’d have told me?

… that I wasn’t going to change lives, I guess. But would I have believed that?

No, they’d have to tell me a lot more. I guess I wish we would tell our people that walking into their classrooms as TFA corps members, instead of as teachers, will end in disaster. That incremental change exists, and transformational change… doesn’t. At least not in a significant amount.

Encouraging me to be optimistic or to aim for the top 5% is one thing—but convincing me that the earthquake stories of the top 5% are inevitable for me? Making me believe it’s the top 50%, or the top 95%, that achieve those results, instead of the tiny proportion that is reality? Encouraging me to create a vision and goal that would put me there, then pretending I’ll achieve it no matter what it takes?
That’s not cheerleading; that’s deception.

I guess the heart of this is about me. I’m departing from the belief that teachers OWN EVERYTHING that happens to their students. I don’t buy it anymore—we aren’t all dealt the same cards, and students’ lives are not within our control. When the Taylor Delhagens get lucky and their hard work actually does change lives, we assume they must have been better and smarter and worked harder, instead of assuming that their hard work found some sliver of fertile ground and flourished while ours didn’t. And then we idolize them.

I’m not saying teachers don’t control anything or that we should resign ourselves to mediocrity. I’m not saying this is a black-and-white situation at all. I just want us to temper our Academic Impact Model mindset just enough to be honest about what new teachers can expect to achieve.

I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking about new corps members and “intentional” messaging and reflecting on whether hearing a different narrative over the summer of 2010 would have made me feel differently now. Ha, and whether I would have joined TFA if I wasn’t totally convinced I was going to save the world.

19 Responses

  1. Emily

    Do you regret your decision?

    • Wess

      I’m learning not to regret anything. Very slowly.

  2. Hi Wess,

    I’m a long-time reader, and a fan of both your writing style and your honesty.

    I wanted to share a video of a TED-style talk I gave recently about “The Myth of the Super Teacher.” I’m sure you will appreciate it.
    http://vimeo.com/43565010

    Best of luck, and keep writing.

    Roxanna Elden
    Author
    See Me After Class: Advice for Teacher by Teachers

    • Tee

      I really enjoyed that video, Roxanna. Thank you for it.

    • Awesome video and awesome book, Roxanna!

    • Wess

      Roxanna, have I ever told you you’re the BOMB? I’m so glad you’re still reading! Thank you!

      That video was right on–I posted it on our new corps’ facebook page (they’re in the middle of institute) and they loved it.

    • Wess

      The link stopped working! Can you post it again for me, please?

  3. Anonymous

    Great video!

  4. What bothers me is the relatively small percentage of TFA-ers who must go through the process of being told the teacher is responsible for student success, then actually being successful through a combination of circumstance, luck and skill, and then charges into education policy with their ego completely invested in the idea that their brief success confirms their personal awesomeness and the importance of finding more awesome people exactly like them, and screwing everyone else.

    For the kids.

  5. alum

    I’ve been following your blog for a while, and just want to tell you how much I respect the good job that you clearly have done as a teacher. None of us (even the ones portrayed as such) are truly “superhero teachers” – no one teacher can make all the problems associated with generational poverty go away and magically change the life trajectories of a classroom of kids in a semester. It doesn’t work like that, even with the so-called “superhero teachers.” But that’s not to say that you didn’t change lives. I think the reality of “change lives” is not so much the TFAnet videos of superhero teachers, and more a lot of small moments where your students learned and knew you cared about them (along with a lot of crappy, frustrating moments). While many of your students will continue on the life trajectory they were on (because of MANY societal problems that MANY people need to work to address), you certainly touched lives in ways that you’ll probably never know. Wishing you the best!

  6. Cal

    “I guess the heart of this is about me.”

    Kiddo, I’ve been telling you this for months. You make *everything* about you.

    And if it’s any consolation, you would have sneered at anyone who tried to tell you. Oh, wait! I did try to tell you!

    http://wessie.teachforus.org/2012/03/22/patience-like-tin-foil/

    You should go back and read all my comments to you over the year now. They’ll make so much more sense.

    If it helps, console yourself with this: had TFA given you a realistic narrative, you never would have wanted to join and wouldn’t have this fabulous bullet point on your resume. If they hadn’t convinced you that you had what it takes to be a hero and go in and rescue all these kids from the horrorshows that were their previous teachers, knowing that forevermore they’d be thinking of how you had changed their lives, then you wouldn’t have signed up.

    It’s possible that, from now on, it won’t be all about you. Which would be one useful thing you could gain from an otherwise wasted two years.

    One thing: I shouldn’t have said that you probably did something wrong to warrant administrative leave. I have no idea what happened, and it’s certainly true that tons of bricks have hailed down on teachers for nothing before now. I wish that weren’t true, so I could be sure you did something stupid. (that last is mostly a joke. I enjoy reading the trainwreck that is your blog and yes, you are quite honest and I hope it all works out for you.)

    Oh, and one last thing: I noticed several people saying in other posts that I’m not a teacher. I think if you google the words “miracle cuban” (no quotes) and page about halfway down, you’ll find something I wrote recently about teaching.

  7. Meg

    Anyone who knows anything about teaching knows that it’s impossible to last two years in a classroom if its “all about you”. And taking the sentence “I guess the heart of this is about me” completely out of context does nothing to address the issue brought up in this post.

    Assuming that Wess did this for a “bullet point” on her resume is not only offensive (which I’m sure was your intent), but completely without evidence. Why are you even here? Your pettiness and name-calling puts you much more in line with the middle schoolers I teach than the professional teachers I work with. I’m SO glad you’re not TFA, because I’d be embarrassed to have the organization associated with comments like yours.

  8. Cal

    If you don’t realize that TFA is considered a bullet point on a resume, and that this is its rap, then get out more.

    Wess brings up issues in her post that she should have known about. She shouldn’t have needed TFA to tell her. If she’d done any reading at all, she’d have known–as indeed, all of you TFAers should–that TFA sells a particular brand of noxious Koolaid. Wess’s blog title made her belief in that Koolaid flavor unquestioningly clear, that she defiantly thought everyone else was a naysayer who thought kids were stupid and not worth the trouble. Several people posted to her over the years, pointing out her self-absorption, her competitive need to be “the best”, and her anger towards her students when they didn’t help her meet her goals.

    And if you don’t realize how horrible TFA looks when the teachers go around saying “Hey, I’m a good teacher, but the students suck”, then again, get out more. I’ve known more than one TFAer who reacts this way (just as Wess does).

    As to why I post here: because I like Wess. She’s more interesting than most of the Koolaid drinkers. Although her memememememe-ism is tough to take, at least she doesn’t congratulate herself about it.

    • Wess

      Welp. It’s my blog. And it’s my perspective. A big part of being honest is paying attention to what your own experiences do to your perspective. If I wrote about my classroom or TFA without acknowledging the lens I write through, it’d be dishonest. I don’t see any reason for you to assume that me writing about my journey or my bias in my own blog means I have some kind of narcissistic personality or that that’s the reason I didn’t change kids’ lives like I wanted to.
      I’m glad you like me. I think you’re condescending and mean, so far.

      I’d appreciate it, if you do keep reading these self-centered blog posts, if you would refrain from commenting in the future.

      • Nice comeback, Wess! I read your original comment where you weren’t as…let’s say diplomatic, in your word choice. While I definitely supported and agree with your original word choice, I think it was super-cool of you to go back and change it.

        Dude obviously is getting his jollies riling jump the comment section. Way to not give him the satisfaction!

        • Uhh… “up” not “jump”…this is what happens when I toggle writing a comment with writing a paper. Awesome.

  9. http://vimeo.com/43565010

    That’s the link again. Every now and then it stops working for an hour or so… just to keep everyone on their toes.

    Thanks for sharing the video. I’d also love to send you a copy of my book if you email me with your preferred mailing address. My email is my first name (AT) seemeafterclass (Dot) net.

    • Wess

      :D Already bought the book and loved it!

  10. G

    We need to get together and chat…seriously!

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