Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 21 2013

People Like Me Exist

My initial reaction to everything TFA was “it’s too good to be true.” Throughout the application process, induction, and institute, I remember consciously keeping an eye out for weaknesses in this organization that seemed to be such a perfect example of how to do a nonprofit right.

Part of my incredulity came from the fact that I never heard stories or reflections from anyone who seemed anything less than completely satisfied with their TFA experience. Every story had a happy ending or a positive spin; every alum glowed with it. Even with Mr. Rubinstein as an obvious example right here on Teach For Us, I remember wondering honestly how many corps members had ever completed their two years and felt anything but surging pride about their contribution to the movement.

At the MLK march this morning, a fellow alum and I made friends with an enthusiastic Vista from Americorps, and we both had to stifle a laugh when she asked us “So what’s your take on TFA, after going through it?” I avoided the question with an “I might not be the best person to ask” and let my friend give his own complicated answer.

I’ve been thinking about it all day, though. As annoying as it is to be expected to have a sound-byte “stance” on TFA to satisfy every small-talker I run into, my experience essentially becomes invisible if I don’t. Which leaves people without one more counter-example to the idea that every corps member who completed their two years feels just great about it.

I don’t know what my small-talk “take on TFA” is, but I know “great” isn’t the word. If I were completely honest with myself, the biggest takeaway feeling I have is something a lot more apologetic. For so earnestly inserting myself into a community, and a profession, I knew nothing about and then neither “getting the hang of it” in two years, nor staying for a third.
I am extremely proud of some parts of my two years–guilt definitely isn’t my only feeling about my experience, by far–just the most salient and honest, at this point.

I don’t feel guilty that I’m part of TFA–I do think I’ll always be proud to be an alum–but I’m no teaching success story. I wouldn’t call my two years a waste, and I might even do it again if I could go back–maybe–but I also wouldn’t say I had a net positive effect on my school, or that the end of my two years was a happy ending. It all makes me want to walk up to new corps members, wave my arms, and say “people like me exist!!”
BUT I have a lot more time to use this experience to do things I do feel great about, making it feel less like something I should apologize for. Luckily, the end of my two years wasn’t the ending.

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