A great email from a TFA corps member:
"A lie cannot live." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
To my fellow corps members,
All of us know that one of the prevailing lies in education is that only some students are destined to succeed. As I ponder this lie, I am reminded of a true story about a young boy who grew up in the Deep South on the poorer side of his town. This young boy was shy, reticent, and even confused about his identity as a small black person in what seemed to be a big, white world. Though he grew up hearing that he could be anything that he wanted to be, his reality suggested just the opposite.
As the boy transitioned from elementary to middle school, his elementary teachers sent him off with the well-intentioned remarks that he was one of the "special few" who would make it out.
In high school, the adolescent boy, now a young man, excelled at his work. Though he was able to score well on tests and write good essays, his ability to process a way of learning that was so different from his home culture often left him with good grades, but no in-depth understanding of the subject matter or a true desire to learn and empower himself through new knowledge and applications. Because he felt disconnected from all but one of his teachers, his motivation was almost entirely intrinsic, and even at the glorious point of high school graduation, this young man was still looked upon proudly by his teachers, classmates, and even his own family as one of the few who might possibly make it out.
After high school, the young man entered college, became the first in his family to graduate, and soon began to teach students with stories similar to his. Unfortunately, however, his course of life is still considered by many to be a special case.
In wake of this anecdote, I am excited to teach this year because I have a new outlook on my classroom. Not only do I believe that EVERY student is capable of succeeding, but I also see each student as a part of my own community. How ironic is it that some of my students might end up being the ones who teach my children?
All of us, no matter our race, educational, or socio-economic backgrounds, should be able to look at our students and see a reflection of ourselves. We are those whom we teach. We all make up the same community, and if we care about and love ourselves, then we must also, by default, care about and love the students we teach. Effectively, everything that I am willing to sacrifice and give up for my own success, I must also be willing to sacrifice and give up for the success of my students.
In the same way that each student is a special one, so is each teacher. Another prevailing lie in education is that teachers either have it, or they don't. However, genetics, mistakes, and failures don't determine a teacher's potential for success; his or her attitude does. Indeed, groundbreaking success rarely comes without failures of equal proportions. In light of our last year, I have reckoned that the challenges we've overcome and the goals we've already accomplished are proof that our mission is possible.
In closing, the young man mentioned in the anecdote that introduced this letter is the grown man who wrote it. In other words, that story is about me. Though I don't deny that I'm special, I know that I'm not one of just a few. Each student that I teach is a special one, and I am invigorated by the challenge of the story of a special few becoming the mere expectation of many.