Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where Superheroes and Sisyphus Meet

Here's another (of countless examples I could cite) story about another TFA alum (from the first class, LA '90!), my friend Kelly Amis, who's no longer in the classroom, but is a powerful advocate for reform, most notably through her soon-to-be-issued documentary, TEACHED (  Here's an excerpt from an article she just published about her experience with TFA and Stanford's Ed School:

Once he became an adult, [Geoffrey] Canada explains, he decided to go study what was wrong with the public education system so he "could fix it." After earning a master's degree from Harvard, he figured this would take "two, maybe three years." That was 35 years ago.

I didn't laugh because this overreached; I laughed because I had thought the exact same thing when I first started working in education reform, in my case, about 20 years ago.

During my senior year in college, posters announcing a new program suddenly appeared everywhere on campus. Created by a twenty-two year-old named Wendy Kopp, Teach for America would send recent college grads into "under-resourced" American public schools to teach for two years, following the Peace Corps model. This struck me as the perfect way to give something back for the privileged educational opportunities I had enjoyed.

After graduation and an intense, hot summer training with 499 other idealists, I received my placement: I would be teaching fourth and fifth grades—simultaneously—in South Central, Los Angeles. (Teaching two grades at one time is a ridiculous situation for any teacher, let alone a new one, but it happens in schools where the children's needs are not the first priority.)

My placement school was typical for the area, serving all minority students (about 50/50 black and Hispanic) and rampant with unnecessary failure. Why this was so—the reasons why many if not most students there were failing academically—was so obvious that I figured the reality simply wasn't being transmitted to the policymakers who could do something about it.

I put my original career plans on hold and went to earn a master's in education policy—my choice was Stanford—assuming it would help me figure out how to effectively share what I had witnessed and, as Canada thought, fix it.

But a funny thing happened on my way to bringing commonsense to the situation; I started to encounter the many adults who don't want the system to change and/or don't believe it's possible.

Sadly, this began at Stanford. Despite its relative prestige, Stanford's School of Education was a disappointment (although, I guess it prepared me for future years of frustration…would that be the idealist's take?).


Where Superheroes and Sisyphus Meet

by Kelly Amis

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