Tag Archives: Teach for America

20/20 Hindsight Can Still Reveal Worthwhile Revelations

4 Aug

I know this is update is long overdue, but I’ve found that between facebook, this blog, and this Google + thing I already feel as though I’ve hit oversaturation. And, while that may be good for an upstart student political organization, I really don’t think my life needs the same treatment. That being said, I will spend a short time discussing what I promised to in my last post, before moving onto a more pragmatic discussion on a certain revelation I had recently.

I last left you with my acceptance to the Peace Corps. A few days after this update, I received word that I would be leaving for training in Bamako, Mali on October 29th. The following deluge of paperwork, and the idea that I was now in a situation where life insurance “is strongly recommended” has been interesting, but I’ll be honest: the gravity of this impending adventure still hasn’t hit me, so while I speak of it with interest, my excitement remains hidden behind the months of work and tough decisions.

That being said, with the “real life job search” officially called off, I’ve been granted the free time necessary to truly reflect on the path that brought me here. One part in particular has come to a full level of clarity. I speak of course, of the original battle:

Peace Corps vs. Teach for America

Let me give a small background. Upon researching my options for post-graduation this past fall, I settled upon three main paths. The first was the Peace Corps. Upon being contacted by a recruiter, Teach for America made the list in the number slot, with the long shot “why the hell not even though there’s almost no chance I’ll get in” FSOT registration getting number 3. As you may already be able to tell, the real consideration remained between the first two.

I moved through the application process in both, and as anyone who has been through either can attest, they are extremely long and arduous application with many steps and long anticipatory waiting times, which can over time, raise the shadow of doubt. That being said, only upon the final interview completion for Teach for America and the completion of the medical clearance for the Peace Corps did I truly start to think about where I wanted to go with the next two years of my life.

As this debate within my mind started the choices became clear: the Peace Corps was much more in line with my grad school ambitions, my desire to master foreign languages despite my inability to learn them, and an experience that remains relatively unparalleled. Teach for America, on the other hand provided me an experience that I felt would be equally rewarding and deserving of my time, and a much more steady income, something I worried of constantly due to the lack of salary a position with the Peace Corps would offer. Both were reputable organizations based in strong community service values, but one was closer to my interests and one was much more economically viable.

Both of them worried my parents to no end.

With the Peace Corps application dragging out longer than I previously had anticipated with my original nomination, I waited anxiously to hear from Teach for America, knowing that an acceptance with them  would force a decision between one sure bet and a good chance, but no guarantee.

I was rejected from Teach for America.

And, with that began my next chapter. But, let me preface the following by saying the following. Recent conversations with others, as well as my own daily struggles have taught me something: the human mind has an incredible ability to wrap itself around and idea and concept and turn it to reality. I don’t mean that hokey “you can be/do whatever you want to be/do” sugar coated cliché, I mean the ability of a human mind to convince itself that what it wants to believe is true, despite the physical reality beyond the inherently flawed perception that occurs through one’s personal lens.

My point being, some of you will dismiss the rest of my story based upon my rejection from the organization. You will convince yourself that I am merely a bitter rejected applicant, and therefore any criticism I levy against an organization is a childish means of satiating that bitterness. Believe what you must, but I have nothing against Teach for America and its principle and what it is striving to do, only in some of the all too bitter realities surrounding its approach, and how, through my own personal story, it has been reflected.

I coped though my rejection and the narrowing of my professional options, swearing that there was something bigger at work here, that I wasn’t meant for the program and the program wasn’t meant for me. I worked through the momentary defeat, and sight my sights on more new alternatives.

When the Peace Corps came through with an invitation I danced around my house through an odd mixture of laughter and this thing I had never experienced, tears of joy, as I struggled to grasp the enormous impact this news would have on my life… My flight had finally arrived. There was something bigger at work, and my patience had finally granted me the reward I had been seeking.

Then, as I settled into the final stages of the Peace Corps pre-service process, I, though the opportune post, came across an article posted by my friend about a Teach for America critique by an NYU professor. Intrigued, I gave it a read and his observations resonated with me. I first dismissed it as my own bitterness from the botched application, but as I thought more about it, the more it made sense, and I gathered that I was not bitter, but merely regretful that I was not able to process my own emotions effectively on the matter until long after the “post-grad next step search” was well over.

When I was entering the final process of my applications, April had hit, and with no idea what my next step in life was going to be I was beginning to panic. I had thrown my nose against the grindstone with a force I had not thought possible, and reaped the benefits of my hard work, but it still began to feel as though my efforts had been in vain. Further increasing the anxiety was the total student debt numbers looming over my head that gave me heart palpitations every time I dared to try and total them up. I was beyond broke, and most of my job options were looking like a net loss in income with the loan payments, and I was honestly scared.

In retrospect, beyond a shadow of a doubt I can say that had I been accepted to Teach for America, I would be a member of it right now. It was a steady paycheck, community service focused, and I would be making a difference.

But it’s not what I wanted.

Wait… why would I do something that I didn’t want?

Fact is, in this climate, Teach for America is one of the best deals running. A sizeable reliable salary in the nonprofit sector with and Americorps bonus that can translate into a free masters degree while I’m making said salary? How could I pass that up?

But why begrudge Teach for America for making it easy for great students to help close the achievement gap? Fact is, I think it’s incredible that they can offer this access to students to put their idealism to work and truly help out a community in need. To attract the best and the brightest is no small feat and Teach for America has found a way to channel that energy toward a failing education system in a way that is nothing short of commendable.

It’s not what they do, however, that troubles me, it’s how they do it (a sentiment I felt that was raised in the article I had read).

Why would I feel ok with devoting my life to a field for two years that I had relatively minimal interest pursuing as a career? Why would I sign up for a program that provided me with almost none of the skills I was seeking for my graduate level education goals?

Like a said earlier, the deal was too good to pass up, and the program was pitched to me not as a way to combine a career in education with a progressive minded outlook and a passion for helping communities in need, but a stepping stone to a future I already knew would lead me far outside of the realm of education.

And, let’s be honest here, although I would be a strong supporter and advocate of education reform from then on in, tell me honestly, what advocacy will I be involved in to promote domestic education reform when I’m seeking employment in the international development policy sector?

The fact remains in the end that Teach for America made the right choice rejecting me, but I feel as though, even if I had proven myself completely qualified through the application process, the system was flawed. I also don’t feel as though I am alone, I think many young starry-eyed college grads with plans to change the world get lured into this recruiting powerhouse under false-pretenses.

What good are a bunch of starry-eyed top graduates worth to your sector if they step on the stone you provide them and follow it into a career in corporate law or many other fields that provide little use to the failing education system they used to reach their high-powered career? These two-year cycles may help these schools, but if no one stays for more than two years working in this field then you leave a system with non long-term sustainability and hamper its ability to learn, grow, and develop… allowing schools to continue flounder as a endless stream of new recruits replaces those who have long since left the field to continue on in other sectors.

Now, feel free to aim your guns now and fire Peace Corps critiques at me, but keep one thing in mind. I am going to Mali to work on what I’ve been studying before I go to grad school and study it some more before I go back to work on it again. I’m not giving up on my field despite its many flaws, and I would suggest Teach for America place more stock in finding education minded individuals looking to do the same for our failing schools.