We Rarely Ever Leave: Figuring Out How I Feel About TFA

It’s been a while since I wrote about Teach For America.

I’ve mostly tried to… avoid it. After publishing something in Medium, I realized that I was sort of tired of talking about it. TFA had compromised the entirety of my adult life, and now I was in a strange place of anger, frustration, and also a deep appreciation for the people I had met. I just wanted to try and let it all go.

So I haven’t talked about TFA in a while. I used to tweet and write about it a lot, then I just… stopped. I cut the cord with TFA much like a break up. I stopped engaging. Occasionally, I asked our mutual friends (aka friends-still-on-staff) how things were going, I wondered what the org was up to at that moment, I’d go on long binges of stalking it on facebook (mostly to cheer on my friends’ work).

Recently, though, I actually quietly rejoined the organization as a part-time staff member (freelancer? contractor? IDK, I do some work for TFA and they pay me. It works out). I heard that TFA was looking to grow its Education 4 Justice program, a pre-corps social justice journey that corps members would go through during the year before they teach.

It was run by people in the org I trusted, so I decided why not apply? As I was writing the application essay, I wrote something that surprised me:

As an alumna who has recently been critical of the organization, I feel its my obligation to put in the work to fix the issues I see with Teach For America.

I got in, and when I went to the training I realized something very important: I am not alone in the work. It’s so easy to look at the monolithic “brand” of Teach For America (and yes, we brand very well, don’t we?) and forget that there a lot of individual rabble-rousers still in the org, making sure it grows from the white savior roots that have made the organization struggle in the past.

There are lots of great people who criticize the organization, but there are also amazing folks who are within the organization, using the power there for good. At the end of the day, the organization has attracted many dedicated, caring, really smart people.

And, as much as I at times have refused to admit it, working with other TFA folks felt, in some ways, like home. There is a culture of the org, especially among people of color or working towards social justice, a shared language that is soothing in its familiarity. As much as the org frustrates me, to deny its influence in my life would be to deny a large part of my identity and origins in education.

So, yes, there are still some things about the organization that make me really frustrated, and parts of the organization that I think need to be overhauled. I also know that TFA and a lot of its staff members put a lot of work into making me a decent teacher. I also owe any time and effort I can give to help make the organization a better tool to support and uplift communities.

I guess we rarely ever leave something behind. We can completely cut ties, but at the end of the day the parts of us that we perhaps feel strange about are still there. They are still tied to us– gossamer strings of memories, habits, influences– that can never really never be cut. We rarely ever leave the places we move on from. We merely stop occupying the space in the same way.

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