Learning to Read in Home Sweet 'Homa

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 02 2012

Clarification of Previous Post and Response to Gary Rubinstein

My previous post drew some negative attention, and I realized there were significant ambiguities in my meaning. The following is a response to Mr. Gary Rubinstein’s comments (read them here: http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/07/31/what-they-teach-the-new-cms-about-public-vs-charter-schools/). Soon I will post a revision of the offending post that better expresses my thoughts and clarifies any misunderstandings.

Dear Mr. Rubinstein,

Thank you so much for your recent close reading and thoughtful criticism of my blog post entitled “It’s Not About You.” I’m a casual follower of your blog, and I really appreciate your fierce advocacy for students and education, though I don’t always agree with you. I’m more than a little shocked and embarrassed to find my own words a target for your critical lens, but I’m looking forward to the dialog. This reply is really long (sorry!), but I wanted to be as thorough as possible in my response. Incidentally, I didn’t realize my comments were disabled. I’m not exactly sure how to re-enable them.

I can see now that I did a really terrible job of expressing myself in that post. My purpose in writing it got totally lost behind some (truly) poorly written comments. I’d also like to add that this blog is meant only to reflect my own experiences. I’m not at all commenting on ALL charter schools or the experiences of ALL corps members, simply my experience of my own school community. My statements about my school were observations after having been here for two weeks. In fact, I had pretty negative and doubtful feelings about working at a charter school (having been influenced very much by your blog and others like yours as well as my own experiences with them) until I got here and met the teachers and students of my school. The students who are here during the summer by their own choice ARE working incredibly hard to put themselves on college-bound trajectories. The teachers here are extremely focused and energetic. I know there are plenty of charter schools out there where these things are not true as well as plenty of public schools where it is true. However, I just was describing my particular experience at a specific school so far.

Beyond that, the purpose of my blog was to describe a bad mindset I had BEFORE Institute. I was trying to own up to a savior complex I had when I was initially accepted to TFA (last November) and then show how my thinking had changed (mostly in May and June of this summer). I was attempting to be self-critical and vulnerable about an attitude I used to have that I’m no longer proud of. Yes, I had envisioned myself as being THE teacher who made a difference in the minds of my particular students, and it was very much about my own importance. I had resisted the idea of going to a charter school at first because I thought I would be less important. This was clearly wrongheaded. Now I understand that it’s just not about me at all. It’s about showing up and working really hard on behalf of students (hence the title “It’s Not About You”).

Finally, I try not to comment directly on Teach for America as an organization because I don’t think my perspective could accurately represent the thousands of people who are involved, but I think in this one instance I really should. At Institute every corps member was partnered with a faculty advisor who was a veteran teacher in the school district we were working in. My faculty advisor had taught in low-income public schools in Tulsa for 36 years. Veteran teachers observed us and gave us feedback every day and played major roles in our development as teachers. There were sessions dedicated to discussing the benefits and implications of building good relationships with veteran teachers and school communities, and TFA was constantly emphasizing respect and humility. At no point were they teaching us to dislike or disrespect public schools or the teachers who work so hard in them. At no point in my TFA experience have I been taught anything less than respect and appreciation for veteran teachers. In fact, so far in my TFA experience, we haven’t learned anything at all about charter schools vs. public schools. Everything I’ve learned about these topics has been from reading online (blogs like yours!) and personal experiences. Personally, I went to great public schools K through college, but my adopted brother went to a truly terrible charter school through middle school. In light of this, I think calling your post “What they teach the new CMs about public vs. charter schools” might be misleading.

Shortly I will post this response to your post as well as an edited version of “It’s Not About You” renamed “It’s Not About Me” on my own blog to better describe how my mindset changed. Thanks for helping me see the poor job I’d done representing myself (and TFA), and I look forward to continuing to read your blog.

Very truly,

Sam Walker

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Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable

Middle School

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