At a dinner a couple of weekends ago with other alums, we got on the topic of the alumni survey. This was perhaps not by chance, as one of my dinner companions was on the alumni team here in Philly. We shared our concerns with one question in particular, the “How likely are you to recommend Teach For America to others?” one. (Maybe it says “friends,” maybe it says something else, but the gist is essentially the same.)
I have always been puzzled by that question and how vague yet loaded it is. I remember having had a similar conversation with one of my roommates in Memphis. We didn’t understand what it was supposed to get at; who were these “others” we were recommending it to?
Teach For America is not for everyone. I know that now, and I think I even knew it when I was recruiting on campus. Even though I was doing blanket presentations to classes of students, the point wasn’t to say that TFA was for everyone. The point was to raise awareness of the program (back in the day, TFA was not getting nearly as much press as it is today).
Would I recommend the most challenging experience of my life to others? Only if I thought they would rise to the challenge. I wouldn’t recommend it to people with a history of quitting. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who aren’t open to new experiences or cultures that may not be their own. I wouldn’t recommend it to my parents. I wouldn’t recommend it to my best friends who have no interest whatsoever in teaching, prestigious degrees or not.
But I might recommend it to people like me. People who wanted to teach but didn’t study education. People who have attended a Title 1 school. People who stopped attending that Title 1 school and know what educational disparity and inequity look like. People [of color] who know that when their [immigrant] parents envisioned them teaching, it was always in a college lecture hall and never in a high school classroom a thousand miles from home. People who also knew, though, that our lives are not meant to be lived for the dreams of others. People who yearn for meaningful work.
So how am I supposed to boil all these conflicting feelings down into a numerical answer to “How likely are you to recommend Teach For America to others?”? We threw out alternatives, like “How do you view your corps experience?” or “How positively/negatively do you view Teach For America?” which are less open to interpretation. At least these would only require me to take my own feelings into account rather than all those of these unnamed “others.”