Monday, September 28, 2009

Background bias

“Is it your passion or something you just fell into?” he asked.

I’d met him in the past half hour. We were hiking at the same pace and quickly fell into conversation. It was the type of conversation that you have with a friendly stranger. Openly sharing details of your biographies without exchanging basics. He didn’t know my name, but was asking about my motivation for starting graduate school.

“How about a passion that I’ve fallen into?”

We laughed, but it’s as good of an answer as I can come up with. 

I don’t remember when I first heard the terms “educational inequality” and “achievement gap,” but I have been learning about them all my life. Growing up in the small-town South, I attended schools on both sides of the divide. From an elementary school in a condemned building to another school in brand new building with computers in every classroom. From reading The Best School Year Ever in my eighth grade Advanced Reading class to studying different theories of literary analysis when reading Hawthorne and Fitzgerald two years later. 

A generation after Brown v. Board finally took effect (my dad was integrated during high school), I knew that the downtown school where I started my elementary education had been the white school and that the school on the far side of town had been the black school. Even though integration meant that the schools were divided by age, the neighborhoods surrounding them continued to fit the racial categories. Further, though my schools were integrated, my tracked classes were disproportionately white. 

It’s a passion that grew out of those experiences. It’s something that I’ve fallen into again and again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obligatory TFA Post

My uncle, the CEO, asked the right question to get me to talk about my Teach For America experience. “What would you change?”

There are lots of things TFA does well. I received more help in my classroom from the TFA South Dakota support staff than I did from my school’s teacher mentor. TFA observed me regularly, if not frequently. My mentor never made it into my classroom while students were present. TFA maintained clear expectations of me. Their Teaching as Leadership rubric gives concrete ways to improve my methodology. My school constantly shuffled its directions, saying it wanted one thing but not following through.

So what would I change?

I want TFA to share more openly. TFA melds the “best practices” and look to improve them, but I don’t see the push back into the wider education world. Why can’t anyone who wants to be a better teacher look at the Teaching as Leadership rubric? Must the Resource Exchange be unaccessible to people who aren’t affiliated?

There are plenty of reasons not to share. Copyrights. Staffing issues. Critiques from te rest of the education world. 

But the vision that motivates us isn’t about TFA teachers. “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” That tells me we should help everyone be their best.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Every new beginning

"It's so strange being back in college," I told my parents. "I'm sitting on this man-made island. I'm on a bench underneath these trees looking at this path that all these college-y people are running on in their running outfits. Or biking. Even the old guy biking toward me right now is college-y! I can't believe I'm here for so long. It's still surreal."

But classes are starting tomorrow; it's time for me to start blogging again. Maybe this space will help me understand my new reality.


It's not that I don't see the appeal of keeping one continuous journal over the years. But I like noting chapter breaks. When I want to know what I was thinking, I know which journal to look in. The one my grandmother gave me in middle school. The camp one. The one I bought on sale at the shop in part because I wanted to have something that smelled of that time and place.


I was on the phone last night with my former roommate. She's got my students this year and is having trouble planning for one class. I don't have high school math textbooks in my living room. And for just a moment, I felt lost.