I read somewhere that people who leave TFA quietly slink off into the darkness of the non-nonprofit world, so quitting stories are hard to find. Well, in an attempt to amend this unfortunate lack, here’s mine:
It’s bittersweet. Bitter because I’m abandoning my students (there an ugly truth is on the table) and sweet because I’m escaping from what has become a panic-attack inducing, concrete-block hell.
That said, I have a reason for quitting that is more than just indulging in my fight-or-flight reaction. If I were merely acting on instinct , I would have flown when a shouting match so racially colored and violently vibrant I’d never heard such slurs (not even on TV) broke out in my second period class on the first day. But I stuck it out the entire first semester, until…
I found out from some students that the administration decided to switch my class in the new semester, giving me a total of five preps and completely new faces in all classes but one. That is when a second ugly truth hit me:
I can’t do it. In fact, I’m so far from doing it, I don’t even know what it is. What I do know is how the venture seems so ridiculous now, so patronizing and egocentric. Why did I think, as a white, middle -class girl from Ohio’s suburbs, I could come to North Memphis and do it?
Largely, I thought I could because Teach for America told me so, and maybe they are right about some people. But after giving everything from my monthly periods to upwards of a thousand dollars, it is not working.
TFA would replace my “it” with (one of their many buzz words) transformational change. This is what they say our goal is here. But transformational change for whom?
My students need a skilled and passionate teacher; every week I got further from what they needed.
-The first time I told a student to shut up I shocked myself.
-The first time I cussed at a student, I was less than surprised.
-The day I completely went off on a kid, I didn’t even flinch till the rest of the class started
cheering me on. That’s when I caught myself smiling.
Though I know I’ve done some good, this good will not out-weigh the damage of my current, transformational track. Another not so ugly truth is my students are not charity cases. They deserve a legitimate teacher, not some idealistic graduate student barely scraping by with her sanity.
So, what I tried to do in my last week was show them the one thing I did still have to offer: love. (I didn’t cuss once, unless I was just messing around.) When they come back from the break and find I’m not there, I want them to know it wasn’t because of them. I hope they know, just like I know now, someday they’ll do “it” for themselves.