Dear TFA 2016 Corps Members,
Thank you for choosing to enter the teaching profession. Please stay longer than two years. Give the classroom at least five. If you’re placed in a “no excuses” school, just know that that is not the way things ought to be for children and it “doesn’t feel right” because it is not right. It is inhumane. Ask yourself what might be the unconscious impulses driving these policies and why many of the schools you went to did not treat you in this way. Your deductive reasoning will lead you to racism, and maybe a form of xenophobia. Children should be allowed to converse during breakfast and lunch and middle school kids especially should be allowed to transition from one class to another on their own while having casual conversation.
Further, your job is not to get higher test scores. Your job is to develop human beings who love life, learning, and the world. Test scores do not lead to college success. This is easily verifiable. A love of learning is sustainable, and happens through emotional intelligence and passion. Make these two things a pillar in your classroom.
Empower your students to lead, create, design, and build, not to simply work for a master. Empower parents with their right to refuse the state exams and to have a larger voice in their child’s education. Doing this empowers entire communities. The status quo needs to be disrupted not maintained, and disruption is not charter schools and so called “teacher accountability.” Disruption is jobs, job training, voter registration, and whole child education. Listen carefully to your training, ALWAYS read between the lines, and ask PROBING questions. Remember you are working with historically oppressed populations who will only be truly free through knowledge of self. To give your students that knowledge you must first learn about them and understand them through their paradigm.
During your first week of school ask students to write you a letter about their lives so you can learn more about them and better serve them. Make it a homework assignment and see the response rate and content produced. For those that do not respond have a private conversation with them to ask why. Walk the neighborhood of your school and make home visits. Also, don’t try to fit students into your box of “success” or what’s right. Trust me, your box is narrow. Instead, let empathy (not sympathy) guide you and help you to open up their world. Two songs can help get you started, but don’t stop there: I Can by Nas (the last verse is critical), and You Must Learn by KRS One. Two books are also critical, but again, don’t stop here: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, and The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson.
For those of you who do leave the classroom but “remain in the profession” to do policy work, please fight for policies that dramatically decrease state testing, tremendously increase early childhood (birth-age five) programs with parenting classes and supports, fight for project based learning, learning through play, and portfolio based assessments. Also please fight to increase the implementation of culturally relevant curriculum, pedagogy, and teachers of color. Recruit some “street kids” as well. It’ll bring a diversity that TFA so desperately needs. If you don’t know what I mean by street kids, that is my point exactly. Finally, please fight like hell for the adequate funding of schools in low-income communities. New York City for example has been waiting for ten years for over 2 billion dollars from the state. This is happening nationally as well.
Remember this, and this is very important, Bill Gates is not an educator. He is a for-profit businessman obsessed with data and power. I know his initiatives seem glamorous because he’s a wealthy tech guy, but they have been incredibly harmful to children. Remember also that he’s not even the cool tech guy. Don’t most of us have Apple products? He might be the evil nerd that came in second and is now trying to obtain world domination through acquisition and overcompensation. Think about it and work with us to push his thinking as well.
Thank you again and good luck in your first year.
Jamaal A. Bowman