“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
Anyone who knows me well knows that I feel something like “buyer’s remorse” every time I make any decision, monetary or otherwise. I’ve changed high schools, I’ve changed colleges, and I’ve changed career paths, and with every new decision, I’m left with the suspicion that I made the wrong choice. Usually, this suspicion does not turn out to be completely right–in most cases, these changes were for the better. At the same time, the regret is not entirely unfounded. With all of these decisions, I’ve discovered the nagging question not to be whether or not I made the right choice, but a question much bigger and scarier to face up to: “so what?” When I decided to transfer to OSU from Emerson, for instance, I had to ask myself, “So what? How are you going to make this opportunity matter?”
I don’t have a great track record of making things matter. The peak of my involvement at Emerson came in my brief stint as editor-in-chief of WERS, Emerson’s student-run radio station. So what? At OSU, my extracurricular involvement was nonexistent; instead, I focused on academics. I finished with a 4.0, honors, research distinction, and a 65 page thesis on narrative theory. So what? How does any of this matter?
Two days into TFA Induction in Nashville, that question has subsided. For arguably the first time in my life, I am 100% certain not only that I’ve made the right decision, but that I’ve made a decision that matters. For now, I’m not going to go into big spiel on why TFA matters, or why their mission resonates with me, or why I think this is going to be the hardest/most important thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure that will all come out in future blog posts.
Instead, I just want to mention what I anticipate being one of my biggest obstacles as a teacher: cynicism. Having just finished studying English for four years, I’ve been trained to be critical, skeptical, and cynical. Over the past few years, nothing has escaped my skeptical eye, whether it be spiritual or political or cultural in nature. But what I’m beginning to realize is that this cynicism is a privilege, something that can only exist in college classrooms among highly educated people who can look with upturned noses at the rest of the world. Even “thinking critically” is a sort of luxury. To think critically about something, you need to have a certain distance from it. You can’t think critically about something if you’re immersed in it.
To move away from these abstractions and toward my actual point, it would be easy to come into TFA skeptical of their philosophy and practices. It would be easy to wonder why the program has so many critics, or to question the efficacy of teaching to a test, or to challenge TFA’s unwavering belief in the success of all students to succeed. And to be sure, skepticism is healthy, and the program cannot grow if we do not engage honestly with its philosophy and practices. But for the students attending the schools we will be teaching at, the achievement gap is their reality. It’s inescapable. If I’m going to help them achieve, I need to believe in my ability to do so, in TFA’s ability to show me how, and most importantly, in the students’ ability to achieve. And although these beliefs will come under siege from skeptics, critics, and those who our culture has instilled with low expectations of my students, I must stay true to them, suppressing that skeptical voice in my own head, or else the battle is already lost. There is no more time for cynicism. I can’t afford it.
I’ll close with a quote that I have been thinking about all day.
“All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism–it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien