ragamuffin and barefoot

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 07 2008

my real big goal

Hey, folks. It’s been awhile, and I have no idea where the summer scampered off to. I have a lot to say but I can’t stay long, and I hope to revisit this post. But for the sake of brevity – I am teaching 4th grade at one of the lowest performing schools in the state, a school which is currently part of an intensive, scripted reform program. School starts (with real, live children) in t-minus 4 days, and I am completely unprepared, but at peace with it.

I’ve had a few moments here and there in the past couple of weeks when I needed a serious, genuine reminder of why I am here – the “big goal” honestly just wasn’t cutting it. I realized that these moments are probably only going to become much more frequent and much more intense after I actually start teaching, and so I wrote out my mission statement. It’s very rough, but it’s honest, and it means something powerful to me. So here it is. This is why I’m here.

My mission is…

to empower my students to become active, critical, and contributing citizens of a democratic society

to foster an insatiable hunger for knowledge

to kindle the fire, not fill the vessel

to empower my students to think for themselves, and to teach themselves

to encourage my students to intelligently and respectfully question everything

to impart confidence and self-esteem

to teach my students to be innovative and to problem solve creatively, using multiple resources (particularly the internet)

to encourage my students to take ownership of their thoughts, words, actions, and destiny

to show that education is a continuous, infinitely valuable journey, and not an end

to demonstrate that every mistake is a learning experience

to be a thoughtful, critical, tolerant, and peaceful role model

to use resources (music, role models, etc) to show that academic success is not mutually exclusive to my students’ cultural identities

to be at least one person in each student’s universe who unconditionally believes in his or her limitless potential, and acts upon that belief

to treat my students fairly (which does not necessarily mean “the same”)

to provide a classroom atmosphere where there is freedom and safety to think independently, take risks, and make mistakes

to allow my students to take proactive stances in relation to those in power


“Writers discussing such diverse topics as social reproduction, critical pedagogy, the hidden curriculum, process consultation, and education for empowerment have observed that having a passive role in educational institutions prepares students for taking a passive role vis-à-vis authority figures later in life: that is, a role as object rather than subject (Bowles & Gintis, 1976, p. 56; Freire, 1982, p. 59; Giroux, 1977, 1978 pp 148 – 151; Schein, 1988, p. 9; Sleeter, 1991, p. 15). In contrast, problem-posing education replaces this vertical relationship between teacher and students with a horizontal one, a dialogue (Freire, 1982).”

to create curricula that treats reality as something to be questioned and analyzed
- “When teachers change their students’ role in acquiring knowledge, I believe they also change the nature of the students’ relationship to that knowledge. In more traditional forms of education, knowledge is deposited into the minds of uncritical students (Freire, 1982). Henry Girouz has pointed out that in such “banking” pedagogy, knowledge is treated as a set of objective “fact” (Giroux, 1979). He says that knowledge is divorced from human meaning and inter subjective exchange. It no longer is seen as something to be questioned, analyzed and negotiated. Instead, it becomes something to be managed and mastered. In this case, knowledge is removed from the self-formative process of generating one’s own set of meanings, a process that involves an interpretive relationship between knower and known.”

in summary, to foster change by challenging my students’ perceptions about their role in the world, their perceived relations both to those in power and to knowledge itself, while simultaneously acknowledging the obstacles to success that are external to them but which are surmountable (with strategic planning and collective effort)

And there it is.

The much, much trickier part is translating something like that into action. I’ve started working on it below, very much a work in progress.

As your teacher, these are the actions I will take to fulfill my mission. I promise to:

1. Accept you unconditionally
2. To act upon my belief that you have limitless potential
3. Continuously challenge you and see you as a work in progress
4. Respect your thoughts, feelings, rights, and property
5. Create opportunities for repeated, meaningful applications of academic skills
6. Refuse to divorce your cultural identity from your academic success
7. Employ a “mining” pedagogy, rather than “banking” instruction
8. Be accountable for your academic, social, and emotional growth this year

And guiding principles for my students that coincide…

How to Be AWESOME (In and Out of the Classroom)

1. Be Hungry.
2. Question Everything.
3. Stretch Yourself.
4. Have a Vision.
5. Honor the Rights of Others.
6. TCB (Take Care of Business)

I’d love to hear comments, ideas, etc. I hope everyone is getting the year off to a great start – godspeed!

One Response

  1. Lindsay

    Hi – I just read your post and found it absolutely fascinating. You are extremely thorough and thoughtful.

    I am in the process of beginning a TFA application, with the hopes of starting in 2009. I have worked in the private sector for three years, but am anxious to pursue other interests. I am going to continue to read your blog, but am wondering if we can correspond via email. I would like to get your perspective and ask you a few questions. I am particularly interested in your perspective because I want to hear the truth — as opposed to promotional material from the TFA website — from someone who doesn’t appear to be wholly disaffected. (I have found quite a few blogs deriding TFA.) If you’re interested, please feel free to email me at the address linked to this comment.

    Many thanks.

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