Are you a “corps member” or “teacher?”
The other day, upon the onset of winter break (thank god), as I was boarding my plane home someone in line at security asked me what I do. I told him I was a first year Teach For America corps member—not that I was a teacher.
Why did I say this? I don’t know. I wasn’t ashamed or anything, and I wasn’t particularly proud to be representing Teach For America, touting the prestige. I was just being honest. I’m not a teacher because I have no idea what I am. All I know is that I’m 23 years old, and I harbor ambitions that extend further than the classroom.
Should I feel bad about that? Afterall, my inability to truly own my role as a teacher, I think, is one factor in why I’m still not a very good one. I’ll explain.I’ve pretty much always been a hard worker. But teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I work harder at it than I ever did in the batting cages or in economics class. But for those pursuits I genuinely identified myself as a ballplayer, or as a student, accordingly. I think that’s why I was good, too. And see, those in the field of education who I’ve worked with that are excellent at their craft—excellent in that almost existential, Aristotle sort of way—all identify themselves as teachers. I do not, and, no surprise, I pale in comparison to those capital T Teachers. I was a much better baseball player.
But still, there is something different for those teachers, the ones changing lives every day.These excellent-educators are, well, excellent, I think, because they embrace their role, their responsibility. Deep down, I know I won’t realize this sort of “master-status”—or even, really, reach the level of ability I know I need to reach in order to be an effective teacher—until I embrace teaching as an integral part of who and what I am. I think. No, I know. I know.
I’m not entirely sure leaving the classroom after your commitment should be a source of guilt for corps members. A recent Wall Street Journal article just chronicled the admirable nature of corps members who were up front about their desire to leave the corps after their commitment. So that seems fine—not giving your all for the two years you’re in the corps, isn’t. The problem is, I can’t help but worry that giving my all demands, at least temporarily, the adoption of an identity that doesn’t exactly fit, an acceptance of a reality I didn’t exactly plan for. Committing to teach, or so I told my mother before flying back to New Orleans (love you, mom), is different than committing to work as an analyst or a consultant, like most of my friends did after college.
How can you give 100% of yourself now, here, when a percentage of your attention is focused on something further away?
Education has not yet revealed itself as my calling or anything like that. I like my job and I love the kids I work with and I’m proud of what I do and I want to work hard. But no light-bulb flash of realization that in teaching, I’ve found my purpose. Does that sort of thing simply take more time? Should I feel bad about it? Will I wake up one day and realize that this is actually who I am? That this is what I want to do?
And if I don’t, does that invalidate the work I’m doing now?