In the ever-continuing line of "is there nothing Michelle Rhee won't say to get her way", comes this latest video from her group, Students First. It's a play on the Olympics (by the way, Michelle, you might want to watch that usage because the REAL Olympics is highly territorial about the use of the word). It's a cheap shot video that has earned her a lot of criticism.
There are rumblings coming out of Chicago, which may have a teachers strike, that TFA is going to roll in with 5,000 TFAers. There is a word for people who cross picket lines and if that happens, it will not be pretty. It will be ugly and it may mark a very dark day for TFA. We have many, many teachers in this country and if you are in a union, as hired TFAers are, you NEVER cross a picket line against others in your union. Quit the union and then try it - you'd be better off. I have to shake my head at the idea.
On the upside for TFA, a story of bravery and one young woman's willingness to stand with her city and not TFA.
From the Huffington Post, we have the story of a very brave former TFAer who was not going to play the TFA party line. Camika Royal, a former TFAer, asked to give a speech at the opening ceremonies for TFA's summer institute for new teachers in Philadelphia. Now, what is interesting is that Dr. Royal had given a closing speech at TFA's 20th Anniversary summit last year and here's what she said happened:
...after having that speech unexpectedly reviewed and edited, after having my tone and demeanor critiqued as "angry" or "sound[ing] like a preacher" only to receive a standing ovation from the room and tears from my critics when the speech was over, I was hesitant to endure this process, again. Fortunately, I've earned some credibility that allowed me to give the Philadelphia speech without having it reviewed by anyone on Teach For America's staff. That also made me nervous. It's hard to be a responsible critical friend. But I gave this speech anyhow. I did it afraid.
Wow, TFA makes everyone who gives speech at their events give them the text AND do a preview?
She explains that she wanted friends and family to see her latest speech so she put it on YouTube. After several days, she got a lot of angry messages that TFA critics were using it as fodder.
My speech was characterized as 'anti-education reform,' which is inaccurate and inflammatory. By no means do I suggest that the public education system in Philadelphia, as it exists right now, works for the majority of the students who attend them or the educators who work in them. However, I do not think the solution to this multi-faceted, multi-layered behemoth conundrum is the plan to dismantle the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), to release the education of its students to charter management organizations as is being currently touted by the mayor, the School reform commission, and the former Philadelphia gas works leader turn chief recovery officer of SDP. I realize this view is contrary to those espoused by many neo-liberal education reformers, some of whom are also TFA alumni. And perhaps earlier in my career, I would have agreed with them. But I've done too much research on charter schools in Philadelphia and the history and sociopolitical context of schools in Philly to think that this plan will be effective in the long-run for students, families, educators, or communities. This current plan to dismantle the District is not reform. It is refuse. It places financial concerns and constraints over the educational needs of people who need education the most, and it is, therefore, political and unacceptable.
Again, Friday I'm in love.
Honesty borne of life experience - this is what this young woman brings to the discussion.
She goes on to say:
Teach For America recruits its new teachers under the notion of closing the so-called "achievement gap." Though I resist the inherent anglo-normativity of the so-called "achievement gap," I know that TFA's recruitment model has led to some its teachers approaching the communities they've been assigned to serve with missionary zeal and notions of martyrdom in efforts to close this gap. Addressing that mindset was the point of my speech. wanted our new teachers to know that respect and humility matter; that good things are already happening in Philadelphia's schools; that our city and its schools existed before they got here and will when they're gone.
From her speech:
Our schools are more than the lie of successful charters and failing district. Our educators are more than the false dichotomy of good versus bad, of us and them. By and large, educators here are not bad. Educators here are tired. Educators here are reform weary. Our students are more than test scores, graduation rates, and disciplinary issues. They are the babies that parents prayed for and over and read to and work for and dream about. They are people who want the best for themselves whether or not they know how to articulate it or how to seek it out. Our education is more than the failure rhetoric and the achievement gap misnomer. Our problems are systemic, and endemic, but THEY WILL BE SOLVED BY PEOPLE: resilient people, unrelenting people with an edge.
A teacher is a servant. And you are not here to save. You are here to serve. Whether you've been here for all your life or you will be here for the rest of it, whether your commitment is two years or five weeks, thank you for bringing your energy and excitement. Thank you for bringing your humility and your questions. Thank you for being flexible and gracious. Thank you for being hopeful and persistent. Thank you for being friendly and joyful. Thank you for your desire to learn much so you may teach well and be more. Thank you for leaving our city, our schools, our colleagues, and our student better for having spent time with you. While here, your job is to be swift to hear and slow to speak. Swift to hear and slow to speak.
I wish I had been there to hear this in person.