Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moral dilemma

So last Tuesday I found out I got accepted by Teach for America, teaching elementary school in Kansas City. I have no idea if I'm going to accept or not. Honestly the whole thing is a surprise, because I didn't think I would be accepted. I feel as though I should do it, because I like teaching and I know it's an excellent opportunity to actually help students who need it the most, but I'm not sure if I really want to, because it's an insane amount of work and stress, and I've been stressed out for the better part of four years, so do I really want to be stretched even thinner for another two years? At the same time, I feel like I should do it because I feel guilty about my own privilege (going to private schools most of my life), like I'm under some sort of obligation to give back. But I've also been reading criticism of TFA as a program, and I feel like I would feel even worse if I did it for two years and then left, contributing to the instability my would-be students already experience. I also want to live abroad teaching English and travel, but I know I would want (or feel obligated) to stay and continue teaching, so I would probably never end up living outside the US.

Plus, I'm not absolutely convinced that Teach for America is the best solution to the problem of education inequality. I know that while living in poverty and coming from an uneducated or unstable family are highly influential in how well a child does in school, the quality of the teacher is a variable that is very important and effective, plus it's a factor that is much easier to control than every student's background or financial circumstances. I fully understand TFA's mission--that after their two-year commitment, corps members will go on to advocate for and change the educational system through their more prestigious jobs as lawyers or politicians or doctors or financial analysts (I say that last one with more than a hint of sarcasm). But I feel like there's something to be said for trying to find excellent teachers who are permanent, who will be there year after year, so that even though the student might not be in their class, they know they can come to that teacher if they need help in their new classes or if they just want to talk to someone they trust. Even if it's only for seeing the same faces year and year, that is probably enormously comforting if you're living a precariously balanced life where urban violence or financial problems or a whole array of circumstances are making your life outside school as unpredictable as possible.

Plus, what if I don't take this job then can't find another one? What if I go teach English in Korea (a nice, relaxing opportunity full of puppy cafes and a superficial culture that cares too much about head size but will automatically find me beautiful because I'm white) and it's awful? What if I don't even get that job? What if I go off and live in Mexico or Argentina for awhile then decide I'm ready for this emotionally, physically, and intellectually draining commitment and I re-apply but don't get in? Would I be willing to put in the time and money for a traditional Masters and/or credentialing program? Will I even want to teach anymore? Will I feel even more guilty about not at least trying to help close the achievement gap when I had the chance?

This probably sounds like a lot of self-involved, first-world-problems whining, and it is, but I honestly did not expect to make the cut. I was actually sort of hoping I wouldn't so I could avoid having to make this decision, although I don't want to sound pretentious and ungrateful. I am very proud of myself for being accepted and I recognize that I have worked really hard all through college, although this is something that is hard for me to accept because I always view myself as being not as overworked as a I could be (which in my mind translates into, "I am lazy and not that impressive", like I should be some sort of self-sacrificing martyr who has to abuse Ritalin just to stay awake but that is a whole can of worms I shouldn't get into right now). My roommates have told me that the fact that I am deliberating so much is a sign I shouldn't take it, and they're probably right. But I still feel like I have some sort of moral obligation, that I should be working to correct the injustices of the world and I have no right to go and waste my time and potential on enjoying myself.

I have to decide by next Monday, the 21st. If you read all of this you're a fucking boss. I'm sorry if I sound like a dick. All opinions and advice accepted. I'm paralyzed with fear and indecision.

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand everything you're saying and all of your concerns (including the one about "not being stressed out enough" - I always imagine that being the more proper student would include me drinking coffee at 3 in the morning, books around me and sad music playing, looking completely tragic in my's ridiculous). I'm not much help, since I've never been faced with a situation like this and I can also be incredibly indecisive. First off: congrats on being accepted!

    Your roommates have a point about how comfortable you sound taking the position. I understand your concern for wanting to help the world and feeling that letting this opportunity pass by is something you may regret. From what I can tell, though, you're not entirely sure that TFA is the most effective solution for what you want to do, which also seems important to consider.

    I wish I could offer advice or even opinions, but I just don't feel qualified to :( However, I really don't think you should feel guilty about wanting to relax a bit/enjoy yourself after 4 intense years of college. While your worries are legitimate, there will be opportunities waiting for you for a long time. Sometimes, it's also important to consider the options that would make you feel most comfortable and happy.

    I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help :( Good luck with your decision, I'm sure that whatever you choose will be for the best <3