Teach For America

Last Wednesday I received my official offer from Teach for America.

I have been offered a role as a secondary science teacher in Arkansas. Let’s set aside the issue of Arkansas really quickly – I’d be willing to move there, and it’s possible they could move me closer to home anyway, so that’s really not a problem at all.

Let’s talk about science. I have not taken a science class in four and a half years. This isn’t an exaggeration – I took AP Biology and AP Chemistry in high school,  and used the AP credits to skate out of my science requirements in college. I haven’t taken a single college course in the entirety of my science career. While I could probably manage with Biology, Chemistry still gives me nightmares – my grades in my Chemistry classes were abysmal, and I just don’t have any knowledge to impart in the field. And Physics. I could teach Physics, just as long as the only thing I had to say all semester was “what goes up must come down.” I do not know a single other Physics principle.  I have no right – and really, no ability – to teach a child science.

Could I figure it out? Probably. With enough hard work, I could probably learn the science necessary to teach high school students basic science skills. But the thing is, I would never know more than that. I wouldn’t be able to answer the strange and obscure questions students can generate – I wouldn’t be able to relate class instruction to interesting facts. I wouldn’t be engaging – I would be a person reciting a script she did not fully understand. I wouldn’t be a good teacher.

So I have to wonder how Teach for America places people in teaching positions. When I originally asked, way back in the spring when I applied, I was told that there was a process. They looked at your preferences, and your courses according to your transcript, and placed you based on where you would be utilized best. I can tell you right now that I would not be at my best in a science classroom. Those children deserve better than me – they deserve a teacher who knows about science, is passionate about the subject, and has actual information about it as well. They don’t deserve a teacher whose first love will always be English, who fervently wanted to teach that or Social Studies.

To be honest, this situation kind of makes me lose faith in the organization itself. If Teach for America were truly passionate about placing young people in classrooms to minimize the achievement gap, they would make sure that the teachers they placed were equipped to teach the subject. I know Teach For America is supposed to equip you to teach whatever subject you are assigned, but they can’t give me the years of college education I would actually need for this position.

So am I going to accept? I’m not sure yet, I have a week and a half left to make this decision, and you better believe I’m going to use every minute! There is a long list of people I need to consult, and I’m really just not sure what I want to do right now. But I do know that children deserve to have science teachers like the ones I had – people who know more because they want to know more, people who are truly passionate about science. I’m just really not sure I can be that person.

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