So tonight we had our welcome ceremonies for institute. From here on out, things get serious, and we'll be teaching real students in a week. Our key note speaker was a '93 TFA alum and current superintendent for NYC public schools. She told us to always remember what our "corps" is (and yes, the double meaning was intentional). Part of the process, she said, was writing a memo to yourself to remind you why you "teach for America." So I am going to take her advice and write myself a memo about why I teach for America. Sure this one might seem naive and need revising after I start teaching, but I think it will be fun to reflect upon later. So here goes:
To: Gordon Van Owen
RE: Why you teach for America
Gordon, you're about to embark on the most challenging and rewarding experience of your life. Just imagine, a week ago you were living in a different state and unsure whether or not you could make it in New York City on your own. Well, you've survived the first week and seem to be on the right track.
But I think it is important that you remember why you are in New York. Sure you've always had ambitions and dreams of living in the big city, but it's not about you just yet. You're in New York to ensure educational equity for a group of students that might not otherwise get it without your efforts. You are in New York to not only change your life but to change the lives of a middle school in Washington Heights. You will make a difference.
Don't get me wrong, there will be points along the way when you can enjoy yourself and your time in the city. But for the time being, you must remember to dedicate yourself to your cause every day, otherwise you risk loosing site of the greater goal: ending educational inequality.
When the going gets tough and it seems like you can't keep going, remember Kipling's poem that says, "Hold on," even when every sinew in your body tells you otherwise. And when it's hard to tell if you're meeting your goals, just remember why you're teaching for America. You're teaching for America to change lives. You're teaching for America because of students like your sister who struggle with school and seem lost in a broken educational system. You're teaching for America because you wanted to be a part of something that is greater than yourself. Finally, you're teaching for America because it is the right thing to do.
Stay strong, stay focused, and just be.