This quote, courtesy of Cornel West, was shared in one of our final sessions of Induction. The session – entitled A Vision for Teaching As Leadership – was one of the more tangible, specific sessions we’re had throughout the past few days. I loved it. But more on that later.
The end of Induction has gone much, much more smoothly for me than was the beginning of Induction. I’m meeting more people, starting to branch out, and am feeling more comfortable here in the TFA environment. Yesterday, a few of my friends and I did the Insanity workout in one of the dorm rooms. It was the first time I’ve felt like a real person since I’ve been here; it underscored the importance of maintaining my non-TFA self throughout the rest of Institute. I finished the workout and headed back to my own dorm feeling refreshed, energized, and truly happy. It’s something I want to feel again. So I’m going to make it happen.
The theme of yesterday was D&I (Diversity & Inclusion). I’d heard mixed things about TFA diversity sessions. People I’ve talked to always feel strongly about them, yet have vastly differing views on the effectiveness and ease of these sessions. I’ve had my fair share of awkward, superficial diversity sessions in the past so I walked in not quite sure what to expect. At this point, I will note that this is only my experience and does not in any way reflect the experiences of any other corps members, or the messages elucidated by TFA. It’s just what I saw and heard and felt.
TFA’s outlook on diversity is best represented by its diversity core value (which you can look up on the TFA website). It grounds its outlook in the research of Dr. Beverly Tatum (author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) and basically discusses the basics of my sociology classes at Rice – institutionalized racism, white privilege, power structures, racism vs. prejudice, etc. One of the more controversial aspects of Tatum’s research – or at least the one of the more controversial aspects in the TFA diversity session – was the idea that all white people are racist, since they inherently benefit from a white-dominated power structure. It is therefore impossible for people of color to be racist. On the other hand, both whites and people of color can be prejudiced. This idea caused quite a stir in the room and was incredibly uncomfortable for many of the people present. I’m honestly still grappling with it myself. I am often quite aware of the various ways white privilege affects my opportunities in life – buying a car, getting car insurance, visiting/renting an apartment, etc. Yet, many of the individuals in the room had not fully realized the impact of their involvement with the white power structure, and had not contemplated the full weight of Tatum’s research.
The session (“D&I til I die,” a nod to 3,6 Mafia) was structured such that we were split into small groups, given norms/definitions, given discussion questions, and allowed to discuss in groups for ten minutes. The total session was three hours long. The ten-minute time frame, in true TFA style, was helpful in structuring the discussion and keeping things focused. However, many people I talked to afterwards said that most of the contention and disagreement in their discussions stemmed from the ten-minute limit, as it prevented participants from fully developing and articulating their ideas, thus leading to misunderstandings.
My group, however, had a fantastic discussion. We were all honest, open, and mutually respectful. I didn’t feel an uneasy or contentious dynamic at all. Though other groups seemed to have varying experiences, I thought our group made a lot of progress in both understanding TFA’s diversity core value, understanding what it means to teach diverse students even if you come from a background that means you can’t necessarily identify with your students’ backgrounds, and learning how to mesh aspects of your identity when teaching.
The D&I session was pretty intense and after a workout and dinner, we headed to drink some wine, eat frito pie (a Texas fixture), and enjoy each others’ company. It was a good way to debrief from the discussion and make some stronger ties heading into Institute. Today has mainly been a discussion of diversity – this time in the way TFA handles recruitment/selection/support of corps members – and a variety of interactive presentations about Teaching As Leadership.
TAL is the way TFA approaches teaching and transformational leadership. There are a lot of commentaries about it online so I will leave you to look those up if you so desire. Basically, we rotated through three sessions in which high-impact TFA teachers shared the ways they developed their classroom visions and executed these visions. I appreciated the sense of individuality and personality the teachers conveyed. I feel like there are many stereotypes about TFA teachers out there: that TFA teachers are robots, they only teach to the test, they have absolutely no life outside of TFA, etc. Every one of these stereotypes was proven incorrect by this session. We talked a lot about the importance of being genuine, establishing a from-the-heart vision, bringing elements of your personality into your work. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and I really enjoyed out.
We spent the next four (!) hours reflecting in our TTL groups on our identities, race/class/privilege, and the week in general. We shared our Stories of Self and then our group did a really meaningful activity where we wrote messages to each other. I feel very lucky to have such a warm, supportive TTL group and I know that we will still be supportive once Institute starts, even when we end up in different CMA groups.
We finished up the evening with a cheer battle/pep rally in the quad, and though many people went out afterwards, I decided to stay in and just take some time for myself. I’m definitely an introvert and as I’d been social/around people all of Induction, I resisted the temptation to go be with people more because I knew I needed time alone. I went for a run around campus and then laid on my back in the grass and just looked at the stars, thinking about Induction and all we’d said and done and heard. I’d forgotten how re-energizing time alone can be. As I walked back to campus I felt eager to tackle the challenges ahead and grateful to be in the company of so many inspired individuals.
So, that’s it! I register for Institute today and then will spend most of the afternoon running errands, finally getting my room set up, and seeing some non-TFA friends. Starting tomorrow we’ll spend the week learning (attempting to learn?) how to teach, by which I mean we will listen to a ton of information and grab as much as possible of it. The week thereafter is when we actually head to summer school.
Things about myself I learned this week:
1. I need to keep doing the things that make me function – exercise, time alone, an early bedtime.
2. I can be very social and extroverted if necessary.
3. I’m getting better at taking risks and meeting new people.
4. Though adjusting to life after college is hard, it is a process and it is definitely doable.
5. Balancing my TFA life and my non-TFA life is something I need to start working on now. Decisions become habits.
As I head into Institute, I hope to keep all this in mind as I try new things and greet exciting challenges.