As TFA corps members, many of us entered teaching with a great passion for education and educational equity. We cared about our kids and would attempt to do that which was in our “locus of control” to guide students to meeting big goals (and, let’s be honest, TFA led us to believe almost everything was within our control to some degree). Our well-intentioned and strong beliefs of what was possible could stir-up some trouble in our schools, whether or not we intended to do so. And, many of us had had minimal training and experience in education. Perhaps some service learning or a few ed classes as undergrads, a five-week summer institute, some ongoing professional development by TFA and by our districts, and grad classes or alternative certification program. All of this added up to a diverse set of knowledge, skills, and mindsets, if I’m being honest, at times felt disjointed and incomplete.
As I now pursue certification in the Montessori method, I often reflect on the similarities and differences between the Teach for America and Montessori philosophies, as I experienced and understand them. I sometimes find myself reflecting on how lucky I am to have entered education in this less-than-direct way and to have been exposed to different tools, methods, and ways of thinking. I do believe that my diverse background (a major in business, a minor in educational theory, international research and service, Teach for America, some grad classes, nontraditional teacher certification, and Montessori elementary training) can be an asset, but a part of me also knows that incomplete knowledge can be dangerous because it can lead to a false sense of confidence, misguided decisions, and/or ineffective actions.
This week, as I spoke with a friend and mentor from my placement school about accepting children with special needs to our Montessori program, I came to the realization that sometimes wanting the best for children and families also means admitting that you cannot effectively meet their needs. Not an expert in children’s literature? Talk to a librarian. Not trained in special education? Refer students to a program that can meet their needs. This doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility, being selfish or lazy, or turning your back on children.
Slowly, I’m learning to balance my depth of caring, sense of possibility, work ethic, and passion with recognizing my limitations and reflecting on what is fair to the children who need us most. I’ve realized once again that growth comes with growing pains and willingness to reflect on the less-than-positive. “Making the best of it” isn’t always the healthiest alternative for yourself or those around you, and accepting injustices won’t get you as far as recognizing and overcoming them.
“My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they’re popular; you make them because they’re right.” — Theodore Hesburgh, CSC
One day, all children in this country will have an opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!