making sense of mathlissa

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 10 2013

A Message to Sharon Liao

What inspired me to keep this blog (or at least try) is make an effort to talk back. If you know me personally, you know I will always tell it like it is, and won’t hold back. I want this opportunity to blog to express my own experience as a Teach for America corps member, in my own words. I hope to set the record straight by offering an uncensored view into my life as a TFA-er, so here it is.

My first post (this one!) is something I wrote after reading an op-ed in the Washington Post, “At elite universities, a message to avoid a career in K-12 teaching,” by Sharon Liao. I recommend you check out the article here before reading my response, though I am reluctant to even recommend reading it to anyone, as I so vehemently disagree with it.

I came across this article because so many of my friends from my own summer as a Breakthrough teacher had shared it on Facebook. Initially, when I saw that so many people that I deeply respect and admire had shared this article, I thought it was a must-read. Here is my response:

A Message to Sharon Liao

Last summer, before my senior year at The College of William and Mary, I too had the best experience of my life working with Breakthrough Collaborative teaching middle school math. I was exhausted and invigorated and inspired to consider a career in K-12 teaching, just like you. But, despite the fact that I also majored in history, our similarities end there.

When I first saw your piece, I was excited to read about a fellow Breakthrough alumni’s experience. Your article, however, brought to my attention a different sort of educational crisis.

In your own words, you have been talked out of the field of education by your “elite, expensive education” at Columbia. In believing the “subtle” suggestions that the “best” students pursue law or finance or another field, you are essentially saying that you are too good to be a teacher. When you say that teachers don’t receive the “social prestige” or the compensation you would be able to receive if you began a career in another field, you don’t think about a way to enter the teaching field, and to change that, but instead, you essentially run the other way.

You say that you’re being scared out of teaching by teachers. Well, as I’m sure you learned in your summer with Breakthrough, teaching isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s true that we desperately need “our nation’s best and brightest,” as you put it in your article, but what we really need are teachers who are changing it what it means to be a teacher. We’re trying to change the assumption that teaching means “disrespect, insufficient pay [...] and lack of autonomy” and to find a way to challenge other assumptions about the field of education, which you disappointingly parrot in your article.

It seems to me you’re too worried about what other people think, to even think about the way to change it.

When your friend wondered “What would be the point of attending Wash. U instead of Ohio State if I became a teacher?” you are saying that our nation’s students do not urgently need teachers from the very best of colleges. A cheaper state college is “good enough” for our students, right?

Your audacity to say that “elite educations create opportunities, but sometimes close them as well” demonstrates a complete misunderstanding as to the seriousness of the very real lack of opportunities our nation’s students – the ones whose parents can’t afford an expensive Columbia education — face everyday.

In buying your “elite” education, you’ve bought into the very elitism that is a massive part of the problem – and, in the process, sold out our nation’s students.

 

 

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melissa's take on math and mastery and making sense of it all


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