SAINT-FORT: Teachers are essential, but are consistently devalued
Opinions Column: Charged Up
When you finally hit senior year of college, all anyone wants to know is, “What are you doing after graduation?” Thankfully I’ve had an answer to this question since November. Come this fall, I’ll be moving to Camden, New Jersey, and beginning to teach elementary school at what I consider to be the charter school of my dreams, thanks to Teach For America (TFA). There are a number of misconceptions surrounding TFA, ones that I don’t have all the answers or solutions to. But I can share my story and explain why the fight for educational equity is important to me.
I didn’t major in education. But by the time I realized I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore, I only had three credits left to complete in the major. Same thing with political science — I don’t want to be a politician or work on a campaign or anything like that. I recognized early on that learning and teaching have always been an essential component to my being. Looking toward my lofty end-of-career goals, I’ve always wanted to be a professor or some sort of academic. So when my dreams of working for The New York Times or chairing a Senate committee came to an end due to lack of faith in both systems, the path to teaching drew nearer.
Yet now when I’m met with the, “I didn’t know you wanted to be a teacher,” statement, I still cringe a little because of the disdain in the speakers’ voice. The work that teachers do is so undervalued it’s almost perverted. Being a teacher goes far beyond delivering a lesson plan and reprimanding a sneaky student, yet so few people realize that. It’s essentially impossible to say that anyone wound up wherever they are, without the aid of a teacher.
Similarly, I keep hearing, “You’re moving to Camden?! You’d better get a (insert miscellaneous weapon here).” I completely understand that Camden is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, but I highly doubt anyone has stopped to think about why that is. Of course there are a myriad of reasons but the glaring issue I see is that the city is filled with poor minorities who in the eyes of the government are undeserving of any real consorted attempts at stimulating a change — it’s a lost cause. And children are the primary victims of this broken system. Black and brown students simply are not afforded the same opportunities as kids from the suburbs or predominantly white towns — that’s just the reality of the situation. Schools that serve minority studies, especially in inner city areas, are failing due to lack of funding, resources and undervalued educators.
But what makes one student any more deserving than another? Why should a student who isn’t afforded any opportunities by proxy of where they live, be barred from thriving? The way I see it, I could have easily been a black girl that was not given any opportunity in the way of education. But I was lucky enough to have parents that found a way to afford living in a good school district. Of course, in this sense the “white savior” mentality is evoked. While I’m not white I still come from a place of privilege. Never mind the fact that as a black woman and the daughter of immigrants, I belong to one of the most marginalized social classes in the nation — on paper, my privilege undeniable. I’m from an affluent town, I grew up in an excellent public school system and am now poised to graduate from a world-renowned university.
However, luck shouldn’t factor into the strength or validity of one’s education. Knowledge is meant for everyone — a concept that so few are able to grasp. African slaves in America were not allowed to learn to read and write out of fear that if they knew more to life existed, they’d seek it and overthrow the peculiar institution. And yet again, America has found itself in this particular position once more. Inner cities and poverty stricken towns are dying because of a lack of education.
While you don’t learn everything you need to know in school and in many cases the essential learning takes place outside of the classroom, classroom learning is still imperative. First-rate elementary school teachers, passionate middle school teachers and dedicated high school teachers taught me how to learn and how to think critically. That’s how I am where I am today. That’s how I answered the question of “what are you doing after graduation,” only a couple months after my senior year began. The American educational system is a sad skeleton of severely broken bones, and all TFA is seeking to do, is set the bones and repair the body for those that need it the most. That’s educational equity.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies with a minor in public policy. She is a former opinions editor of The Daily Targum. Her column, "Charged Up," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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