One of Teach For America’s core values is diversity and that means we get to talk about it which isn’t exactly my favorite thing. Yesterday morning we had one of our monthly Saturday sessions of professional development. The agenda was pretty open that we would be discussing diversity. It’s not the first time. Actually its one of the core values that I think we tend to talk about the most. I was dreading it. A lot of times diversity talks are either cliche and superficial or just end up in arguments and upset a lot of people. I generally keep my mouth shut because I don’t actually like upsetting people.
TFA generally sticks to the idea that diversity is important. Their public statement tends to say that everyone can be a great teacher but corps members who share a cultural background or race with their students are able to have an additional impact in the classroom. This is often hard to stomach being a white girl who grew up on a farm and has close to absolutely nothing culturally in common with her students. I’ve heard that message a lot and though it still stings a little bit each time it’s said, I don’t necessarily disagree with it. Today however I actually started to understand within myself why it never sits well in my stomach.
In the process of applying to TFA, I got to preference locations. This is something I spent a decent amount of time debating over. Being the true type A person I am, I even had a spreadsheet that allowed for an analysis on at least eight different categories for each of the 40+ regions. A few of the regions are in rural locations, and I had a lot of conversations in my own head over these areas. I often wondered if I should preference the rural areas because I would have at least a small piece of shared background with my student. I know what its like to grow in the in the middle of nowhere and that is a little something to connect on.
I however decided that I didn’t want to continue living in a rural area. This was my time to move to the big city, to live on the coast, to see something new and different, to live the life I dreamed about as a little girl. I wanted that more, so I preferenced the east coast locations. I was adamant about not telling anyone my exact preference list, and I still haven’t shared that. I had various justifications for the decision at the time. Still I have often said that if you have to hide something you’re doing, there’s probably something wrong with it. Only now of course I realize that idea is pretty applicable to my preference list as well. I made my list for entirely selfish reasons, and I disregarded the thoughts of where I could be a great teacher and the thoughts of my future students. Ultimately diversity talks, I have a feeling, will always remind me of my selfishness and how I actively choose not to share any sort of cultural background with my students.
I know I’m being hard on myself and ultimately it was just a list that TFA still held the final decision over. Nevertheless it’s a feeling that I face and probably a good reminder to keep my intentions in check.