Induction is a little less than two weeks away. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever! However, there’s been plenty to keep busy with. I’ll be in Cherry Hill, NJ tomorrow through Sunday with my STEM education friends discussing “Teaching as Inquiry.” And there’s always TFA pre-work to do! I’ll admit, I haven’t been as diligent as I should be. However, as I was already the proud owner of both Teaching as Leadership and A Chance to Make History before my acceptance into the corps, I felt like it was okay to not pour over those again quite yet. But I will, I promise.
BUT. I did finish my “Story of Self.” It was a very tricky thing to write! I wanted to include it as a little taste of why I decided to join TFA, as it has been a long and twisted journey, as any of my friends (or my advisor) from MC could attest to. So, here it is (be warned–this is probably the most personal thing I’ve ever posted on the internet! And its still a pretty rough draft.)
As an avid Nicholas Sparks fan, trying to communicate the values and experiences that have shaped my life has caused me to revisit a quotation from The Notebook. Duke introduces him by saying “I am no one special, just a common man with common thoughts. I’ve led a common life. There will be no monuments dedicated to me, and my name will soon be forgotten.” As someone who is lucky enough to have escaped life-altering challenges in my first 21 years of existence, I resonate deeply with Duke’s sentiments. And yet, I realize that there are two things drastically different between Duke and myself. First, I’m clearly not a man. And second, I’d like to think that I don’t think too many common thoughts.
The most eye-opening compliment I’ve ever received was from my best friend, who wrote that I care deeply about the world—more deeply than most. When I read this on a Christmas card, I began to realize that I take matters of the world to heart at an unusual level. (I should have noticed when she gave me a decorated jar with the words “World Peace Fund” painted on it). I reflected on the course selections and career paths I considered in college—while I certainly was drawn to one of my majors, mathematics, I eagerly signed up for courses in leadership, public policy, and international development. After worrying that my originally declared major of mathematics/education was too narrow for me to serve the world, I pursued majors in International Leadership Studies and Political Science before worrying that these career paths were too broad to inflict the kind of change I wanted to on the world. Oh, goodness. Despite forays into several career options, I knew I wanted to be involved in education—though through my college career this manifested into short-lived dreams of educational law, civil rights freedom fighter (I could study Brown v. Board of Education for weeks without becoming bored), and education policy researcher. While these options are certainly attractive and worthwhile pursuits in creating a more fair and just world, they didn’t sit well with me for too long.
I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family and an environment that deeply valued education. My mother attained nursing licensure as a youth, spending much hours that would be furiously rebuked by average student while pursuing this career path. My father never wanted to leave school, attaining a Ph. D. in polymer science when I was a toddler and teaching at both the high school and university level. In my childhood, the concept of graduating from college was never questioned. I was fortunate to have several passionate and talented teachers, especially in math and science, who reinforced the idea that I could chase any dream I wanted to after high school. In this way, I was incredibly blessed, but knew innately, with a greater understanding than most in my circumstances, that this path to happiness and prosperity was not shared by many of the children I attended school with or grew up in other areas.
I wish I could identify a “lightbulb” moment that opened my eyes to my intrinsically held values and motivations behind my life’s big decisions. Looking back, I should have identified my passion when I was 16 and purchased Rafe Esquith’s “There Are No Shortcuts”. Or maybe I should have gotten a clue when I’ve spent the last 7 years coaching gymnastics and track and field, counting these memories to be among the happiest of my life. Or better yet, when I was 18, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and went to Google to figure this mystery out like every child of the Millennial generation does. My search told me to list things that I cared about, from flowers to travel to new running shoes. My online guidance suggested that when I happen upon a subject or notion that moves me to tears, I should persevere endlessly to do whatever that idea may be. I saved that document, and it read “That the opportunity of learning and thinking to one’s greatest potential be given to everyone.” I’d like to think that this idea isn’t too bad for a Google search.
The idea of education and the notion of the unparalleled importance of the struggle for and the attainment of knowledge has been one of the most powerful motivators of my life. I wish I could place a defining happenstance that made it so, but the circumstances of my life and opportunities to confront inequality have ingrained this so deeply in my soul that I can’t remember when it arrived. I know it was cultivated through my studies as an undergraduate, when I was given the chance to understand the meaning of teacher leadership and critically examine dozens of ideas to make my Google dream come true. Thankfully, the only thing that has changed about this defining ideal is that I’ve realized that while the notion of true education equality isn’t necessarily as common as Duke considers himself to be, it may not be as solitary as I once believed and I’ve found ways to join forces with those that have the same unshakable belief.