When I Was Younger, So Much Younger Than Today

January 23, 2013

I came across, recently, as I’ve been scanning in some of the ‘clutter’ I’ve had in boxes in storage, the the cover letter and the two essays I wrote for my TFA application.  The deadline for applying to become a part of the second ever Teach For America cohort was in January of 1991.  As this was exactly 22 years ago, this is the first time that these essays are approximately the same age as new members of the soon-to-be Teach For America 2013 cohort.

I thought of posting these after seeing two recent comments from newly accepted corps members on my ‘Why I Did TFA And Why You Shouldn’t’ post.  One was very naive and the other was more realistic.  I was wondering where I would have stood on this spectrum 22 years ago.  I’ll quote the comments from those two new corps members and then reprint the scans of my essays.  I’m doing this, not to ridicule the new corps member who I call ‘naive’ but to show that it is pretty natural for someone in his/her position to feel this way.  Even back 22 years ago, TFA recruited us and gave us the confidence that we would be able to do a good job right away.

Here is the ‘naive’ comment:

I just got accepted to TFA and plan to accept my offer from them tomorrow. I debated long and hard about this choice. I believe that while TFA ers don’t have the wisdom of more experienced teachers, we bring nuanced ideas to the table–ideas that people who have been in the business of education for a long time may not have because they are set in their ways or have become cynical about creating meaningful change. Of course there are excellent experienced teachers out there, whom I hope to learn from, but there’s also something to be said for the energy and idealism that we fresh TFA ers bring to the table. It might be blind idealism, but it still counts. We’re the most successful in our respective graduating classes. We’ve never failed and as such, have the confidence and drive to tackle the problem of education inequity that plagues our country and touches nearly every corner of society. Crime rates, graduation rates, the economy–these concepts are all intertwined and can be helped (not solved) by making progress in our neediest schools. I’m not saying that I’m going to be a great teacher my first year–I’m probably not. But I’m going to try damn hard. I’m going to be there at 6 am and at 7 pm, and probably on Saturdays. And you know what? After 2 years, I’m probably going to pack my bags and move on because I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to do such a difficult job for any longer than that time frame. BUT what will make me work harder than ever and with a sense of urgency is the fact that I know I don’t have much time. Gary–your insights are wonderful, but I think you underestimate the amount of passion that these corps members have. What we don’t have in experience, we make up for in passion and drive.

And here is the more realistic one:

As a future CM, this is the EXACT advice needed for us! We need to stop focusing on how awesome we are and take a step back and look realistically at our strengths and weaknesses! We also need to look at the strength and weaknesses of TFA before going to Institute! At my school, we have a lot of people going into TFA this year, and we are planning on having TFA meetings to discuss some of the key issues within the organization so that we can better handle ourselves once we are in it and work to create change from within! I strongly encourage all incoming CMs to do this as well!

If we want to call ourselves smart, then we have to earn that title. Smart people walk into an organization trying to know everything about it, and this blog post has really helped with that!Reading through my own essays from way back, the first thing I notice is how they were typed on an actual typewriter.  We didn’t have laptops back then so I didn’t bring my computer home with me over winter break when I was working on these.  My writing style isn’t all that different, though these definitely needed some editing.  I think I was typing my handwritten draft and realizing that some of the sentences didn’t sound right, so I was putting in some awkward extra explanation.

At that time, I had already decided against applying to law school so, for me, TFA was my main prospect at that time.  If I didn’t get into TFA I was planning to try being a math teacher anyway.  I do admit that I know it is going to be tough, but of course I also have high hopes that my ‘sacrifices’ in becoming a teacher will be appreciated by my students.  For sure the most bizarre part is my final stanza of the third essay where I wrote:

I am not the enemy of the poor, and neither are the millions of others who dedicate themselves to helping the culturally less fortunate.  I offer myself as a stepping stone to help many needy youngsters into a world of opportunity.  The beauty of this metaphorical scene is that everyone including me, the stone, will be happy if I am successful.Since I was contemplating becoming a career teacher, I feel like I can excuse myself from the naive ideas that I might be able to use my differences as a strength.  Of course nobody becomes a teacher if they think they don’t have an aptitude for it.

Below is the cover letter I submitted along with the two essays:

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship.