The two things I love the most, Teach For America and CrossFit, are often accused of being cults. Apparently I like the taste of Kool-Aid.
I am a Teach For America alumna from the 2008 New York City corps. I am a member of CrossFit Hell's Kitchen. I could not be prouder to call myself these things.
The similarities and differences between Teach For America and CrossFit are the reasons I find each so essential to who I am. I've been with TFA for the past six years, ever since I graduated from college. I only recently joined the CrossFit community, June 2013, but I already cannot imagine my life without it, nor would I want to. This post is not a response to criticisms of either organization, nor is it an attempt to connect the education non-profit to the fitness company outside of my own experiences. I am a Teach For America alumna and a current Teach For America staff member who CrossFits and because this is my blog, this post is about me.
There are days where the magnitude of my job scares me. If I fuck up, there are actual and serious consequences that will have an impact on teachers and students. It is removed enough from the classroom where I no longer feel control over student outcomes and yet I feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure that the students in the schools that we serve are receiving the best possible opportunities because they deserve them. I am deeply committed to Teach For America's mission and my sense of urgency is high. And sometimes I get myself so upset about educational inequity that I feel entirely helpless and about to lose my shit. CrossFit grounds me and proves to me that hard work, ambitious goals, and a plan leads to results.
I think the best thing about CrossFit programming is its scalability. Everyone can do some form of the scheduled WOD. I'm serious, people missing arms and legs are doing versions of the movements so those of us lucky enough to have all of our extremities moving properly have no excuse not to try. When I first started teaching, I didn't get scaffolding. It seemed really unfair to me that kids would get different work, but then I learned that in order to teach children, you have to meet them where they are. You don't lower the expectation, but rather figure out what it's going to take to get them there. Yesterday I did a benchmark WOD called Nancy - 5 rounds of a 400m run and 15 overhead squats. The prescribed weight for women is 65#. I can't do that many OHS at that weight. I had to scale it to 45# in order to do the workout. Last summer I used 20#. In less than a year I have been able to add 25# to a workout and one day I will complete Nancy using 65#. If a kid can't write a short answer without sentence stems, I'm going to give him the sentence stems and we are going to work until he only needs a word bank and then we are going to work even harder until he can write without them. It doesn't matter if his classmates can answer the question on their own and it doesn't matter that others in the WOD Rx'd it on their first try (looking at you Ry). We do what we can do today and we work harder tomorrow.
There are some other similarities between TFA and CF that just make me feel at home.
No one outside of Teach For America and CrossFit seems to understand what I'm saying. "My goal is a 92.5% confirm-matric rate on FDOS" and "3 rounds for reps of 4:00 AMRAP of 10 HSPU, 20 single arm KB power cleans 32/24kg (10R/10L) and 30 double-unders" make perfect sense to me and yet read as complete nonsense to the uninitiated. I want 92.5% of the teachers accepted to my region who arrive at regional induction to be teaching on the first day of school (always have to count for attrition) and my workout consists of as many reps as possible in 4 minutes of 10 handstand push-ups, 20 single arm kettlebell power cleans (10 for each arm), and 30 jump rope jumps where the rope circles your body twice. If six years with TFA has taught me anything, it is to take comfort in acronyms.
You can spot a TFA'er and CrossFitter by the gear. Next time you're on the early morning 4 train, take a look around and spot the TFA coffee mugs and tote bags. Now that I've pointed it out to you, you're going to see them everywhere. Sometimes I tip my Teach For America travel mug and make eye contact with others across the car and we share the knowledge that no matter how long we must sit on that train, it will never be longer than any bus ride back from our institute summer school placements to St. John's University. The folks walking down the street in knee high socks and Nanos are CrossFitters. When I see someone in a pair of Nanos, I feel like we have an immediate connection and I have to talk to them about their box. I have made approximately 22 friends in airports alone because I was wearing my Nanos. If you're wearing a t-shirt that says anything about Fran, Rogue, or CF__, you can bet that I am going to strike up a conversation. And I don't even like strangers.
I don't think you can really understand Teach For America or CrossFit unless you are a part of them. They each foster a sense of community based on a shared experience. There are something like 8,000 boxes around the world and we've currently got 49 Teach For America regions. CrossFit Kilo is about a thousand miles away from CrossFit Hell's Kitchen and at 12,000 sq. ft., I think it's about six times the size. But when I walked in I was immediately welcomed into their community, I received instruction from their talented and knowledgable coaches, and I understood their WOD. When people drop-in at CFHK, I know they are receiving quality coaching and I hope that we each are as welcoming to visitors to our community as others have been to me. Teaching in the largest New York City corps can be seen as vastly different than teaching in our Hawai'i or Memphis regions, but making the commitment to teach for a minimum of two years and doing whatever it takes to do the best for your kids is something that all of us who joined the corps and honored our commitment have in common. Sure the training has changed (hopefully for the better), and we are now placing thousands of new corps members each year across 35 states and the District of Columbia, but our mission remains the same. All kids deserve an excellent education and educational inequity is a solvable problem. Let's get after it. We've all got our own regions and corps years and we've got our own affiliates, but at the heart of it, we are one.
It seems that everyday someone is getting their fifteen minutes of internet fame for hating on Teach For America or CrossFit. I get it - you don't agree with the methodologies. If you don't think you can train a teacher over the course of a summer or certify a coach in a weekend, that is fine. You can think any thoughts you'd like. Our teachers must pass state exams and complete all other requirements mandated by individual states to be credentialed and/or certified to teach in their assigned regions. They are deemed highly qualified teachers by the states in which they teach. The L1 CrossFit certification is the first step in becoming a CrossFit coach, but since I haven't completed the program, I don't think I am qualified to pass judgement. You don't like the founders of TFA and CrossFit. If you want to dislike Wendy Kopp and Greg Glassman for being visionaries who took their ideas and made something out of them, that's fine. They've each changed thousands of people's lives. I think they spent more time taking action than passing judgment but perhaps I'm wrong.
I love Teach For America and I love CrossFit. I love them for their similarities and for their differences. I love that they each give me a sense of purpose and every morning when I wake up, I have a reason to get out of bed and give my best. I think they each attract some pretty high quality people. In fact, many of the people I love most are TFA'ers who are also CrossFitters. So I guess I'm in two cults and I'm okay with that.