Why Teach For America Is Not Welcome in My Classroom

Teach For America Not Welcome in my ClassroomEvery spring, without fail, a Teach for America recruiter approaches me and asks if they can come to my classes and recruit students for TFA, and every year, without fail, I give them the same answer.

“Sorry.”

Until Teach for America becomes committed to training lifetime educators and raises the length of service to five years rather than two, I will not allow TFA to recruit in my classes.  The idea of sending talented students into schools in impoverished areas, and then after two years encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, law, and business in the hope that they will then advocate for educational equity really rubs me the wrong way.

It was not always thus.  Ten years ago, when a Teach for America recruiter first approached me,  I was enthusiastic about the idea of recruiting my most idealistic and talented students for work in poor schools.  I allowed TFA representative to make presentations in my classes, filled with urban studies and African American studies majors.  Several of my best students applied, all of whom wanted to become teachers, and most of whom came from the kind of high-poverty neighborhoods  where TFA proposed to send its recruits.

Not one of them was accepted!

Enraged, I did a little research and found that Teach for America had accepted only four of the nearly one hundred Fordham students who applied.  I become even angrier when I read in the New York Times that TFA had accepted forty-four of one hundred applicants from Yale that year.  Something was really wrong if an organization which wanted to serve low-income communities rejected every applicant from Fordham, students who came from those very communities, and accepted half of the applicants from an Ivy League school where very few of the students, even students of color, come from working-class or poor families.

Since then, the percentage of Fordham students accepted into Teach for America has marginally increased, but the organization has done little to win my confidence that it is seriously committed to recruiting people willing to make a lifetime commitment to teaching and administering schools in high-poverty areas.

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach for America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially-conscious person can make.  Nor do they encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career; indeed, the organization goes out of its way to make joining TFA seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher-paying professions.

Three years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.”  The message of that flyer was “use teaching in high-poverty areas a stepping stone to a career in business.”  It was not only profoundly disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.

In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators.  It is with the leaders of the organization, who enjoy the favor with which TFA is regarded with by captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world.  They have used this access to move rapidly to positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms.

The organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality.  No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes testing.  Michelle Rhee, a TFA recruit, is the poster child for such policies, but she is hardly alone.

Her counterparts can be found in New Orleans (where they led the movement toward a system dominated by charter schools), in New York (where they play an important role in the Bloomberg education bureaucracy) and in many other cities.

And the elusive goal of educational equity—how well has it fared in the years Teach for America has been operating?  Not only has there been little progress in the last fifteen years in narrowing the test score gap by race and class, but income inequality has become greater, in the last fifteen years than at any other time in modern American history.   TFA has done nothing to promote income redistribution, reduce the size of the prison population, encourage social investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, or revitalize the arts, science, and history in the nation’s schools.  TFA’s main accomplishment has been to marginally increase the number of talented people entering the teaching profession, but only a small fraction of those remain in the schools where they were originally sent.

Mark NaisonBut the most objectionable aspect of Teach for America—other than its contempt for lifetime educators—is its willingness to create another pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged in the rapidly expanding educational-industrial complex, which already offers numerous careers for the ambitious and well-connected.  An organization which began by promoting idealism and educational equity has become, to all too many of its recruits, a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor.

Mark Naison

Mark Naison is a Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African American History, urban history, and the history of sports. His most recent book, White Boy: A Memoir, was published in the spring of 2002

Republished with permission from History News Network

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Comments

  1. Ryder says

    Sadly, this article, like so much of education… is totally focused on the adults in the system… With far too many, even most teachers these days… kids are never the first thing on their minds. It is a system set up by adults FOR adults… and the kids are just there because there is money attached to them.

    If this article said anything about how the selection process was helping or hurting kids… in a way that was clearly demonstrated, then I’d have more respect for it.

    FAR too much focus on the adults. Far too much.

  2. Rejected says

    I had a 3.88 gpa with a major in Chem when I applied last year and was rejected. To rub salt in, the rejection letter goes on to list a few of the qualities they look for, which I thought I fitted perfectly. It really isn’t a big deal but it was my first application as a senior looking for a job and it has made me a bit hesitant about applying for anything else.

  3. Kiah says

    I’m wondering if the motivation in not accepting people who already know they want to dedicate their lives to teaching comes from the idea that those individuals will join schools and be hired without the help of TFA? Perhaps the program is searching for talented individuals who are undecided in career and could possibly be converted through a two-year trial into a lifelong teachers? All the while filling positions that would otherwise be vacant and exposing students to a more diverse faculty.

  4. says

    There’s a bit of a logical gap and something erroneous snuck in there.

    First of all, 55% of Yale’s student body receives some form of financial aid. 15% of Yale students receive a full scholarship, based on need (family income + wealth/indebtedness). In addition, almost twice that many pay less to attend Yale than they would pay to attend a state school. So you are spreading an unhelpful myth about access to higher education, which only does harm to people who listen to you.

    Secondly, after you “did a little research” did you in any way determine what background those 44 accepted applicants from Yale came from? “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing” and that’s why we call people sophomores from the greek for “wise morons,” itself a quaint oxymoron to remind students that its better to learn a lot than a little.

    I would be sympathetic to your argument, except now I don’t really know what you are talking about.

  5. Chris says

    This article seems like sour grapes – first there is the snub that the author’s students don’t usually get in and second there is the outrage that TFA has not created a generation of teachers that fight in ideological lockstep with the political stance of the teacher unions.

    Yes these teachers maybe underprepared their first year, but that goes for all first year teachers or anyone starting their first job.

    And most of the students who volunteer for TFA are bleeding heart liberals. The educational establishment should treat the fact that many end up advocating different positions from the teacher’s unions as indicative of independent thought rather than heresy.

  6. Wayne says

    Somehow a link to this article came up on my Facebook page. I read it with interest, as my son was a TFA in New Orleans before Katrina, has returned post-Katrina to live in NOLA (after earning a Masters in Arizona) and is close to several of his TFA friends there who are still there helping to rebuild and run the NO school system. I acknowledge Prof. Naison’s complaint that TFA was recruiting the wrong students for the wrong reasons. Then I saw this article is more than 10 years old! Why, Dick and Sharon, are you recycling such an old article at this time? How about an up-to-date comment on TFA today? Are the shortcomings recited by Prof. Naison still extant? How about asking TFA to respond to this question?

  7. formerTFA says

    As a former TFA corps member you may or may not be surprised to hear that I disagree wholeheartedly with your post, but here’s the bigger point: How in the world can you possibly blame TFA for all the social ills you call out in the second to last paragraph? When did TFA ever claim to be a leader in even-ing out income distribution? Or in lessening the prison population? Have you been able to impact these numbers in your career? If the answer is no, according to your logic apparently our response should be “how dare you!”

  8. Mireya Los Angeles 1993 says

    I began teaching twenty years ago with TFA and I will be in classroom first thing tomorrow. Check your facts. I grew up in a low income, inner ciy area and that is where I teach. This article is insulting.

  9. Tamar says

    I was in TFA, and was not born privileged, and went to a middle-of-the-road state school. I think what the author doesn’t realize is that TFA can’t REQUIRE anyone to sign on for 5 years. You aren’t even FORCED to stay the 2 years; that’s just what you’re supposed to do. (I have heard you do get blacklisted by nonprofits if you don’t do two years.) Also, TFA does NOT encourage alums to seek jobs outside of teaching; all they ever did was encourage as many people as possible to STAY in education. Unfortunately, it’s such a horrible job (IMO) that many people don’t wish to stay. Most first-year non-TFA teachers don’t stay either. I have also not found that the connections you make through TFA are all the beneficial afterwards, so TFA certainly does not create “another pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged.” The author can let whoever he wants into his classroom to recruit, but he shouldn’t write about something he doesn’t seem to know that much about.

    • Katie MacAllister says

      Agreed. Given the amount of financial aid that Ivies now offer, the assumption that all of those Yale students are “privileged” is both insulting and incorrect.

  10. says

    Don’t even get me started on TFA. My best friend and I applied. I was from LA and she was from Long beach. Both Berkeley grads. 3.8+ GPAS with a background in education while in college working with youth. We were both denied. We were shocked. She
    went on to Harvard school of education and is now a Vice Principal in NY. I went onto be a counselor and now run afterschool programs. The only people that got in that we knew were white suburban kids with no ed experience, no 2nd language (we both spoke Spanish fluently). Sigh.

    • Concerned711 says

      TFA selection is an intense process. The fact that TFA didn’t accept you just because you looked good on paper with your high GPA suggests you were unimpressive in your interview. TFA has actively recruited graduates who represent the students we teach, but it comes down to a selection process based on more than race. It’s sad to suggest that your denial into the program was based on just the factors you mentioned. I am completely supportive though of your leadership in NY. Hope you didn’t feel entitled to it though as a Harvard graduate.

      • Elrond Hubbard says

        Congratulations. You just demonstrated why TFA is failing as an organization. Not only did you attempt to suggest that, despite his excellent vitae which clearly would have required him to have decent interview skills, his rejection was a personal problem thereby shrugging off any responsibility TFA has to take well qualified applicants.

        Additionally, you missed the pronoun in front of “went on to Harvard” which indicated that it was his friend, not he, who is the Harvard grad.

        I’m so glad there are people like you, people who refuse to read critically before being judgmental asshats, are involved in the education of America’s youth. Good job. I’m sure the fruits of your labor are going to be as beautiful as a bukkake.

    • say no to TFA says

      Carlos,
      Take it from someone who dropped out (did I really just admit that?) of TFA, you, and the students you are now helping, are better off for not being accepted. Perhaps your experience would have been better than mine, but I am grateful that someone like you (and your friend) found another way to be a positive role in the life of children!

  11. says

    Teach for American will become the 2nd greatest educational failure in Indian Country by 2015.  They will not be able to close the achievement gap, nor will they be able to graduate more students – because most of them don’t even know how to approach a Native American person, let alone a Native American student.  Now, the State of South Dakota has decided to lend the “Indians” a “helping hand” by funding the Teach for America Program on the state-level. 

    The only thing certain in Indian Country is that Native Americans will be continually used as the “Guinea Pigs” for any new wave, be it educational or health related.  So, while many of my friends have had major surgeries to remove messed up Norplants from the old birth control experiment in the early 2000’s, we have proved that it needed to be inserted properly for all others who would get it in the future.

    The 1st greatest failure in Indian Education was the boarding schools, and to think that this will be the 2nd greatest systemic failure… it could only get worse if our children were stolen from us again.

  12. Rose says

    For the past 15 years, TFA has struggled to live up to its claims. The truth is that TFA recruits have not closed the achievement gap, nor will they ever close the achievement gap. TFA alum like Michelle Rhee are using education reform for personal gain. The New Teacher Project is a failure, but Rhee is laughing all the way to the bank. The achievement gap will only be closed when we change the way educate in America. Education Reform must become Education Restructuring. Students are bored in school. The powers that be that force students, who have no interest in learning, to take four more years of English, Science, History, and Math in high school should be blamed for the achievement gap. Japan will always appear to be smarter than us, because they don’t include these students in their statistics. They provide students a choice after the middle school grades. They choose an educational/career path that they are interested in pursuing, not forced to take. The students that are included in their statistics are their more intelligent students who chose the college prep path, not the trade or skilled worker path students or the students not interested in much of anything.

  13. Evan says

    A high percentage of Teach For America grads stay in the field of education considerably longer than the 2-year commitment. 43.6% of TFA corps members voluntarily remained in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years and 14.8% stayed in placements for > 4 yrs. 60.5 % voluntarily remained in the teaching profession for more than two years and 35.5 %stayed in teaching for > 4 years. Here’s the Harvard Grad School of Ed. study about it: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2008/05/21_project.phpAlso, Teach For America is not just about training teachers, but about creating a group of leaders to change the education landscape from different fields. Many alumni are going on to advocate for education reform from elected office, start their own charter schools, or start a range of other social enterprises all working for education. Here’s the study on that: http://educationnext.org/creating-a-corps-of-change-agents/ 

    • says

      While your facts may be true, they are in NO way a response to the real and valid criticism in this article at ALL, though – because “stay in the field of education” is NOT the same as “stay in the urban classroom”, and because, as the author of the original article notes, the promotional literature still presents teaching as a stepping stone to other fields (business, etc.) and to “educational leadership” over classroom teaching. As an urban classroom teacher who gave up specialist and administration opportunities to stay IN the classroom, I can assure you that using classroom teaching as a stepping stone to such ends weakens the direct experience of students by glutting classroom with inexperience, denigrates the role of the classroom teacher as a mature and experienced professional, and perpetuates the myth that good schools are first and foremost about good upper-tier leadership rather than strong leadership and professionalism throughout the system. This isn’t about “representing the group accurately” – it’s not corrective, and it doesn’t dismiss the original article in any way – because an ACCURATE representation of this group, which the original author granted and then you added useful value TO, still deserves the absolutely valid critique herein.

  14. P Miller says

    When you assert that “It was not only profoundly disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.” you grossly over exaggerate the motives of TFA, which in reality is an organization founded with the purpose of helping under privileged communities.

  15. realist says

    teach for america is basically what college grads do when they find out they aren’t going to get the job of their dreams..or the job they majored in . so as a last resort they do this in hopes something else will come up to drag them out. most of them don’t really want to be teachers or help poor students, they just need someone to pay for their grad school or their life until something better comes up. so tfa is purgatory or for most doing it who don’t really want to –hell.

    • Concerned711 says

      these generalizations are frustratingly inaccurate. i didn’t join TFA because i couldn’t find a job. i did it to help kids. i had another, more comfortable (easier), and higher paying job waiting, and chose TFA. everyone who is accepted in TFA choses it over other options, not as a last resort, because we believe in the mission. i also don’t understand where the idea comes from that being in TFA pays for grad school, because it doesn’t. this post is completely unfounded.

    • Proud2011CorpsMember says

      It is easier statistically easier to get into Harvard than it is to get into TFA. The people who get into TFA are people who have set themselves up to have a PLETHORA of options it is no one’s last resort.

  16. Christie Jennings says

    After graduating, I taught for 4 years and am still in the field of education. If it weren’t for my acceptance into Teach For America, I don’t think this would be true.

    This article is WAY off.

    • Chris says

      You didn’t read the article, did you? And if you did, did you comprehend what was read?

      The author’s problem isn’t with the individuals that want to make the difference. His problem is with the organization itself.

      Put yourself aside and look at the bigger picture. As an organization, Mark is spot on. Why doesn’t TFA mandate a 5 year commitment? Why do they tout themselves as a stepping stone to other, more lucrative careers?

      I had my own little run-in with TFA. I was successfully admitted into the 2010 Corps, but ultimately rejected the offer because of exactly the attitude that Mark has highlighted above.

      The article isn’t off. Your perception of the problem, frankly, is incomplete.

      • Ex-TFAer says

        Chris – you are absolutely right. I was accepted into the 2011 Corps and felt wrong about it from the very first interview. I went to Brown AND grew up in a low-income household AND went to Atlanta Public Schools, so I was essentially guaranteed admittance. In fact, they came to me and asked me to interview. I had no idea what TFA was, but something seemed wrong…

        Well, let me tell you just how wrong it was. After a short summer of training, where i worked with a total of 12 fifth grade math students with four other teachers in the classroom – I was thrown into a school 40 minutes outside of Atlanta to teach 8th AND 9th grade social studies. I went from 12 to 200 students. I had a week to prepare, as TFA changed my assignment right before I was to step into the classroom. That’s a week to make an entire month’s worth of Lesson Plans for TWO classes, to decorate a classroom, to come up with a syllabus – oh, and maybe sleep and eat in between, if I had time. It was utter hell. Chris, I commend you for getting out while you could. I quit a month into my teaching “journey”.

        Mark is right – I wanted to teach for america because it was a nice resume booster. MOST STUDENTS want to Teach for America for this reason, and you sort of convince yourself that lots of poor, urban students are benefiting as well, so it’s a win-win situation. Most first year teachers are miserable. By the second year, they’ve just gotten used to it. I quit before things got too out of hand. Who wins here? No one. I owe TFA $4000 in repayment of loans and grans (thanks for living up to your mission of helping the underprivileged!), and my students had an under-prepared teacher standing before them each and every day. How is this a positive thing?

        I will say – TFA training is quite comprehensive. They cover a lot in those couple of months. But I assure you, in a single summer, you cannot possibly learn everything you need to know to become an effective teacher. You just can’t.

        • Committed says

          Unfortunately your post reveals that your focus was in the wrong place. Your comment focuses primarily on how your experience affected you, rather than your students. You seem surprised that teaching is hard, but it’s supposed to be hard, even more so when you’re working with students who are presumably disadvantaged and far behind as many of the children corps members serve are.

          I’m currently in my fifth year of teaching after joining Teach For America in 2007. I also took and repaid transitional funding to help with joining the corps. During my time in the corps I struggled to find the right answers for teaching my kids and while I’ve yet to find all all the answers (no one does) I’ve become an effective teacher because I’ve been committed to becoming one for my kids.

          It’s also worth noting that you’re not the only teacher that had a hard institute experience nor are you the only person who’s had his/her teaching assignment change or have difficulty adjusting to a new place of residence. The reality is that TFA never promised you a smooth and easy experience. You were given an opportunity to help children. Instead you quit on them. TFA didn’t fail them. You did.

          • Ex-TFAer says

            Of course my comment focuses on my experience. How can I speak for my students? I did mention, however, that my students had an under-prepared teacher, which was largely why I quit. Why should I stay somewhere where I’m not helping? And, furthermore, where I’m miserable every day of my life?

            I am NOT surprised that teaching is hard. I respect and admire teachers for what they do. I AM surprised at how much responsibility TFA gives 21-year-old kids to lead other kids.

            Clearly, you, too, have drunk the TFA kool-aid, as they say. “You were given an opportunity to help children. Instead you quit on them. TFA didn’t fail them. You did.” You’ve learned the TFA way of guilting people into feeling responsible for America’s educational woes!

            Yes – TFA does this thing where they make you feel solely responsible for the welfare of America’s underprivileged youth. I didn’t “quit on them” , I was doing what was best for me, and for them. Congratulations on finding YOUR calling.

            • Reasonable says

              That’s just it, then – isn’t it? Teaching is more Commited’s calling than it is yours. That’s not TFA’s fault, is it? I don’t blame you for getting out of something you were failing at. You never know what you’ll be good at until you try, and that’s commendable. But brushing broad strokes about TFA based on the experience of one failed teacher is highly unfair. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that your case is not typical.

            • Noexcuses says

              @364bdc750e70211603b1e766e651dc62:disqus – you said that you “wanted to teach for america because it was a nice resume booster.” Whether TFA is a good organization or not, you clearly didn’t have the right mindset going into it. I’m not sure what you expected when you applied. Teaching your first year is always tough and you’re never prepared but I think that’s true with any first job. If teaching wasn’t for you, it’s probably a good thing that you resigned when you did as not to affect the kids negatively, but I don’t see how TFA is to blame for any of your decisions or experiences.

            • TFA No More says

              Ex-TFAer,
              I can fully relate to your experience. I lasted only slightly longer than you did. Though I actually had considered turning teaching into a second career for me, it took a few months in a classroom to realize that despite all my efforts and commitment, I could not possibly be the teacher I needed to be for my students. I believe TFA can be effective if given a descent placement with support from the school you are working in (an issue for me). I think TFA should concentrate more on classroom management during the training process, as this was a huge problem at the school I was placed in (not just for me, but for all the newer teachers). I too was replaced with an unqualified person (answered phones at the front desk). I feel bad for my students, but know that I made the right decision for me. I hope the veil of secrecy that TFA has is lowered soon so others don’t run into some of the problems that we ran into.

      • Alika says

        Actually, TFA corps members tend to stay at their placements longer than other new hires recruited and selected directly by the districts.

        As an alum who is now going into his 7th year within the field of education (a career choice that was solely informed by TFA), this article distorts TFA’s vision. Mind you, 60% of our alums stay within the field of education.

        Again, it is important to note that TFA teaches its Corps Members from day one that teaching is leadership. Teaching is aspiration, and as a TFA corps member, I was never told otherwise.

        –A Proud 2006 Hawaii Charter Corps Member

        • Sarah says

          At my final interview with TFA the majority of the other interviewees expressed how TFA was only a backup plan if their other options didn’t pan out. If they were hired, TFA does a horrible job choosing which applicants are truly dedicated to the program.

  17. Katie says

    I am a traditionally trained teacher (Elementary Education) AND a TFA corps member (ENC ’10). I’ve gone to public schools (including university) my entire life and definitely don’t come from a wealth of money. I don’t think TFA undermines the profession of teaching at all. In fact, it was much more rigorous to go through the process to become a corps member than it was to be accepted into the school of education at my university.

    I’ve always wanted to teach at a school where I felt I could make a difference. Not just have students who make good grades, but students who develop a thirst for knowledge. I applied for TFA because of the opportunities it offers. The professional development is great. The support is really wonderful.

    I don’t know why anyone cares whether you let them in your room or not. No representative ever came to speak in any of my courses. If TFA is something you are interested in or want to do, you’ll find it. Simple as that.

  18. Benjamin says

    This is absurd. If you were truly interested in helping increase student achievement, you would realize that TFA makes significant gains. Come to a low-performing school and see the difference. Two years or not, TFA makes a difference in students’ lives.

  19. San Antonio CM says

    There is a reason why TFA is selective.

    TFA aims to select college graduates that have experience in leadership, ambition, can work hard, will not crack at the first signs of failure, and can lead their students to success. If an applicant was rejected this just means that the selection committee did not feel they were apt for this job. Not everyone is meant to teach. And that’s that.

    It does not seem a just reason to give up on TFA on the means alone that they do not accept worthy candidates.

    Were I a recruiter at your university, I would not have created flyers that bribe people into applying, but luckily, the selection process aims to “weed out” applicants in search of just “padding their resume.”

    TFA corps members are genuine people that want to help their students success for no other reason than for the futures of the children. I hope that, for the future, you will challenge yourself to open doors rather than close them.

  20. Eastern NC CM says

    You can refer to TFA as “a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor” if you like, but I will go on loving and teaching my students just the same. I am grateful for the opportunity to be their teacher.

  21. kate says

    While I do agree that TFA’s commitment should be longer, and that sending untrained college graduates almost always leads to a difficult first year (for teachers and students), I still feel this article goes a too far with the TFA-bashing. I am a 2nd year teacher with Teach for America in an urban public school in Baltimore, and I plan on staying in education for a long time. I went to a school very similar to that of Fordham. Despite the sometimes overwhelming stress and hardships that unfortunately go hand in hand with the job of working in an inner city school–from difficulties with administration, to the lack of resources, lack of structure, and general classroom management struggles– many of my friends in TFA will be teaching beyond their two year commitment. Mainly because we all realize that despite the harships in the job description, we know our students have it inifinitely harder. We care for our students, and want to help them better their futures by being effective teachers and good role models.

    Like I said, a good number of people in my TFA cohort will be teaching beyond their commitment. It is also true that a decent amount of people will be going to law school next year, and, in addition, those who will be continuing to teach may not teach more than 3 or 4 years. However, TFA certainly does not encourage this when you are actually IN the program. If anything, they encourage you to stay in education for life. As a marketing initiative, unfortunatley, yes–but certainly not when you are in the program. In addition, the TFA “alum” that I am in contact with who are not actually in the classroom are working in educational administration or policy or non-profit– in other words, they are still in the field of education.

    One important aspect of the TFA movement always seems to be incredibly understated: TFA gets high performing, driven, Type A college graduates interested in a career in education–whether that be teaching, administration, counseling, or policy. I did not go to an Ivy league school, I went to a school very similar to that of Fordham, however, I was salutatorian of my high school, graduated summa cum laude, and was involved in many organization on campus. Whenever I expressed interest in teaching in high school and college, many of my teachers, professors, and peers would respond the same way: “You want to teach? You can do so much more. I really see you doing something else — what about law school? med school? getting your PhD?” TFA, even if indirectly, helps restore some level of prestige to an extremely difficult and thankless job. I’m always seeing articles comparing US education to places like Finland and Korea, and one major aspect of education in these countries is that teaching is an incredibly SELECTIVE and PRESTIGIOUS. This is obviously not the case in America. Generally anybody with a college degree can get into a graduate school of education, and once you are in the classroom, like I said, it is unfortunately a very thankless job. And, whether people like to admit it or not, a lot of teachers will jump at the chance to teach in a suburban district rather than an ubran district (it’s no secret that, generally speaking, resources are more plentiful, administrations are more structured and supportive, and students are generally easier to manage on a day to day basis). While TFA is certainly not the solution to this cultural view that teaching is a somewhat “sub par” profession, it is certainly a start.

  22. Adrian Monge says

    This is a gross misrepresentation of Teach for America. Not only is Mr. Naison admittedly bias, the majority of his facts are complete fabrications. I am a young African-American woman from a low-income community. I work as a student recruiter for Teach for America at the University of Pittsburgh, and next year I will embark upon my LIFELONG journey towards closing the achievement gap between rich and poor and white and black by working as a corps member teaching elementary school in Detroit. Teach for America does provides its corps members with opportunities to transition into other fields if they choose, but Teach for America boasts a retention rate that surpasses that of traditionally trained teachers working in low-income communities. In fact, last year 65% of our corps members stayed beyond their two year commitment. Further, a person doesn’t have to be in the classroom to fight the achievement gap. There are a number of positions in government, NGOs, and non-profits in which individuals can work toward education equity. Teaching is a highly demanding profession, and the incredible teacher turnover rates in our country prove that most simply can’t do it forever. Bottom line, even if it is only for two years, two years with a competent and effective teacher is far better than having a lifetime of teachers that are only average because average teaching will not close the achievement gap. Teach for America still exists and enjoys national recognition because it works, and the organization has a comprehensive plan for expansion in the coming years so we can increase our impact and make a dent in the national statistics. To attribute the nation’s sharp wealth divide to any ‘failure’ of Teach for America is beyond ludicrous. This is the exact reason we have failed to reform the American education system- adults are putting their own egos and bias before the needs of our children. Maybe if Teach for America had been placing teachers in communities like mine when I was growing up, some of my former classmates would be in the same position that I am today. But because that’s not yet the case, I, myself, and thousands of other Teach for America corps members will continue working relentlessly to make that vision a reality.

  23. says

    Well, let’s see. He’s right that TFA is elitist in terms of selectiveness– his students didn’t get in because most students don’t get in. However, the acceptance rate is no higher at the Ivies (if that one year cited was true, it was an anomaly) than it is at, say, Oregon. He also ignores the number of TFA alums who stay in education– more than two-thirds, when originally, few had any such intention, and TFA quite actively encourages people to stay on or go on with the ‘fight.’ I’m a good example of this phenomenon, an 02-04 Delta Corps member who for the last seven years has taught writing at the University of Oregon to low-income, first-generation, at-risk students of color when I originally had no intention of remaining in public education. Among my friends who did TFA with me in the Mississippi Delta town of Indianola, one is now the Principal of a Delta school, one stayed in MS for three more years as a librarian and now is a librarian in a low-income school out East, one went on to teach another year in the Delta and then two years in the Bronx before going back to graduate school in Architecture, one is now a middle school social studies teacher in North Portland at a low-income middle school, and another stayed in the Delta as a Program Coordinator for two years, managed the entire Delta region for TFA for three years, and now is high up at the organization “Achievement First,” running public charters that aim to fight educational inequality. That sample may be unrepresentative, but from my perspective, the guy has it pretty wrong.

  24. Jesse D. Troothe says

    To: Cnoel01

    1. If I were in Dr. Niason’s shoes, I would not let TFA recruit from my students either, and
    I will tell you why. It’s clear that TFA is never going to hire any of his students becuase Fordham is not a Yale. Therfore, it would be highly de-motivating for his students to take an interview. As an educator, he has responsibility to make sure his students are not harmed by stuff they don’t understand. It would be very different if the students understood the game and figured they just needed a practice job interview, but the process with TFA, and similar organizations such as BES, is entirely different than any other sort of job interview, so the students are not going to learn “portable” interview skills.

    2. Anyone has the right and responsibility to say their classroom is off-limits if they believe the harm outweighs the good. This is basic, and applies across-the-board, including teaching as well as any other occupation.

  25. Jesse D. Troothe says

    So, TFA’s recruitment standards are actually part of the problem.

    TFA demands a high GPA, but that’s somewhat counter-productive. Most high GPA students are very bright, and don’t work up a sweat when they study. They don’t understand all the myriad of obstacles to academic performance because it didn’t happen to them. It’s the same argument that ex-alcoholics make better counselors on alcoholism than someone who never had a drinking problem. One of the big, but rerely-mentioned problems with the APA program in Clinical Psychology, is this obsession with high GPA’s as an entrance criterion. They end up with bright, often very bright, goody-goody-two-shoes who really don’t have a clue as to what life is all about. But the APA programs churn out people who, as a rule, suck up to authority, who don’t take risks, and who are – as a direct result – often lousy clinicians.

    This is separate from all the other arguments going on here, but this GPA obsession tends to validate the idea that TFA isn’t producing any rebels or Steve Jobs types with better ideas. On the other hand, it has long been noted that the teacher’s IQ is strongly correlated with student success, so TFA is not totally irrational to obsess on GPA. Overall, I have to say that reading the discussions here, I started with a high opinion of RFA based on their alumni starting some seriously great schools, but now I have doubts. Is their success due to TFA, or did these exceptional educators just happen to pass thru TFA ? Really, this is an important question.

    • Bell says

       This is so far from the truth.  I dropped out of high school, did horrible on my SATs, but I managed to turn everything around and consistently keep a 3.8 through undergrad and grad school (I got both in three years), and I got into TFA.  It was a very rigorous process, but they don’t solely focus on people who have been overachievers throughout their entire lives. 

      • ladyq says

        yeah, i think youre a little confused.. jesse means the GPA thing applies to your college grades (and you had great grades), also congrats

  26. Jesse D. Troothe says

    This lying asshat is NOT Ward Churchill.

    The real Ward Churchill has dedicated his life to ethnic studies of American Indians.
    A slam on African-American Studies is the exact opposite of what he values.

    LAProgressive.com should ban this lying asshat for this lying slander.

  27. Jesse D Troothe says

    Like you, I have no dogs in this fight. Some TFA alumni are doing truly great things here in Denver with public-funded charters (KIP, Denver West Academy, etc.) that actually focus on low-income families. That’s a real plus for Denver, but if the professor claim is accurate, and most TFA people just do a two year stint, then that’s a lot of students getting screwed.

    Why are there not more statistics to enlighten this discussion ? I want to know
    – How many schools like Denver West Academy have been started by TFA alumni ?
    – What percentage quit after two years ? One blogger said 57% in his personal sample.
    – What percentage used this as a scam to get into med school or such ?
    – What are the 2011 realities of recruitment from elite colleges vs. the others ?

    The lack of stats in a profession where normally is drowning in data, is a warning sign.

    The value of fixing the schools by changing society, is very respectable, so if that’s what comes out of TFA, that _could_ justify any and all of the harm from inexperienced teachers. As I’ll note below, the biggest problem is school administration, and it’s society as a whole that fosters bad administration.

    I’ve had 26 years of an inside view, one step removed; between my wife and in-laws, we have 6 teachers at 3 school districts and several colleges. When my children’s charter school needed a new Director, I interviewed 47 candidates; about 23 of them were 100% qualified and 100% experienced. My wife is passionate about teaching undergrads, and of course I’ve heard alllll the details over the decades, including her encouters with new profs who have unrealistic expectations and poor teaching methods. Our 3 kids went thru a mix of charter and public schools. My daughter was valedictorian, and my sons’ friends all hail from mobile home courts.

    Everyone points to the same analysis: School administration is the biggest problem because the least moral and most stupid people find a niche there. They are some of the dumbest and most venial peole I’ve even encountered. Student motivation to break out of poverty could count as the second biggest problem, but for two niggling details: (A) The upper middle class schools have the same damn problem, and (B) student motivation is something a seriously good school should take care of. So really second on the list of culprits comes the teachers. A small percentage of teachers should be fired for incompetence and/or not giving a damn. But that’s not going to happen, and here’s why. When I interviewed those 47 candidates, I asked a question that any competent business manager can answer readily: “How do you know when you need to remove a teacher ?” Absolutely none of the candidates, including those with years of experience as senior administrators, truly believed the task of removing the bad apples was part of their Scope Of Work. They wanted the job, so they humored me with answers that were not at all based on their own work history. I was thunderstruck. No business could flourish this way. In the cities, the teachers’ unions have seen to it that seniority is the only crietion for removing teachers, short of a felony. So I blame the unions for promoting mediocrity and job security over the needs of the students. Now, with for-profit schools, there are new villains.

    Back to your stupid and unthinking post. You must have grunted hard to produce this turd: “Honestly, your profession is a joke. Any moron can do it.”

    If you really thought that, why would you bother posting here, and then why would you bother to give TFA alumni a thumbs up ?

    • istdoc says

      Jesse, I have 23 years of elementary school teaching experience, an administrator’s certificate in K-8, and I was an NEA Teacher’s Rights Rep. In our school district, the most effective principals had extensive union experience. It is easy to respond to your question, “How do you know when you need to remove a teacher?” As an administrator who is a solid teacher, you should know whether or not a person is a good teacher in as little as a week. ANY teacher, regardless of tenure, can lose their job.

      That’s an easy issue.

      The real issue lies with the administrator. They need to know the contract with certainty, and they need to know how to gather the data supporting the dismissal of a teacher. The process will take longer than it does in most private sector jobs, and that is the way it should be with tenure!

      Tenure only guarantees that a teacher will be given rights of due process. If a teacher deserves to lose their job, then the administrator must be ready to gather that data and prove that it is not solely focused on the individual teacher, but is applied to the entire teaching professionals. A pattern must be shown. The teacher must be given the opportunity to improve their performance over time. The list goes on, but the bottom line is that ANY teacher who is bad can and should be dismissed.

      The real issue here has to do with the administrator’s ability to carry on over time and build a solid program. Before a teacher becomes tenured, they can be dismissed for any number of reasons…with far less effort expended by a diligent administrator. Show me a principal that knows how to teach, knows how to supervise, and knows the business correctly, and I’ll show you an administrator who knows how to properly dismiss a teacher…any teacher…and I would share that information with every party concerned in the process.

      It is not a secret to anyone who knows teacher rights. It is not a mystery that cannot be solved. It is a basic and functional matter of good administration. That more cannot muster the intelligence and experience to put forward that agenda is but one of the strikes against education.

      When the system is broken, it takes wise individuals who know the basic values, the vision, mission, and beliefs that drive good education. If education were valued in our society, we’d have a far better approach to education. Will this happen? Probably not in our lifetime.

  28. Jess D. Troothe says

    Your answer is dishonest. The professor’s rants is really ALL about the kids, because the students pay the price when they are used as guinea pigs by inexperienced teachers. SInce you note that inexperienced teachers are a pox on students, your complaint seems ridiculous, like you didn’t comprehend what he wrote. You call his diatribe “venom” like he’s a snake, but you don’t even attempt to explain where his essay is poisonous.

    • Ginger Herte says

      You certainly didn’t comprehend what I meant here. I meant the venom (including yours…) from all the people who REPLIED to this article, not the author. I think the author is generally spot on. It sickens me that most of these responses are about what college grads are gaining or not and not about what is best for poor kids, although someone did mention something about TFA teachers cutting their teeth at the expense of our most vulnerable students… I am a 19 year veteran teacher of disadvantaged students and it has taken and still takes everything I have. So chill, unless ranting is your favorite past time.

  29. says

    Your indignation teeters on a false premise. TFA knows this: Teaching in America is a temporary gig, not a career. Every state lege is crafting bills that are freezing the compensation step ladder. They are cutting bennies: no serious breadwinner can be a teacher any longer because most states offer no benefits to dependents. If you want this in NC, you cough up 600/month. That’s a big chunk of a small salary. That salary shrinks as each year goes by. Americans happily elected these leges. This is the vox populi, bub.

    Unfortunately, Americans do not want to pay great people to run great schools. The are content with a babysitting service.

    You need to re-examine your assumptions right now.

    • says

      Your understanding of how the electorate works is quite sad. Those “content” americans were TAUGHT to be content by exactly the complacency and misunderstanding of empowerment you yourself demonstrate, in fact.

      So perhaps, instead of accepting a premise as “false” which is actually NOT false, only “the status quo”, it would be worth considering this approach instead:
      – Americans who are uninformed vote are more likely to vote for bad policy / bad leges who create and support bad policy
      – the way to keep the “vox populi” from making such bad decisions is to teach them to observe, synthesize, make conclusions, and more effectively apply those conclusions in the civic and social arenas
      – schools are expected to be the places where the above takes place.

      Therefore, if we want to fix it, we need to be willing to…aha!…support schools. And one of the most powerful ways to do this is to present teaching as a valid and long term choice when you are given the voice and funding to make a case about this issue.

      Every time a large organization like TFA chooses not to do this, they deserve the blame, as granted here.

    • nonsense says

      As a future teacher and someone who grew up in a lower middle class home taking a big chunk out a small salary for health insurance is common for most families and people survive on salaries that are lower than teachers! I agree things need to change in terms of legislation and that teachers need to be regarded more highly but you also need to think about the tax payers who are paying the wages. While yes if you mathematically figure it out by the number of students and hours put in it is really low but you also can’t expect poor people to be paying teachers a ridiculous salary. What many people think is impossible to live off of in terms of a salary is more than some people make in 2 or 3 years. While I would love to have a really high salary as a teacher I’m not going to complain because I’m there for the kids not for the salary. Also your statement about serious breadwinners is a joke as I know many teachers who bring in the bulk of the money made in the family and they are living fairly well.

  30. Ginger Herte says

    Lots of venom here but very little about the kids, themselves… What does it mean to be a good teacher? Is it just getting students to meet the coveted ‘proficient” on standardized tests by whatever means it takes, or is it more? What spark or ability did the inspirational teachers in your lives have that made them so memorable? Is it something that can be gained in a 5 week course? A two year course?

    I tend to believe it is a love of what you are doing combined with years of researching, discovering, gathering and honing the lessons you deliver. There is simply no comparison between a first year rookie, regardless of the amount of training, and a veteran who is able to move education from test taking to reflective learning and transformation. Good teachers make connections. Like any other art, this takes time, a complete love of what you are doing, and a myriad of collected skills and resources. Challenging students need no less that the best.

    • Stargazer15 says

      Absolutely agree. While the work that Teach for all networks do is amazing, it is a quick fix solution. In my opinion, grossly wrong to train people for 5weeks and expect them to go impart a good education. Most unfair on the children, I’d say. The vision is great, what they don’t see is that their approach to training and practice is deeply flawed.

  31. Jorge says

    The purpose of TFA is to expose people who wouldn’t ordinarily be in contact with underprivileged schools or the teaching profession to the difficult challenges that schools face today. They don’t hire people who want to be teachers because they want those rich doctors and business people to remember the struggles of impoverished schools once they’re financially in a position to be helpful. TFA doesn’t hire minority Fordham graduates from rough neighborhoods because those people already lived the struggle. TFA’s mission is to broaden the persp

    • natalie says

      Exploiting the youth for the purposes of helping the privileged get a leg up on their inherent ignorance….. this has been done before, and continues to exist in several ways, and a government program should not be funding such activity. TFA ought to be dedicated to getting real people in who want to make changes, and not about “exposing” future business men and women to the “struggle”. Face it: once people are financially in a position to be helpful, on average, they just remain greedy and willingly ignorant, or greedy and choose to ignore the issues that concern the poor. Lavish lifestyles within Capitalism depends on the existence of unemployed and impoverished people.

  32. Meg says

    I was a 2002 Mississippi Delta Corps member – teaching in one of the poorest, most isolated regions of the country. My experience in TFA had a profound impact on me and my life’s work – being an educator. I was recruited from a midwestern state school. I got in not because of the school I went to but because I was strong canidate. I taught for four years in my region and in that time was heavily involved with other aspects of the organization. I worked as an selector (running the interview process and selecting new corps members). I also worked for four summers training new teachers in the corps. From both of these expereince (along with my actual corps expereince) I can tell you that this professor is so flat out wrong about his assertions. I think he needs to go back and actually check the statistics about the numbers of folks that stay in education after their initial two year commitment. He should also understand more about the selection process which is rooted in terms of leadership, achievement, perserverance and organization. Qualities that have been shown time and again to make a good teacher.
    After my time in the Delta I moved to NYC to attend graduate school and continue teaching. My expereince in the Delta made me realize that I wanted to lead a school and that was to be the way that I would make a difference in our world. I am currently in my fifth year as a school leader (fourth as principal) of a public (non-charter) middle school in New York City. I have had a lot of expereinces shape my educational philosophy over the years but none as much as my time in the TFA corps.
    Thank you to all of the corps members, future corps members, parents and friends who wrote in defending TFA. This is means a lot for our movement.
    And Mark, it seems like those of us who are actually getting out there and doing the work – the hard, never ending work of trying to fix our system are doing a lot more good than you will ever do. I invite you to step outside your limited understanding and into a classroom (into the schools that surround Fordham) to really understand.
    My favorite quote will sum up the sentiment…
    Be the Change That You Wish to See in the World – Gandhi

    • Adam says

      This is exactly the problem. For you, TFA is all about what YOU got out of it, not what you gave to the kids. That’s an awfully selfish perspective that seems to be too prevalent

    • dancethefrug says

      This comment proves the author’s point. YOU had a great experience, and yes you stayed around for longer than the two-year stint, but NOW you’re leaving the classroom for a leader position. School districts are entering contracts with TFA that will promote more of this: young adults coming fresh out of college with little teaching experience, who will use their TFA experience to climb ladders. What schools need is CAREER TEACHERS! While it is excellent that you stayed longer than the two-year contract, most experienced teachers (20+ years) say that they didn’t truly ‘hit their stride’ until after 5 years of teaching.

      My biggest complaint with TFA is their mixed message: the best way to close the achievement gap is to get the best young people from the best colleges in the poorest classrooms for two years (not the young people who studied education for four years and dream of being in classrooms forever)! …. just kidding we only want to expose them for a period of time so they can go on and make administrative changes (implying that who is in the classroom doesn’t really matter). Basically Wendy Kopp got really lucky with her thesis, and now kids in the poorest areas get a completely new faculty every few years as a result.

  33. Andrew says

    As a Teach For America Campus Recruiter and an incoming 2012 corps member, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Naison’s assertions. Admittedly, his article brings up some valid and unfortunate truths. However, I disagree with the author’s broad generalization of all corps members.

    Are there some corps members who apply to pad their resumes in hopes of entering the nation’s top law and MBA programs? Unfortunately, though I in no way condone the thought process, agree that some students apply for this purpose. Are there caring and motivated prospects turned down from the program? Yes. Many of my friends- the majority of whom I believe would have made great teachers- were among those turned away. I do not shy away from these unfortunate occurrences or in any way argue that Teach For America is the miracle cure for our nation’s education system. However, these minority occurrences highlighted by Mr. Naison in no way speak to the prevailing attitudes of entering corps members and does not warrant Mr. Naison’s assertion that Teach For America has become “a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor.”

    I can assure Mr. Niason that my decision to join Teach For America was not made to benefit myself at the expense of our nation’s students. Instead, like the majority of corps members I’ve met, I decided to apply for Teach For America because I understand the value of a quality education and believe it is a human right that should be accessible to ALL students, not just those from rich neighborhoods.

    If Mr. Naison wants to have a debate over the merits of sending first year teachers into the nation’s roughest schools, admittedly there may be some merits to that argument, as Professor Linda Darling Hammond has pointed out. If he wants to argue that Teach For America is ineffective in improving student achievement, let’s have that debate. I think he will be impressed with Teach For America’s track record. However, making broad generalizations about the intent of Teach For America corps members is wrong and does nothing to improve Teach For America or the nation’s schools.
    Additionally, Mr. Naison and many of other critics of Teach For America within the academic world would be better served criticizing their own universities if they truly intend to bring about education reform. Though pointing fingers will not help us solve the problems at the heart of nation’s schools, American institutes of higher education are just as responsible for- if not more- and have more influence over the reforms taking place around the nation than Teach For America. For decades, American colleges of education and universities have accepted and in many instances promoted the rise of “high stakes testing” and “accountability” in American schools.

    It must be understood that Teach For America teachers are not developing and implementing the structural policies that plague our nation’s schools. Instead, Teach For America teachers commonly face the same bureaucratic obstacles to success as all others teachers and are under the same contracts as their non-TFA peers. Also, let it be known that Michelle Rhee does not speak for all corps members, just as those small numbers who apply for personal advancement do not speak for those with a genuine interest in improving student achievement.

    Our education system is plagued by a number of problems: Poverty, high stakes standardized testing and its influence in shrinking curriculum, a lack of societal status and support for teachers, a lack of community involvement in schools, and the list can go on for pages. Teach For America exists to help mitigate the side effects of these problems. It is a small part of a much larger system. As a result, I argue that we should spend our time reforming that system rather than attacking a program filled with a majority of well-intentioned young adults.

  34. Anna says

    This author’s arrogance is astounding. He starts making a good point about TFA and then gets confused and starts blathering the usual liberal garbage about unions and wealth and prisons. What? Man, talk about TFA. Talk about what could be done to improve. Let someone from TFA address your points. What’s all this garbage about redistributing the wealth? That will NEVER happen, and what in the world does that have to do with TFA?

  35. Lenny Raney says

    As a Fordham graduate (Rose Hill ’10) and a current TFA Corps Member (Greater New Orleans ’10) who is a local middle class minority community college graduate, I can safely say I am glad I was not in your class, where you evidently didn’t have enough confidence in my ability to make sound career choices for myself to provide me with all possible opportunities. I honestly feel bad for your students; I wonder what other admittedly imperfect but potentially life changing experiences you are withholding from them. TFA has many faults and I am the first to make them known, often to the faces of top brass, but I can’t imagine a single better opportunity that positively affected my ability to both be active in a social justice capacity and pursue my professional goals. Through this experience I have recognized that I have the ability and access to positively change the lives of special needs children on a potentially national level, thus despite already committing to my school longer than two years, I will not ultimately be a lifelong teacher.

    Without TFA I would have become a clinical psychiatrist in the affluent suburbs on the payroll of Blue Cross Blue Shield sponsored by Pfizer. For some perspective, my principal, vice principal, and special ed coordinator are all former teachers who are no longer in the classroom. So are several of the NOLA public defenders, many of the local politicians and community activists along with several of the administrators at the Children’s Museum, and some of the pediatricians at Children’s Hospital. Where is your ire for all of them? Do you discredit their decisions to leaving teaching for (mostly) higher paying jobs? The majority of the people I know who are leaving TFA for law and business school are doing things like going into public defending, investigative journalism, social work, and non-profit management, and a good number of them are staying in their placement communities (over 2/3rds of this year’s alums are still in New Orleans in some fashion).

    And as for the whole “Stanford Business School” flyer, from one educator to another, you should be able to recognize a good hook when you see one. Nobody in any official capacity at any point in my TFA career post-acceptance has done anything but try to convince me to stay active in my placement school after two years.

  36. says

    I believe the point of the article is made clear when the author describes how Yale’s acceptance rate was far greater than Fordham’s. The author is simply annoyed that his students have not been allowed into the program, and has created an entire argument to justify it, as is the wont of academics. Here’s why this argument is incredibly fallacious:

    TFA is not designed to give poor students who excel in low-tier colleges a chance to give back to ‘their’ communities. It is designed to allow the best and brightest minds to be employed in the service of poor students. Not surprisingly, given how education works, those students with the financial or academic capability to go to Yale tend to have been better educated than those at Fordham (note, this is not 100% true across the board, nor is it a statement about the intelligence of students–merely the education they have been lucky enough to have received). For this reason, Fordham students have less success being accepted into TFA.

    The sad thing here is that the author is actually hurting a good cause for personal reasons, and trying to obfuscate those reasons by pretending there are objective ones for his distaste for the TFA. Rhetoric, no matter how cleverly disguised, is just that–an attempt to persuade others without factual backing.

    • pamela nagler says

      One of the myths of our current society is that Ivy leaguers represent the best and brightest.. It is simply not true. The ivy League colleges do an amazing job at educating those who they educate – and they continue to cast a wide net in order to recruit diversity – but intelligence and brightness runs in all directions, and it is not limited to not those who fit into the Ivy League paradigm. Of course, public education’s mission is to prepare those have the ambition, the drive, the intelligence, the means to attend an Ivy League School, but its mission goes way beyond that – it is to educate the many, rather than the few, and this is a fact that so-called experts seem to neglect in their pursuit of the ‘Harvard’ model of education. As a teacher in a public school in a disadvantaged neighborhood, I had to give up many of my cultivated, private college, insular views in order to see and foster the intelligence in so many of my students who do not fit the typical academic (Ivy League) model. Which just leads me to think, a Fordham graduate might be just as able ( or sometimes more so) than a Yale graduate to communicate a more egalitarian view of the world to students, to understand the obstacles that poor kids face, to relate to their experiences. Good teaching is about motivating, tapping into kids’ prior knowledge – and the ability to do so is not restricted to only those who have been privy to what an Ivy League education can offer.
      I do not think the author is hurting a good cause, I see the article as an advocacy for setting up programs that put the needs of impoverished kids up stage front and center – rather than the needs of Ivy Leaguers.

    • Aldo says

      “TFA is not designed to give poor students who excel in low-tier colleges a chance to give back t …o ‘their’ communities. It is designed to allow the best and brightest minds to be employed in the service of poor students.” This is exactly my problem with TFA, that it is plagued by teachers and supporters who don’t realize how classist and racist their arguments are or who after they state something like this, they try to fix it with a statement in parenthesis! Bottom line is that the rationale here is that poor students who excel in low-tier colleges (i.e. college-educated working class, “working poor” people of color) cannot compete at teaching with “the best and brighest minds” (i.e. rich white kids/privileged peole of color from ive league universities) AND what is worse is that many of these teachers and TFA alumni turned administrators carry, to some level, these types of assumptions into the classroom, THAT’s exactly the way they look at our students, yes, they may increase students’ achievement (i.e. test scores, the only way that achievement is “officially” measured in the U.S.) but they don’t have a long-term “human investment” in the lives of their students because they are not from their communities, they cannot relate to them at all or at least not in the ways that someone who has faced the same or similar hardships can. They play the tourist teacher on vacation in “America’s third world.” And while there may be some positive things that may come out of it in the short term, in the long term it causes greater harm because as a “band aid” program it makes people think that we’re actually doing something to address the opportunity/”achievement” gap—I always use this analogy, if we think of schools as people in need of a major surgery, no one in their right mind would want to be treated by a complete outsider, who knows nothing about your medical history or cultural healing practices, a philosophy major-turned -doctor with a two-month training and a First Aid kit, would we? That’s how I feel about education, it’s a call, a career, a life choice; it requires work, training, preparation, experience, commitment, passion, love, resiliency, patience, flexibility, and more importantly, again, it is a LIFE commitment. In my value system, radically different from the rest of our collective society’s, teaching is more important than any of today’s high-paying jobs even when you’re working to “reform” the educational system, whatever that means.

      • Elizabeth says

        I am a TFA Corps Member in Detroit; I also got my undergrad in Education so I have made the life commitment to eduction. I find it extremely ignorant to say that a teacher “cannot relate to them [their students] at all” because they do not share the same background or upbringing. It is true that I was raised in a very different community and attended very different schools than my students. However, my relationships and my ability to educate my students is not affected by this difference. My lack of first hand experience with their hardships does not decrease my empathy for the struggles they face and it does not impact the level of trust and respect they have for me. Learning and achievement does not depend on seeing yourself reflected in your teacher. It is about feeling safe, cared about, and being pushed to excel. That is what I do for my kids and that is what makes the difference in their lives.

  37. Ward Churchill says

    African American Studies is just about the greatest fraud perpetrated in the history of education. Students are enticed to a college to fill quotas and then given a virtually worthless degree. This guy should be ashamed of himself for cheating so many students.

  38. Sim says

    A well written article with some very good points. I do think Teach for America is a wonderful organization but it would not hurt to try and re-think their approach. TFA dips into a pool of professions and promises for the future, to gain the interest of a wide variety of recruits. Those that may come from similar backgrounds the children they will teach and those who are worlds apart, all to give them a multifaceted learning experience. I do think that TFA should showcase teaching as just as much of a shining star as any other career they claim to pave the way for. As far as adding years to the 2 year contract, I believe this is not the best approach. It seems that they would do this to assure that no one gets too burnt out and to make sure that the people who decide to surpass the 2 year marker on their own do so because they really want to be there. This may be something that takes the whole 2 years to decide but at least they have made a major contribution in the interim. They make becoming a permanent teacher an achievable goal by offering Masters in Education programs in conjunction with your teaching position. Aside from a bit of brand management, TFA seems to have many of their bases covered.

  39. LS says

    Two years seems like just even time to get your feet wet, how could any teacher get everything they need in that short about of time. I can see the author’s point because you might get some students who honestly only doing it for a leg up into getting into law school or grad school and they do not want to be there which causes someone who want to teach to miss out. I think the program would be better if they had two admission one for 5 years for people who want to be educators and 2 years who want to go to law school and things of that nature.

    • Worldmusic says

      Everyone knows you apply to Teach for America solely to get into law school or an Ivy MBA program. If you really want to be a teacher, you apply directly to the local Board of Education of your town or city and get on with it.

      • brycerton says

        This may be true for some, but it is not true for all. At my school, there have been many alumni of TFA that continue to teach, and there are currently more than 10 alumni of TFA serving on the faculty, including myself–I am teaching in my fourth year. Two of our instructional administrators are TFA alumni.

        And I would have never been afforded this opportunity if not for TFA and the Relay Graduate School of Education–I was allowed to pursue my master’s degree during the first two years of my career. My bachelor’s degree was in music education and performance, so I would never have been allowed to teach in a general elementary classroom. The traditional pathway to classroom instruction is far more complex than you suggest–you can’t just come out of college with any degree and apply “directly” to a school board for employment.

        As a TFA alumnus, I agree with the author that the organization could do a much better job of promoting teaching as a legitimate long-term career option, and one can certainly debate the merits of their selection model, at least as outlined in Foote’s book. However, TFA should not be faulted for helping facilitate an alternative pathway into teaching, because currently America’s “best and brightest” aren’t choosing teaching colleges for their undergraduate or master’s degrees.

        • Natalie says

          How do you know America’s “best and brightest” aren’t choosing teaching colleges for degrees? How offensive. So are you saying teachers are bright or talented? Many of the teachers I know are VERY intelligent. Also, they possess other talents such as creativity and resourcefulness. I chose teaching for a career, because teachers made a difference in my life. That was what I wanted to do; I wanted to give back to students in need. How do you define the “best and the brightest?”

          • Michelle says

            Natalie, education majors as a group have a lower average SAT scores than other majors in the sciences, engineering, liberal arts, etc. In contrast to other countries such as South Korea, Finland and Singapore, the United States DOES draw from the ‘not as best and not as bright’ pool of people.

      • Chris says

        Coming from an Ivy MBA and with friends at top 3 law schools, everyone knows that the best way is to work in consulting or banking for MBA or to apply right out of undergrad for law school. Sure some TFA people get in to these schools but its a greater risk that some people take because they believe in helping the educational system and giving back to society. TFA actually hurts candidates when they are recruiting for jobs in business since they don’t have relevant business experience.

  40. Kat says

    I take offense to your closed minded arguement without equal exploration of the number of TFA recruits who stay in the teaching field knowing they will always be under paid and appreciated.

    My son was recruited his sentior year at his college, without my knowledge or permission, although he needed not wait for either. He was placed at a school in Washington D.C. that made me physically ill when I saw the area and the school. I thought I was sending him to a great school, then on to law school and reaping the reward for that.

    I was a single mother most of his life but having a great profession I would not say he ever experienced, even from a far the situations he would encounter at that deplorable school. But I was as I had always been, totally supportive of him.

    NOW, at this time 1/4/2012 he is known as Dr. and he is presently an elementary school principal. His school is 98% poverty level and about the same # of hispanics. He took the worst school in the district to receiving an award only 4 low income schools in our state received.

    If he had not seen “a presentation” he would we a lawyer today and rich. So…..what a shame he was recruited, huh? He is an inspiration to his staff and students. Many will go far in life because this young man sat in a presentation and then dedicated his life to education.

    You best get off your soap box and think again!!!!

    • Angela Jackson says

      It seems that it is you who is closed minded and on a soap box. The author CLEARLY states

      “In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators. It is with the leaders of the organization…”.

      I don’t think that you take as much offense to the writers position as you do to the fact that your son didn’t become a rich lawyer. You say you are supportive yet you come across as a mother who must constantly convince herself that her son is doing a good thing. How elitist you appear stating that “the sight of school made you physically ill”. You are CLEARLY not someone who has compassion for the human condition! Your son on the other hand is a gem and should be celebrated for his dedicated service to righting the social injustices and inequality that has always plagued this country. Try to improve your reading comprehension skills before critiquing an article.

      Sincerely,
      Angela Jackson, RN, BSN….oh, and I am married to the lawyer who is NOT rich because he, like your sone, is dedicated to helping the less fortunate.

    • Andrew H. says

      Kat,

      As a D.C. resident, aspiring educator, and potential TFA applicant whose parents may not entirely approve of a teaching career, I am moved by your support for your son and admire his commitment to serving the community. However, in your passion, I think you may have missed a key piece in Dr. Naison’s article that explicitly states that his criticisms are not directed at TFA participants/alumni such as your son:

      “In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators. It is with the leaders of the organization, who enjoy the favor with which TFA is regarded with by captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world.”

      And so I am pretty sure that it is actually people such as your son whom Dr. Naison applauds, and that it is only the leaders of the overall organization against whom he argues. Dr. Naison is not arguing that alumni of TFA are incapable of successfully dedicating their lives to serve under-served communities, or even that the TFA program is incapable of successfully producing such educators/public servants. Rather, he is arguing that TFA leaders encourage an evacuation of the teaching career and thus handicap the further building of such dedicated educators/public servants. Ultimately, in terms of people such as your son, I think you and Dr. Naison are on the same page. I hope you find that Dr. Naison is not against people like your son.

      Thank you for sharing you and your son’s story. I hope the number of lives your son continues to improve and the degree by which he improves them only grow.

    • Steve Brown says

      Kat,

      Read more carefully next time. What the author said was about the leadership of TFA, not the genuinely dedicated young folks who in fact do make education their vocation.

      “In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators. It is with the leaders of the organization, who enjoy the favor with which TFA is regarded with by captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world. They have used this access to move rapidly to positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms.”

      Best wishes,

      SB

    • Craig says

      The presentation in the article proved futile as the author stated. TFA culled students from Yale rather than Fordham. What TFA amounts to then is a jobs program for the privileged. The students in the article from Fordham who come from these marginalized neighborhoods should be the focus of a program such as TFA.

      TFA is populated with good, well-meaning people. It’s just a crummy program in how it operates. To fix it, I would not only recommend that the years be increased, but also to mandate that every TFA teacher has to be a part of the local teachers union and that TFA should only work with schools that have teacher unions. And TFA teachers should never be paid at a rate comparable to a teacher who received a four year degree in teaching. The idea that their “boot camp” can train a teacher in less than a month is laughable.

      Social justice begins with the worker. To ignore the rights of the worker in education sends our young people a message that it is ok to usurp collective bargaining rights in favor of cheap substandard teaching.

  41. JJ says

    I’m an ivy-league senior who will be joining the TFA corps this year. I care very much about social justice and educational inequality but never considered teaching because there is very little prestige attached to the profession. However, I know that TFA’s tactic of framing teaching and service as a “resume-padder” appeals very much to my peers. People who were accepted to the corps with me all want to go into business, law, or medicine afterwards and I guess we are who Dr. Naison is railing against. I agree with with many of his points, but I’m personally glad that people are even talking about high-stakes testing, privatization, and other reforms (that I personally think are crazy). If we maintain the status quo, then schools will probably just continue getting worse and the elite will just care less and less about them. It’s a sad fact that many things can only get done in this country when the rich and powerful want it done. I think TFA’s approach is very pragmatic, keeping that in mind.

  42. Rich says

    Dr. Naison,

    I am entering my second year teaching in a Title I(low-income) school. My student population is 83% hispanic and 16% African American. These students are products of the economic and racial achievement gap that is/has ravaged the country for more than 60 years. If these students are to have a chance, they need highly qualified, committed teachers.

    In that vein, I wholeheartedly agree with your call for highly qualified applicants to stay in teaching positions for longer than 2 years. The amount of information I garnered during my first year of teaching is vast. I can only imagine that next year, I will feel the same.

    However, one point I suggest you investigate is the rate of attrition in these low income schools. If you are concerned with Teach For America’s 2-year turn over rate, it would be telling to compare the rate of attrition of traditional teachers at these schools vs. those of Teach For America teachers.

    It has been my findings that 57% of all Teach For America applicants do not stay in their placement school for a third year. This seems abnormally high. However we have to also consider that recent studies show 50% of all teachers do not stay in low-income schools after two years. Does this 7% make a statistical difference to you? Or are you more concerned with the 2-year attitude of Teach For America?

    Finally, I believe you wildly overstate your case(and perhaps intimate at your ignorance) when you state “TFA has done nothing to promote income redistribution, reduce the size of the prison population, encourage social investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, or revitalize the arts, science, and history in the nation’s schools.”

    First, promoting income redistribution and reducing the size of the prison population are not within the TFA’s scope or charter(http://www.teachforamerica.org/our-mission). While education of low income students should improve these statistics, . Secondly, TFA is an organization of at most 90,000 current members. Between economic crisis, unchecked union power, and societal pressures the reduction of arts, sciences, and history is a national problem. How exactly would you employ these 90,000 people to fix a problem created by 312 million over the course of 100 years? I implore you to give TFA a plan for this. I am sure they would be extremely interested.

    If anything, that statement reveals just how detached you are from this problem and it shows you do not understand the scope of challenge before us. You do not understand the lives of these children and you certainly do not understand the role, power, and helplessness of a low-income teacher.

    I would suggest that prior to writing your next vituperative article demonizing a public service organization or prior to cutting off your students from having opportunities in education, you face and alleviate your ignorance.

    • Dan C. says

      Rich: You started off making some good points, and then destroyed a lot of your credibility as you moved into “flame” territory. I think you’re attacking a straw man. It’s incredibly presumptuous of you to assume that the author doesn’t understand the complexity of social justice and economic development goals, much less the lives of poor, inner-city students. By the way, please do not go in front of your students saying things like “statistically significant to you.” Statistical significance is mathematical. Something is either statistically significant or it is not. You can debate the statistical test chosen and the underlying assumptions of the methodology, but not the statistical significance itself (assuming the math has been done correctly). Validity is what is debatable, not statistical significance. Thanks for teaching. I wish you the best.

      • PB says

        Dan: The threshold at which something is considered statistically significant is chosen arbitrarily. Whether or not the given data satisfies the determined or conventional criteria chosen for significance is determined by mathematical methods.

      • Pal says

        Actually, there is such a thing as statistically significant to you. In statistics, prior to accepting or rejecting an alternative hypothesis, you would choose an alpha, or your threshold for statistical significance. This can be 10%, 5%, 1% or anything you wish depending on what you deem appropriate for the situation you are investigating. Now, this percentage is different than the 7% referred to be the author, but their use of statistically significant to you is correct.

  43. katie c says

    A two year program is not unheard of in the teaching profession, as the author of this article and many of the commentators should know. Graduate programs are, for the most part, two year programs, and many offer training and education in the field of teaching. Not everyone needs a four year undergraduate program (or a five year TFA one) to become a worthwhile teacher; in fact, depending on your academic time frame and area of interest, your skills may be close to obsolete by the time you actually make it into a classroom! Great teachers are born out of experience, not scholarships or seminars. Those kinds of things will certainly enhance your ability to perform well in a classroom, but if you don’t have genuine love and appreciation for your students’ hearts, minds, and souls, then no amount of time in a program like Teach For America will ever make you a truly great teacher.

  44. Diane says

    The University of Chicago has the Urban Teacher Education Program that actually trains people who are specifically committed to careers in teaching in marginalized communities. Programs like this should get the attention (and funding?) that too often goes to the well intentioned but inevitably amateur efforts of Teach for America.

    • Elizabeth says

      Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Teacher Education Program is also focused on urban education. Student teaching is done entirely in urban public schools, with the expectation that students will go on to teach in high-needs urban public schools.

  45. in_awe says

    It strikes me that the TFA alums who some are berating have honestly said they would have stayed except for the appalling lack of commitment to excellence (or even competency) seen in the schools and districts where they taught. If you have union rules protecting the incompetent and unmotivated teachers and ineffective administrators, then why would any sane TFA teacher stay in teaching when another career beckons that would reward personal skills and initiative and provide an environment that allows one to achieve more psychic and financial satisfaction? Must TFA teacher be martyrs?

    Take your attacks on these commenters and focus them instead on the elements that allow the dismal condition of the education system in this country to continue. My wife taught in the late 1970’s after following a lifelong dream to be a teacher. She received her degrees in Mathematics and Education from Northwestern University, and did student teaching for the four years she was in college. By the time she was a tenured teacher she had had enough and quit for the very same reasons articulated by the TFA alums above. That was THIRTY YEARS AGO! What other venture can demonstrate such a lack of success for THIRTY YEARS and the have the participants still feel justified in keeping the status quo? Wake up America!

  46. Sean says

    I currently work at a charter high school in Chicago. We have an English teacher that our school hired from TFA. Why would our school hire an English teacher from TFA when there are hundreds of other certified, educated, experienced teacher applicants for the position? Why would our school want a struggling TFA teacher? I think that Chicago and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools has a deal with TFA that allows for this to happen. I also suspect that our charter school likes to pay the lower TFA salary.

    Great article. I hope more people read it.

  47. Cnoel01 says

    Dr. Naison,
    It’s a shame you won’t let Teach For America into your classroom. Especially if you have students are proven leaders on campus and extremely bright. You are cutting off opportunities for both the children in these communities to have great educators, as well as cutting off your students to become part of a positive life-changing organization. You care more about your personal, and very misguided, beef with Teach For America than you do the future of your college students, and the future generations that your college students could affect. You seem to think that having a desire to make a difference and coming from a poor neighborhood should automatically qualify someone for Teach For America. The truth is, because the stakes ARE so high with these children, it is vitally important to err on the side of success rather than some type of affirmative action. 10 years ago, TFA was still fairly new (it was only 10 years old). Most of its corps in the early days did come from Ivy League schools. It is more diverse now. I came from Emporia State University (the cheapest university in Kansas)–BUT, I had numerous leadership positions on my resume and my passion to help further the cause was electric.
    Your article suggests that you are beyond the point in your academic career of working with others toward a common goal…in fact, your article seems contrary to your CV, which suggests you would be the kind of person to get involved with Teach For America because they share the same goals and passion as you…(or at least, as you once did). Instead of trying to work through your differences however, you seem to be standing inside your classroom and taking the “get off my lawn” approach.
    I strongly urge you to reconsider your position on letting Teach For America into your classroom. You seem like a better person than to let a 10 year old grudge stand in the way of a program with proven success (see: http://www.urban.org/publications/411642.html )
    Best Wishes,
    Chris

  48. Grissy says

    I am starting my 2nd year with TFA. I was recruited from a state university as I was completing my 2nd Bachelor’s degree. I am what you would call a “non-traditional” corps member…I am not 22 and I have been in the professional world for many years. I left a lucrative career and uprooted my family to move to a state where we knew no one. We are by no means well-off, and I am supporting my family on my teaching income alone (you do the math). Regardless, being in the classroom was a real eye-opener.

    My first year in the classroom was tough – not so much because of my students (they were incredible), but because of the sheer incompetence of the administration and the acceptance of mediocrity that exists in the district I teach in. I have never, in all my life, encountered more unprofessional people. The fact that these administrators (and I use the term very loosely) are in charge of children’s futures is scary. I work with well-intentioned teachers at my school that believe that there’s no improving the substandard curriculum because there isn’t anything else that can top it. The majority of these teachers are products of this school district, so they have no idea that better curriculums can and do exist. They wonder why 10th graders are still counting on their fingers when they add (I’ve heard from teachers that this is “ok.”), or can’t write a basic paragraph. It’s not their fault (for the most part). The crap the district calls a curriculum is all they have to work with, and a lot of administrators won’t support teachers who dare teach outside of it.

    This is the reason why I am staying beyond my two year committment. I believe that there is still a lot of work to do within my school and community, and I wish TFA had an option to extend the commitment to 5 years (I’d do it in a heartbeat). I don’t know what direction my professional life will take but I believe in these kids and want to do everything I can for them.

  49. Zach says

    I thought this was an interesting article, but I think you are misestimating the incentives for these kids. For people majoring in business, finance, engineering ect. They won’t want to forgo their careers for 5 years – especially sine they’re forgoing like 50-60k a year salary. Perhaps if you look at it as a “lending” program, instead of a teaching program, you’ll see it’s effectiveness.

  50. M S says

    Cool story, bro. Except not. I honestly could care less about TFA, but what you’re saying is that because they market their program as having great exit ops they’re a lesser organization. Who cares if they’re creating life-long teachers. They’re getting smart, talented students into classrooms where the students have the opportunity and ability to pass that on to underprivileged kids.

    Sorry we all don’t bend over for the teaching profession. Honestly, your profession is a joke. Any moron can do it. The only reason people put it on a pedestal is because it sucks to stand up in front of a bunch of people who, for the most part, don’t want to be there. The vast majority of your “teachers” don’t even teach.

    You know what, if anything your article has shown me why I should support TFA, so thanks for that. All you TFA alumni, thanks for your service!

    • Matthew Poirier says

      Do you know the difference between a university professor and a grade school teacher? And if you “could care less” about TFA, why did you read this whole article and then deign to spew up your valued opinion in the comment section? Not only do you mitigate any point you were trying to make by making yourself sound embarrassingly stupid, the single point that you made in your mindless rant is wrong. Did you even read the article? And are you really so small-minded that you require nothing more to cast your support behind an organization than to have been angered by an opponent of it?

      And did you actually call the teaching profession a joke? Teaching. Like. Teaching. You know what teaching is, right? It’s kinda how most people nowadays know things. It’s also kinda how people got to know stuff way back in the day. Like science and stuff. Yeah. You know. Space ships and what not. God damn I feel sorry for any kids you have or may have.

    • Etienne says

      You are right M S, you could be a teacher … but you’d be a very bad one.

      By the way, it absolutely matters that TFA staff only stay for 2 years. It usually takes about 2 years for teachers to become proficient as it’s a difficult job to do well (contrary to what you said).

  51. Emery Boyle-Scott says

    I would like to provide a counter opinion. Teach For America (TFA) is not a bad thing. It is a very good organization. TFA’s mission: “one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

    TFA currently believes that the most effective way to achieve their mission is to create a culture that values education, and not through creating a force of teachers. TFA’s strategy to achieve their mission is to create a host of more than 20,000 of people that have worked first hand (however successfully) in the most challenging and neglected classrooms. This effort has already created thousands of people who are dedicated to ending educational inequity however they can and not just as classroom teachers.

    This is important because classroom teachers and other professional educators, try as we might, can’t effect national educational changes toward equity independently. We need bankers, lawyers, politicians, soccer moms, small business owners, CEO’s, and so on building a world where educational policy and funding is directed for the student’s best interests, no one else’s.

    Truth is, despite our profession or training, we are all needed in this fight for social justice, TFA, typically educated educators, and all of society.

    But, instead of perceiving our failing educational system as a call to arms to do anything and everything we can, so many seek to criticize and propagate the status quo that is failing millions of children every day.

    All of us, every single one of us, has a responsibility to end this grand injustice that will be the downfall of our nation. Like women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement before it, educational inequity is our generation’s social issue that must be solved. All people, regardless of race or income, deserve an excellent education and all people need to be a part of the solution.

    (Also, just to let you know where I’m coming from I’m a recent Teach For America alumnus who taught special education 2 years in an urban elementary school. I will be continuing to teach special education in this school for the foreseeable future and I’m seeking to continue my own education with the goal of becoming a school leader and eventually a district leader.)

  52. says

    I considered TFA and (briefly) recruited for them at UC Berkeley; yet, I share your concerns about the organization (and I believe their recruitment materials are short of forthcoming about the odds of getting to teach in the area you want). My wife teaches at a public elementary school in Richmond, CA and I’m a Public Defender nearby though I studied political science and education at UC Berkeley as an undergrad and law student.

    TFA explicitly does not want to recruit lifetime teachers, though some of their participants do make it their career and TFA is okay or even happy with that. Rather, they expect their participants to get a taste of teaching (what works, what doesn’t) and a commitment to education. TFA thinks participants will use that experience and commitment to work in related fields to promote education generally. That these participants will be committed to education but not necessarily (or primarily) as teachers.

    There’s something to be said for that. For example, Professor Goodwin Liu was nearly appointed to the 9th Circuit – he is an educator, his wife is a teach, and together they are an incredible team versed in current research, the political process of making changes, and personal experience in the field. Though he is not teaching to the worse off students, his contributions as a professor, member of boards, researcher, and potentially as a judge would complement the hard work of teachers everywhere in improving the low of the worst off students.

    I think we can agree that the problems in education are not limited to the classroom and it takes advocates beyond the teaching profession to make many important changes. I agree with your point that TFA should promote teaching as a career as least to the same degree that it promotes non-teaching careers as a way to impact and assist the lowest achieving students. I only suggest that it takes both teachers and others to make the big jumps/ changes, and successes in education that our kids deserve.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article.

  53. Michelle says

    I just completed my 2 years with TFA. I am black, went to a public state college, and I was poor growing up.

    I am grateful to TFA. I would never have taught if it weren’t for TFA. Education doesn’t pay and my family is poor. No matter my interest and value of education, it was an accounting degree for me.

    I had plenty of friends who I thought would have been great TFA teachers that didn’t make the cut. Maybe it’s unfair, but TFA faces a lot of criticism. They can’t take chances recruiting mediocre people. I helped recruit on campus before I applied. They wanted us to look for people with high GPAs (3.5 and above ideally and maybe somewhere around a 3.2 to be seriously looked at) and a lot of leadership (not just be a member but an officer kind of thing. I graduated with a 3.4 with tons of leadership and my poor background and being a minority was an added bonus since those are the kids I teach.) Teaching was hard and they wanted to make sure they had people who were accustomed to handling a heavy load successfully. I can’t fault the recruitment system…after all it’s more diverse than any other alternative teaching program I’ve encountered and there is a lot of “diversity training” to help broaden awareness before you enter the classroom.

    It’s unfair to blame TFA for little progress in income equality etc. TFA is awesome, but it can only expected to change so much. Instead why not look to the KIPP and YES charter networks who do an amazing job and make the public schools actually try to improve for a change. I think TFA’s main success is opening the eyes of people who were privileged in their education to the inequities our nation’s poor face. Even I, who grew up pretty poor, didn’t have a clue. Now no matter what I do, this experience will influence the decisions I make. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe if there were more TFA alum making decisions out there we would be better off. No TFA educator would cut school funding after seeing how much teachers have to struggle as it is. No TFA educator would agree with aspects of No Child Left Behind that punish poor schools and dumb down curriculum. We need more of TFA not less…if we had more support, more students like the great kids you recruited would be able to play a role.

    I initially wanted to stay in education. I LOVE my students and their communities, and I would never want to teach in the suburbs. What made me change my mind was the public school system. They are so against change, people forget why they started to teach, and complacency is sickening. I was so frustrated because even though I wanted and was willing to do more, I couldn’t. I was the new teacher on the block so I had to pay my dues. That’s ok if it makes sense. But when I understand technology the remaining staff doesn’t, why can’t I share my knowledge so we are all stronger?You’d be surprised how many elementary teachers were not strong with 4th/5th grade math. They didn’t believe in their kids. I just couldn’t stay there and watch my kids be hurt by these teachers and this horrible “system”. The school culture was awful. The principal meant well, but mismanaged the little funding we had so terribly! It was a mess. I felt there was no point in staying…not only would I be sacrificing a decent salary, my impact was rather limited. I know I was good to my specific students, but that wasn’t enough for me.

    So what will I do now? I’m going to use my accounting degree and then get an MBA. Then I’ll be back in education, but I’ll have the power to impact my kids the way I want to. And along the way I will let anyone who will listen know how much American education sucks, how the poor suffer worse than any, and that we have to change now because education is the foundation for everything.

    Please don’t forget….getting excellent educators is only one part of TFAs mission. The other, equally important part is to have advocates in law, business, medicine, politics, etc. understand how serious this issue is and be willing to make the decisions that count. If everyone remained directly in education change would be limited….as great as educators are, in the U.S. they don’t hold real power.

        • Suzanne Tecza says

          Bottomline, you quit. Period. Good teachers never give up on the kids. Remember them? That’s why those with teaching degrees continue in the field and continue to try and fix “the system.”

          • Robin Cederblad says

            Do you have a teaching degree? You mentioned an accounting degree. So now you think getting an MBA means another school will just snatch you up? Suzanne is correct – you gave up. You didn’t put in the time and you felt there was no point in staying – no point in trying to change things. Maybe if you’d had more than five weeks of preparation you might have been willing to try a bit harder .Come talk to me again after you’ve put in 34 years as I did.

    • OboAtiba says

      Asking these people to focus on KIPP, or anything that actually statistically has been demonstrated to work, is hopeless. The kind of person who wrote this article is opposed to any kind of solution that gets results which is easy to implement. In the article, he is literally complaining that teach for America does not provide for widespread income redistribution. having read that I think it’s obvious that the concern here is not empowering the next generation via education, but remaking society. We have entered the realm of socialist societal engineering.  

      Longer school days, longer school years, more focus on math and science – they don’t want to hear about these solutions. Anything that might shorten the coveted summer vacations of teachers is usually blanket opposed by Unions, I’m sure the author of this piece is fine with that. 

    • Ms. RosebudRez says

       No matter how you look at it, what I read is the writing of someone who has been indoctrinated to believe a book someone else wrote.

    • Violet says

      The TFA educators are the very people who are advocating for testing and the policies that are destroying education.

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