Does TFA allow dissent?

Until recently, Jay Saper was a TFA teacher in Philadelphia.  When he started speaking out about the destructive reforms taking place there, TFA told him, “Jay, your opinions need to remain silent.”  Jay was subsequently dismissed from TFA.  He recounts his story at Why Teach For America Kicked Me Out.

On Twitter, a current TFA teacher, commented that “I could write a book on the failure of tfa. And that’s frm 7 wks”  After someone responded that she should write that book, she replied, “I have to quit first. They would come after me…”

In Learning on Other People’s Kids, Barbara Veltri recounts the pressure TFA recruits felt to adhere to TFA edicts about participating in TFA events and promoting the organization – on top of their day jobs teaching.  She notes that “participants overwhelmingly acknowledged that “following the TFA way of doing things ” was overtly linked to not only becoming a TFA teacher, but being recognized as a good TFA corps member.”  One TFA CM reported “it’s almost like TFA is a cult.  If you’re not all for it, all for one, then you’re a bad person… that we’re not trying as hard as we possibly can for the kids.  But it’s not true, because most of us spend 15 hours just doing curriculum and planning for our kids.”  Another TFA CM reports, “The pressure is there to not tell all that they are feeling.  If they make comments, they are called in “to discuss it.”  It’s usually not pleasant.”

TFA CMs who quit or are dismissed could be giving up AmeriCorps stipends, grad school incentives, or a position at Goldman Sachs.  These are very real personal costs CMs risk by speaking out.

A defender of TFA might argue that TFA is like any organization in wanting its members to support its mission and efforts.  And, if you don’t like it, then don’t join.  But, TFA CMs work for districts on behalf of children.  As one TFA CM put it, “Personally, I’m not in it for Teach For America!  I’m in it for myself and for my students.” (from Learning on Other People’s Kids).   Something to think seriously about if you’re considering TFA.

Update on 11/16/13:  Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig recently posted an anonymous letter from a TFA alum describing the inadequate prep and typical struggles in the classroom.  Tellingly, “The writer asked for anonymity because she fears retribution from Teach For America.”

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