TFA Recruits Speak

Contrary to how TFA presents itself, many TFA corps members have expressed serious concerns about the training they receive, the support TFA provides, where they’re placed, and more importantly, how TFA is not living up to its mission.

This page presents testimony from TFA corps members about their concerns about the organization.

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A current TFA teacher from Texas, going by the screen-name “mches”, offers an intriguing proposal (refer to A TFA Revision) for a new direction for TFA that would better allow the organization to meet its mission.   It’s great to see TFA corps members offering not just criticism, but substantial ideas for improving the organization.  Whether this teacher had read this site or not, this is exactly the kind of response I had hoped to see when I started it.

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TFA alum Alex Caputo-Pearl writes that when TFA began it was service oriented.  But, now he warns, it has gotten too political, promoting “a dangerous “quick fix” model of school reform that is harming rather than helping urban schools.”  For TFA to succeed in its mission of education justice, “it must be based on stronger preparation, longer commitments to teaching and a genuine contribution to equity, not quick fixes.”  Read his entire editorial (along with other opinions on TFA) at Teach for America Shows the Downside of Quick Fixes to Education.

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It’s already made it’s way across the Internet, but this site would be remiss in not mentioning the speech by TFA Alum Camika Royal – one of the most impassioned and compelling speeches on education reform in quite some time at the Opening Ceremonies for Teach For America’s 2012 Summer Institute.  She provides commentary along with a transcript at Swift to Hear; Slow to Speak: A Message to TFA Teachers, Critics, and Education Reformers.  The video is here.  My read is that it is not only strong constructive criticism of TFA and other ed reformers, but offers powerful guidance to TFA recruits from a wise woman.  This is the kind of leadership TFA needs.

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Teaching special ed takes special training beyond what “normal” classrooms require.  This is why many educators are particularly outraged when TFA places recruits in special ed classes.  In one instance, it led a TFA recruit named Sunny to quit.  Sunny tells her story in Why I Quit Teach For America.  In it, she’s led to ask, “Why do the students who need the most help deserve the least experienced teachers?” and concludes “It should be criminal. It’s certainly negligent.”

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The high attrition rate of TFA recruits is not the only issue with how TFA operates, but it’s a big one.  In Retooling Teach For America, TFA alum, Jared Billings, says that “TFA should require a longer commitment” for it “to realize its goal of improving public schools.”  Moreover, he says that TFA “misses the point by focusing on the number of applicants rather than on potential longer-term benefits to public education. Rather than bend to the student’s perception that teaching is not prestigious enough to do long term, TFA should instead use its vast resources to encourage students to see teaching as the end goal, and TFA as a viable means to that end.”

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Sabrina Strand is a veteran teacher and TFA alum.  She also worked in one of the so-called “miracle schools” – one 0f those schools that supposedly overcomes the odds in raising student achievement seemingly through sheer force of will of an über-dedicated cadre of mostly TFA recuits and a no-excuses leader.   Noted TFA critic Gary Rubinstein debunks the “miracle school” claim of the school in his article It Takes A Village.   His argument is bolstered with a damning quote from the aforementioned Sabrina Strand.   Based on her experience at this school, she claims, “It is very much a charade, an elaborate, expensive smoke & mirrors.”  She describes an absolutely toxic work environment that quickly burned out teachers and led to a constant churn.  The year she left, the entire fifth grade team left with her.   This is not how to build healthy school communities nor how to strengthen the teaching profession.

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I recently had the chance to interview a TFA corps member, Elsa Stanley.  I was impressed with the honesty of her answers – whether flattering of TFA or not.  She discussed the training and  support she received (or lack thereof) as well and shared how the placement process works.  Check it out here.  Thanks to Elsa for taking the time to answer my questions.

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Jameson Brewer is a traditionally trained educator and also a current TFA corps member.  In the article, Hyper-accountability, Burnout and Blame: A TFA Corps Member Speaks Out, he describes how TFA training leads to a warped view of teacher responsibility and accountability, and also to neglect of important student needs.

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This blog by a TFA Corps member and middle school math teacher in the Mississippi Delta provides a very honest and not very flattering look at what’s it like as a corps member.   For example, this entry looks at the pressure TFA exerts on its recruits and this one looks at the financial realities.

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Marie Levey-Pabst, a TFA alum from 2004, published an article asking Will the Teach For America Elite Save the Poor?

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Gary Rubinstein is perhaps the most well known and outspoken critic from inside TFA.  He’s a 1991 TFA alum, an experienced teacher, author of two books, and actively blogs at http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/.
Much of his blog offers a critical insider’s view of TFA, but his entry What happened to my TFA? describes TFA’s fall from grace.   And his more recent Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t is a full frontal assault.

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Brendan Lowe is a second year corps member teaching at an inner-city school, who published An Insider’s Critique of Teach for America in Good magazine.

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Former TFA intern John Bilby wrote that TFA Interns Need Better Preparation

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This former TFA intern writes about his traumatic experience as a corps member in Recovering from Teach for America

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Jesse Hagopian, a TFA Alum in Seattle, said Seattle Public Schools should avoid ‘Teach for Awhile’ program

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