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My Take: Want to be a Teacher? Don’t Join TFA

By David Greene

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom September 2008 through June 2012, I mentored Teach For America corps members for Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. As a result of my direct work with them in their schools and some basic research, it is clear to me that what the public is told does not match what goes on behind TFA scenes.

This just in from Bloomberg.com: Most Teach For America Instructors Plan to Flee Teaching:

“More than 87 percent of TFA teachers say they don’t plan on remaining teachers throughout their careers, compared with 26.3 percent of non-TFA teachers working in the same subjects, grades, and schools, according to an analysis released last week by Mathematica Policy Research (PDF).”

According to the article, twelve percent leave after their first year in the classroom.

It goes on to say, “A full 25 percent of them said they would quit teaching after the current school year, compared with only 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers. And of those who plan to quit, 42.9 percent of TFA teachers anticipated leaving education altogether, compared with 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers. TFA doesn’t provide the number of TFA recruits who don’t complete the two-year commitment, or who don’t stay in teaching.”

I wonder why.

In my book “Doing the Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks”, I pointed out these observations based on my experience:

– Corps members are usually successful and energetic students. Unfortunately many are also naïve. Often followers, they are perfect fodder for TFA leaders.

-Regardless of what TFA says, their five-week boot camp training period and process is hell and does not come close to preparing corps members for what they are to face.

-Corps members are taught by TFA to follow. Stay in line. Be formulaic. They are taught not to be like the great teachers they remember: wise, creative, independent, and spontaneous. Most of all, they are trained by TFA to be a corps member above all and not a part of a school or district.

-Most TFA corps members do not have command of the 4 c’s: Culture of schools, Culture of community, Culture of curriculum, and Culture of classroom management. Most also lack the practical wisdom or street smarts to have a good chance of success in the schools where they are placed.

-They must attend “mandatory” TFA meetings at “headquarters” (even if that time is spent on street corners surveying passers-by). They travel hours out of their way to go to local TFA “headquarters” for meetings or get the already prepared materials to copy and plug into the prescribed curriculum.

-TFA uses former corps members with only two years’ experience to go into corps members’ schools to provide what they call support, reinforce the TFA gospel, and tell corps members they must rely on TFA prepared materials to be successful.

-The recurring theme recanted to me over and over by almost all of my corps member mentees is that TFA is not only of little help, it creates even more stress on them than they already incur as untrained novices working under the most difficult of conditions.

-Because of all the time-consuming TFA rituals, they can’t devote enough time to good lesson planning, so they are forced to use TFA provided worksheets: teacher-proof, formulaic, guided worksheet/lesson plans that usually don’t work. The end result is reinforcing their fears of trying other things that actually work.

-Stuck in quicksand up to their nostrils, most corps members find it difficult to take advice from an outside mentor even when they know the advice will save them. Many corps members are afraid to use it because they will be accused of not following TFA rules and threatened with losing their stipends or worse.

-Many become more frustrated and filled with self-doubt, remorse. Their goal of helping poor struggling kids during their two-year “community service” turns into the goal of getting out alive after their “two-year sentence” is up.

-All of this is on top of what any new teacher in schools in high poverty areas must face. There are thousands of TFA corps members who have a different story to tell than what TFA is passing off as the truth.


MYTH: TFA produces educators:

REALITY: TFA is in the business of producing policymakers to support its and its financial backers goals.

Renowned researcher of TFA, Julian Vasquez Heilig tells us that “TFA claims that about 50% of alumnae remain in the ‘education field’. This vague assertion avoids noting the much smaller percentage of TFA teachers who actually remain teaching in public school education and the even smaller percentage of TFA teachers who stay in their initial placement.”

Heilig goes on to tell us, “Morgaen L. Donaldson and Moore Johnson found that while the majority of TFA teachers leave their assignments after two years, 28% of TFA teachers remain public school teachers after five years—compared with about 50% of non-TFA teachers. After seven years, only 5 percent are still teaching in their initial placement.”

However, most former corps members that TFA claims are in education are either working for TFA, policy groups like Educators 4 Excellence, and Students First, or are either district, school or charter management organization administrators.

TFA puts them former corps members in positions of power. LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity) is a TFA-launched nonprofit organization by TFA to train and support TFA alumni to pursue public leadership. It connects them to high impact opportunities in politics, policy, lobbying, and elected office.

TFA keeps telling us that the organization has more than 37,000 alumni of whom 900 are now school heads, and 250 are leaders of district and charter school systems. That is their real goal: to create this corps of policy makers.

The choice is clear to me. If you want to teach, learn how through a real program of teacher training with the prerequisite courses, at least a semester of student teaching with a master cooperating teacher, and work at becoming a master teacher yourself over several years, then pay it forward. But if you want to become a robotic policy wonk, joining the ranks of other “excellent sheep”, then join TFA and suffer the consequences.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of David Greene.

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  • The author of this piece is 100% correct.

    April 2, 2015

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