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Why It’s a Bad Time to Be in Teach For America Why It’s a Bad Time to Be in Teach For America

Why It’s a Bad Time to Be in Teach For America

by Gary Rubinstein
July 28, 2013


Recently there has been a lot of good discussion about the pros and cons of Teach For America. It started this summer with Katie Osgood's post, An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits, which has gone viral and already has 500 comments. In it, Osgood recommends that TFA's class of 2013 should resign, and if they want to really be teachers, enroll in a real teacher education program.

Alex Morgan, a blogger at TeachForUs.org, a corps member and alumni blogging platform, wrote a competent—but generally weak—rebuttal to Osgood's piece called My Open Letter to 2013 Corps Members. Morgan says corps members should remember "that you came to TFA for a reason." Then a couple weekends ago at the Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago there was a session—"Organizing Resistance Against Teach for America and its Role in Privatization"—run by TFA alumni who are opposed to the direction TFA has chosen to pursue.

I was not an organizer of this event—though I was invited to participate, I couldn't make it. I'm glad that it happened without me since it shows that although I'm a self-described "somewhat frustrated 1991 alum," of the organization, I'm not some lone vigilante speaking up. Justin Fong, Teach For America's vice president of internal communications, wrote a bizarre post about this session called Open Letter to Anti-TFA Folks at Free Minds Free People Conference.

Fong's main point is "Teach For America isn't going away anytime soon so work with us to make the organization better." At TeachForUs.org, alumnus didymath wrote a nice response called Some Anti-TFA Blowhard Lights a Torch. Didymath notes that Fong's statement,

"raises the question: why isn't TFA, an organization that has quickly outgrown its utility, going away anytime soon? If you follow TFA at all (and follow the money that pours into the organization), the answer should be obvious. The program is well-supported in spirit and in treasure by powerful figures in government and in the private sector, many of whom TFA helped groom. I believe that the policy elite and philanthropic big-wigs love TFA for a variety of reasons: TFA undermines teacher’s unions; TFA teachers are less likely to stay in their placement region and thus less likely to eventually draw on state pensions; they lack respect for what teachers do and must be prepared for and believe that five weeks of climate-controlled Institute training is sufficient preparation."

This TFA push-back from within is getting a lot of coverage—which is giving more and more people the courage to speak out, including Wendy Heller Chovnick, a lawyer who's a Teach For America alumna and worked on TFA's staff for three years in Phoenix. She gives a very revealing interview to Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, noting that when she saw where the millions of dollars raised to support TFA "was really going, which was to a lot of national teams, national staff members, and national infrastructure, that was not providing much support to our region and was definitely not translating into improved educational outcomes for students, my opinion of the organization fell drastically."

Exhausting, isn't it?

Over the years I've focused much of my criticism of Teach For America on the need to improve training for incoming corps members. As you can see from a recent "spreecast" where I interview two new corps members, I care deeply about what's happening to them.

In the spirit of trying new things I decided to add something new to the education of the new 2013 TFA corps members by creating a very simple and non-rehearsed video message to them. I don't know if this adds anything new to the discussion, but I want the class of 2013—and you—to know that they've picked a really bad time to join TFA. I want them to know that although they've been told they're going to create transformational change, it's not the change that students and communities need. They need to know they're doing more harm than good.

Click here to add attending a school board meeting in your community to your GOOD "to-do" list.

A version of this post originally appeared at Gary Rubinstein.

Image via (cc) Flickr user Max Klingensmith

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