I have never liked Teach for America. I remember when I first heard about it. I thought to myself that is the dumbest program ever.
Maybe I was biased. I had just spent seven years of my life teaching full-time while earning a PhD in education—not to mention the many years before that, teaching and working on other degrees. These university programs had all been challenging. I’m not complaining. I wanted to learn more about teaching, and I learned a lot.
Thus, a TFA with any degree, and five weeks of training, leading to ownership of a classroom, did not sit well with me. Five weeks of training doesn’t teach you how to do much of anything well—except maybe how to do basic quilting. I took a five weeks quilting class once.
So the other night was a kind of sweet revenge for me. Twitter went wild with #ResistTFA. I’m new to Twitter and only slightly embarrassed to say it still bewilders me. But I managed to Tweet some respectful anti-TFA comments. MANY other educators, parents and students did the same thing.
And, low and behold, when I checked my email later in the evening, I suddenly had some new Followers all because of my Tweets! I’m not the only one with a dislike for this group.
Here is why I don’t like Teach for America:
- Teach for America is sneaky. They started this organization with the message that they would fill a need due to a teacher shortage. Maybe that once was true (I actually doubt it), but TFA is now being used to create a new definition of what America calls a teacher. Make no mistake—they outlandishly push the message that they are better than career teachers. The goal, I’m betting, is to run every real teacher out of town and create an overall revolving service organization of ill-prepared, cheaply paid teachers who follow scripts and monitor students on computers.
- Teach for America is growing and planning to come to a school near you. Don’t be deceived into thinking TFA is just for disadvantaged students, although that has been lousy since poor students need great, experienced and credentialed teachers as much as anyone. I think this group is salivating over every school no matter where it is found. Tenured teachers lose their jobs when schools close. Then in marches TFA. Watch for them. They are on their way. They are also spreading around the world http://www.teachforall.org/.
- Teach for America is rich. Politicians and CEOs see TFA as allies in the privatization of public schools. Arne Duncan loves them. TFA’s total revenues, gains, and other support came to $270,067,562 in 2011. This included $42,874,615 in government grants. And school districts with poor mouths about everything else, including keeping schools open, think nothing of forking out $23,198,766 to attract TFA to their school district. At the same time they shutter schools and let the real teachers go—or buy them out. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if everyone who lauds TFA would have thrown their support and money behind real teachers and teacher ed. programs. http://www.teachforamerica.org/sites/default/files/Annual.Report.FINAL_.pdf.
- TFA is the darling of wealthy donors. Again. Stop and think what it would have meant for real professionals to have the backing of all these donors. Think of the creative projects that could have been covered, the resources and materials, the school buildings that could have been fixed. Think about how America could have really become an education leader in the world! Here are all the donors. Keep scrolling and cliquing on the links. They go on and on…http://www.teachforamerica.org/support-us/donors.
- Teach for America is not a proven program. I don’t trust any study that says TFA is better than traditional teachers. Why? A few years ago many in the media made that claim in regard to a Mathematica study. It turned out TFA had actually been compared to many alternative teachers with similar fast-track experience. The claims were just not true.
- Teach for America is arrogant. I know some TFA college students sincerely care about students. But I see TFA, in general, as big-headed. Their slogans and statements are meant to deride real teachers. They incessantly drive home the fact that with them you will get high expectations. Get real! That means only a 2 to 3 year stint in the classroom, if they last that long. And TFA often rely on the help they get from the real career teacher working down the hall!
- Teach for America is the focus instead of creating a real teaching profession. It is heartbreaking to read about qualified teachers feeling they must leave the classroom. And few young people are picking up the challenge. It is difficult to think of a future without real teachers. When today’s young people do choose teaching as a real career their parents worry. Will they get a job? Will they be treated professionally? Colleges of Education, instead of seeing improvements, are being dismantled—or changed to accommodate fast-track instruction.
- Teach for America is being used to create alternative jobs for college students who can’t find jobs in their chosen field. A while back I asked a college recruiter from an Ivy League school what the job prospects were for graduates. With a price tag of $50,000 or more per year, I wanted to see if their grads were easily hired. He shocked me by saying, quite upbeat, that TFA was the biggest hire on campus! How many parents and students are excited about going into college debt for a chosen career, only to watch the student graduate and settle for TFA just to be employed? And what kind of commitment to teaching and children does that involve? Motives matter.
- Teach for America turn into unprepared leaders. TFA may not involve much preparation to teach, and their recruits may not know much about children and how they learn, but they often go on to become so-called education leaders. They oversee career teachers who put their heart and soul, not to mention their own finances, to become honest teachers who really spent time studying education and the needs of children. Forget pubic school naysayers. This is what really threatens the future of education. Really—America has sold out on its educators and students.
- Teach for America’s Creator, Wendy Kopp, was never a teacher. Wendy Kopp, for all her accolades, reminds me of Peter Sellers in the movie “Being There.” The press dotes on her every word. Consider this from Politico: “Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp warned Thursday that ‘we’re boring our kids to death’ in public schools – and argued that higher standards are the key to lifting U.S. educational achievement.’” Holy Guacamole, Wendy! We’ve had standards in schools now for 30 years! It’s the standards and now Common Core Standards that are boring kids to death! http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/teach-for-america-wendy-kopp-97786.html.
- Teach for America recruits are not prepared to teach. One can argue, I suppose, that a TFA with a math degree can effectively teach math. Maybe. Especially if they naturally work well with young people and learn how to teach. But there is a real lack of qualifications if a TFA with a math degree teaches in an area far outside their realm of experience or learning. TFA are known to go into special education classrooms as teachers. I would question a math degreed teacher as an elementary teacher as well. These TFA placements should not be allowed.
- Teach for America would be better as Teacher Aide for America. I have always thought that TFA would start out better as aides to teachers—where they could get some experience under the mentoring of a real teacher and decide if they want to go back to school to become real teachers. Many TFA will find that idea insulting.
Critics of Teach for America say over and over, that we would not want a Doctor for America, a Lawyer for America, a Nurse for America, etc. That point is always well-taken. We need professional teachers in this country who study how children learn and what’s best for them in the classroom. That’s what most parents want for their children.
What many parents don’t want for their children is Teach for America. Not in Tennessee http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=1e0c464fe9590a0fbf1227edf&id=2abb361b7a.
Not in Pittsburg http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2013/12/18/Pittsburgh-board-reverses-on-Teach-for-America-contract/stories/201312180142
Russ Walsh says
Well done, Nancy. Everyone of your points resonates with me. I would add one more: TFA is duping young and idealistic college graduates into thinking they are making a real contribution to the needs of poor, urban children, when all they are doing is preventing those children from getting the highly trained proifessional they desperately need.
Here is my take on the TFA: http://russonreading.blogspot.com/2013/08/wendy-kopp-goes-to-doctor-or-does.html
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Russ! I so agree. I’m hoping they are starting to wake up. But if you are faced with no job and TFA what do you do? I appreciate your comment and what a great blog post! You really capture the lacking credential issue, and thank you for referencing Linda Darling-Hammond’s study. If only politicians etc. would listen….
With the implementation of Common Core Standards every student will be required to have a device in order to take the CCSS assessment. When these computers, laptops, and iPads are up and running then you are going to see a huge increase in Teach for America teachers all over the United States. That’s because with technology in place, companies can sell digital programs that do most of the teaching, assessing and recording of data. The TFA teachers will take on the role of facilitators…keeping the peace and rebooting when necessary, all at a reduced salary. This will be attractive to cash-strapped districts and they will hire them over “real” teachers.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Kelly! Spot on! And terribly worrisome.