What are the two or three biggest lessons you’re taking away from your corps experience? These could be lessons about your students, yourself, the community where you work, the achievement gap (its causes, the most promising solutions, etc.), our schools and school system, education policy, Teach For America-specific lessons, or anything else–we’re interested in hearing whatever stands out to you as the most significant lessons from your corps experience.
This is not at all a reflection of the regional staff here in San Antonio, to be certain, but I do feel a great disconnect with the overall Teach for America vision of how to achieve lasting change for schools.
First, I do not believe that two-year commitments by transplanted recent graduates is a model worth sustaining in the future as means of recruiting and training teachers. There is already a dearth of legitimately qualified (contra “highly qualified” in NCLB) teaching candidates and TFA has no business contributing to this problem by unleashing a mass of neophytes on the most vulnerable student populations in the country. This helps no one, least of all the students, and is a disruptive exercise in coercive “philanthropy”.
Second, I believe TFA’s base of donors compromise the organization’s ability to effectively advocate for community and grassroots-oriented solutions to educational inequity. Instead, TFA’s goodwill in the media at-large allows major corporate contributors to achieve political goals (namely, the weakening of teachers’ unions and local school districts) without breaking a sweat. Rather than achieving any real change in the lives of economically vulnerable students, they will suffer at the whims of their political elites as accountability measures continue to govern as a top-down vice, wresting away autonomy from teachers as practitioners.
I will temper this by saying that the people I have worked with in TFA have been overwhelmingly as passionate, talented, and devoted to their work as any other. This goes for fellow corps members, regional, and institute staff. AT all levels, I have met and worked with people whose work I truly admire.
My complaint lies not with them. It’s that the incentives are all wrong. These good folks are given the promise of status, Americorps grants, and other sundry benefits for a two-year jaunt in teaching before they go on to the career of their dreams. That this career is not teaching does not seem to faze the TFA top brass a bit. And this is where I find myself at odds with the means of TFA, if not the ends.