Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 14 2012

#47: TFA is not a monolith

I wanted to write about TFA orientation while it is still fresh in my mind.

I think it’s important to air our grievances as a matter of conscience.  Many if not most of TFA’s corps members can be described as politically progressive(1).  I think a great deal of the disillusionment that many corps members feel is in large part driven by the conflict between the values they hold and the means by which TFA tries to achieve its mission. Namely, TFA is compelled to demonstrate its effectiveness through improving student standardized test outcomes.  People in education recognize the folly in this, but the business community that comprises a great deal of TFA’s funding are either uninterested or uninformed about the perils of reading too much into high-stakes standardized test data, particularly using that data to determine the efficacy of a teacher.

What I heard at orientation last week was a litany of complaints over the current standardized testing regime from those who had just finished their first year.  These were primarily secondary teachers, but I think their experiences were representative of 2011 corps members as a whole.  A seemingly endless barrage of benchmarks robs us of instructional time and perverts learning into something mercenary.  Texas’ newly developed STAAR tests had unclear benchmarks for success and a mystery passing score.  Critical thinking assessed by means other than multiple choice exams is shoved aside in service of our Big Goal which is to have a number that says our kids know stuff.  The formative in-service experience of TFA Institute taught us that teaching to the test is a necessary evil.  I think most people had come around to the idea this was evil but not necessary.

The new 2012 corps members we’re agog, I’m sure.  What could possibly have happened this year to cause so many to go from the bright-eyed vigor of Induction to the sullen world-weariness of the present?  The tell-tale moment for me was when we were learning the new chant for San Antonio, and the difference between 2011 and 2012 corps members’ efforts were palpable(2).

Oddly, I felt like one of the team a lot more after this Orientation than before.  It’s not just me being a crab.  Other people going through this program have similar gripes and are vocal about them.  It’s too bad we gripers aren’t getting elected to higher office(3).  But it is comforting to know that TFA is not a monolith.


(1) Or “liberal” if you prefer.  It’s not a dirty word.

(2) I have ALWAYS been a Sir Nose D’voidoffunk about things like this, so you could’ve spotted me a mile away.  I was that guy folding his arms and drolly reciting the chant in a disaffected monotone while making a shopping list in his mind.  Still, I was definitely swept up by the fever last year, but now…pfft.

(3) My first act as president: replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” with this as our national anthem.  Second act: resign and begin construction of my presidential library/renewable energy fortress in the basement of the Alamo.

2 Responses

  1. I really like the way you do endnotes.

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