I started this blog over a year ago with a couple of posts about why I joined. The short versions of those two posts are:
- So, in short, the people working in this organization are super organized and professional and are tirelessly working to make my city’s educational landscape better. I’m happy to be a part of it at the end of the day in spite of my misgivings about the organization as a whole.
- Without TFA, Texas schools will have to staff many of their high-needs areas with teacher candidates with even less training, less screening for quality, and not even a two-year commitment (many are lucky to stick around past Year 1). At the very least, TFA represents a lesser of two evils.
I’ve got another year of teaching, blogging, and TFA experiences now. I looked back and thought about if those statements hold true for me. I’ll say mostly yes, but with some important caveats.
Regarding the first statement, I still think TFA is super organized and professional and I believe they are sincerely working tirelessly to make my city’s educational landscape better. Caveat 1: I don’t think they are actually making my city’s educational landscape better and I will go into greater details in future posts. Caveat 2: I wouldn’t describe myself as happy to be a part of TFA anymore. I wouldn’t say unhappy, either. But I have a lot of ambivalence about what I have personally gained from the distinction of being a TFA corps member.
Regarding the second statement, TFA is still a lesser evil than Texas Teachers and other for-profit alternative certification programs. Caveat 3: TFA perversely benefits from high attrition in the same way that for-profit ACP’s do and suffer many of the same problems (scant training, short commitment).
I feel like these early posts about why I joined TFA in the first place either tell an incomplete story (part 1) or relate to some oblique policy gripe that isn’t especially relevant to my personal story (part 2). I feel a measure of guilt to admit this publicly, but a huge reason I joined TFA was the pedigree and prestige. I was already a teacher by the time I formally accepted, and lord knows I could have used the summer off instead of going to Institute(1). But, to have the chance to be selected to an elite association as someone who underachieved in high school and attended a lower-tier university flattered and validated me in ways that I don’t think I could have predicted. I was reasonably proud of the things I had accomplished to date, but I think getting accepted made me feel I had earned some manner of respect in high-achieving circles which was huge considering I had been fired from my job days before I applied.
I have had some reservations posting this confession, but I think it’s an important consideration for prospective applicants. If what you seek is status or a leg-up on grad school applications or an Americorps grant for said grad school, then Teach for America is a wonderful opportunity for you to do something meaningful for two years. If you come into this wanting to make a difference in education, your experience with TFA may prove chastening(2).
I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the intents of others who have joined or to suggest that what they have chosen to do with their lives is less meaningful than my own choices. I think TFA’s mission is built on a sound premise: that true change will come when there is change happening in all walks of life, in and out of schools. I’m not even saying the reasons why I joined are bad ones! We take jobs all the time because we need to provide for ourselves and our families. But I am being less magnanimous towards myself now because I feel that I have personally gained a lot more than my kids have from my involvement with TFA. I’m not sorry I joined, but it remains to be seen if this calculus will change over time as I continue in this work.
(1) Which was a good professional development opportunity, just not exactly the most cost-effective thing to do.
(2) Or, it might be exactly what you were looking for and you will be super psyched about your experience! But, probably not if you think corporate influence is poisoning education right now.