I had a chance to sit and chat via Spreecast with some of the regular cast of characters around the TeachForUs/TFA water cooler this week. At the end of the discussion, a 2013 corps member remarked to Gary Rubinstein that he comes across as extreme to new TFA corps members who have not had much time to engage in the education policy debates. I think given my recent rhetoric, that label of extremism could be lobbed at me, too.
I want to be clear then: when I rail against charters or TFA or corporate philanthropy or whatever is up my craw at that moment, I don’t blame teachers or corps members or the rank-and-file who are just doing their jobs. I complain that a lot of TFA teachers will leave after short tenures, but I don’t blame them. The incentives are stacked against that outcome. When all these promises are made to you when you’re recruited, when your grad school application gets a gold star because of your TFA alumni status, when you get hired to work at Google upon completing your two years, when you’ve had two years of modest pay and little support and training, I get it. I wish you would stay and teach, but I understand why you didn’t. It doesn’t make sense to criticize individuals, then, for what is a systemic problem.
What I don’t get is the organization that brought us here. That’s what has radicalized me more than anything. I didn’t know much about TFA before I applied. Anything I had read about them was positive press in mainstream news outlets and what I read on the TFA website. I presume many TFA corps members were the same way. But the longer I’m a part of the organization and the longer I represent it, it has become harder to reconcile what TFA says with what TFA does. I think in my haste to spit venom at all that, I’ve lumped in people who just got here and are trying to figure out their place in all of this.
So, new teachers, returning veterans, TFA dropouts, scabs, y’all are not the cause of all this ruckus. I don’t blame you for the sins being committed in our names anymore than I blame myself for disproportionately benefiting from my TFA affiliation when compared to what my students and school and the neighborhood should get. I need to do a better job as a writer to encourage more of us that speaking out against TFA is (maybe) in line with our values and I’m certain will ultimately lead TFA to a more just place, either reformed or dismantled. To do that, I need to be slow to react and quick to listen.