Does TFA value teachers?
I know it’s a strange question. Of course they must. That’s why the program is called TEACH for America.
But I’ve noticed some things throughout the years that make me wonder.
I’m one of those TFA teachers who taught beyond the two years (I taught for 4 in Houston. Then I took some years to become a computer programmer, and now I’m back teaching and just started my 10th year of teaching). Most of my friends in TFA just did the two years, which I think is fine. It is a two year program, and finishing it takes a lot of courage and determination.
TFA would not be the powerful organization it is if it weren’t for the people who stayed beyond two years. These are the people who really have made an impact by becoming principals or started their own schools. About one third of TFA teachers continue to a third year. They do this, however, with no encouragement from TFA at all.
When you finish your second year, you’d expect TFA to bring you in and lay some kind of speech on you where they say you should really consider staying. That you’re now a experienced teacher and it would be a shame if you didn’t do just one more year with all the talent you have and the skills you developed. They don’t, though. It would cost them nothing to do so, but they don’t because it’s just not part of the model. It seems like they would rather you spend your energy getting elected to public office so you can one day be secretary of education and then you can really have some impact.
When you do choose to stay for a third year, there’s not even any kind of acknowledgment. Why not have a ‘third year’ banquet honoring those who choose to continue?
To make matters worse, TFA even actively DISCOURAGES people from staying for a third year in two ways that I know of:
1) There are about 20 companies that offer jobs to TFA CMs which they can defer for two years. What if those people are doing really well in the classroom and want to defer for a third or a fourth year? Are they allowed to? I don’t know for sure what the answer to that is, but I suspect they can’t.
2) TFA sometimes recruits good teachers to leave their schools and work for TFA instead. This is the ultimate irony, but it does happen. A good friend of mine who is a principal almost lost one of his best TFA teachers that way.
Just recently, I’ve noticed TFA coming around on these issues. The latest issue of the alumni magazine profiled alum who have stayed in the classroom. This was the first time, I felt that TFA was recognizing how important this is (I wasn’t in the article, but it still made me feel appreciated.) They even created a position where someone is in charge of supporting alum who have stayed in teaching. Just the other day I was invited to speak on a panel discussion at the NY alumni meeting about alums who remained in teaching. I’m really proud to have been asked.
TFA alum continuing on in the classroom is a side effect that even Wendy Kopp didn’t mention as a possibility in her Princeton thesis. Finally TFA is beginning to take notice of the value of people staying beyond the two years. TFA is finally making some very positive changes. I’ll be interested in seeing how they follow through on them.