Oct 04 2008

Does TFA value teachers?

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.

9 Responses

  1. Alison

    As for those jobs CMs were able to defer…a lot of them seemed to be on Wall Street, and many of those probably aren’t around now! Maybe there will be more folks staying in the less profitable but more stable arena of teaching after their two years…

  2. snark

    I couldn’t agree more. When I made the decision to pursue teaching as a career (at least for the time being), I felt like TFA’s reaction was, “Ok, great – but when are you going to get your principal certification and start your own school?” It was like all that talk about leading the way for your students towards high achievement in your classroom that I had been hearing for the past two years no longer applied unless I had a concrete plan for moving on to ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ things as many of my fellow CMs had. I, too, appreciated the article in the alumni magazine because it seemed like TFA might finally be ready to acknowledge that CMs who stay in teaching are having just as much of an impact as those who take jobs on Capitol Hill. As you mentioned, though, where is the fanfare and support for alumns who continue to fight the good fight in the classroom?

  3. I think that they have been dinged on this a lot on the EOY surveys recently. My region, ENC, is trying to hold “Alumni in Teaching” meetings for the first time ever this year and one of the things our ED mentioned was that this was something that had been repeatedly mentioned on the EOY surveys.

    I definitely felt like I stagnated as a teacher my 3rd year. Sadly, I was already one of the best/ most veteran teachers in my school at that point and, without TFA, I really didn’t feel pushed or challenged. I felt like I had to basically stalk the CMs to stay involved in the training and the organization in general.

  4. Laura

    I disagree about TFA staying much longer into the corps.
    The idea behind the corps was to have HIGH achievers do what they do best : OVERACHIEVE in whatever they do. It was not about having average or mediocre or under-achieving individuals in the corp.
    2 years is good. Reading your blog, I wonder if you have ever been an OVERachiever to start with or you are one individual who can’t get a job anywhere else.

  5. garyrubinstein

    To ‘Laura’ (stop harassing me Wendy), If they are really OVERachievers, then then will certainly want to stay for a third year since that would be OVER the achievement of completing their two year commitment.

    As far as being able to get a job somewhere else, I guess you think that other jobs are much more difficult than teaching. A common misconception, but one that self-respecting teachers don’t buy into. Just for the record, after my fourth year of teaching at my original TFA site, I did go to grad school, got a degree in Computer Science, and then worked as a professional computer programmer for six years before deciding that I wanted to give up the higher salary, and the respect from people like you, to go back to the profession that I loved, and I’ve been teaching for the past seven years.

  6. steph

    You are lunatic : Laura has nothing to do with Wendy.

    You certainly need to get out of the corps and become one of the failures who teach in our failing public schools.

  7. garyrubinstein

    Steph, my adversary from the other side of the pond, the Laura/Wendy comment was a joke. Surely you’ve watched enough Benny Hill to recognize one.

    Again, you have no idea what it means to be in the corps, or you wouldn’t say I need to get out and teach in failing public schools. That what the corps was created for — to get people to teach in our failing public schools.

    And as I said in my other response to you, nobody who understands TFA would suggest a teacher they don’t respect go teach in a failing public school. Those are the schools who need the best teachers.

  8. Laura

    You should start assessing yourself and realise your mindset is becoming similar to a failing teacher’s mindset.

    You are obviously paranoid ( Wendy) and a bit of an idiot by your assumptions about whether I have worked as a teacher or not.

    You clearly should move on as you are polluting the corps with a failing teacher’s mindset. May be Wendy actually realised this and you should thank her for letting you know when you might become a danger to children’s academic success.

  9. Alice

    Laura, I think you’re a little nutso.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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