For about two years, from 1994 to 1996, I was somewhat of a star on the rise in TFA. I had won teacher of the year in my fourth year of teaching (a popularity contest, I know, but I’ve never been very popular, so that meant even more to me), and then I was invited to speak on a panel in front of the whole 1995 corps and give the keynote speech, and then I was an employee at the 1996 institute. It was all downhill from there. I created a workshop which pretty much undermined everything they were teaching at the institute. For the next 10 years I basically crashed the institute every year to do the workshop, which had become a standing-room-only event (I say ‘crashed,’ but really I just had to beg to come, and at least for a while, they didn’t turn me down.) Then, around 2007, it was all over. Even with begging, I wasn’t welcome anymore.
I had a feeling, though, that eventually some people who had been to my workshops over the years would eventually become people in power at TFA and they would want to bring me to help out the new people just as I helped them out. Well, the first part of my prediction has come true. In the past month I had two TFA experiences. One was a panel discussion that I went to (as an audience member). There, the head of some division of TFA, maybe alumni affairs, came up to me and said he remembered my workshop in 1999 and how great it was, and how good it was to see me. I said that I’m still around and willing to present that workshop again, if they want me to, and he made it sound like there was a chance, but no promises.
Then, last week, TFA wanted to come to my school and observe. I gave them a tour and set them up to observe some teachers including myself. The head of this department also said he attended one of my workshops in 2005 and that it was very helpful, and again, I said that I’m willing to help out with the new people and again I got back a resounding maybe.
But the biggest example was when I was at a TFA fundraiser earlier in the year (another organization I’m affiliated with called, of all things, Math For America had purchased an entire table to it and asked me to come because I was an alum) and the winner of the big Peter Jennings award was Tim Daly, head of The New Teacher Project. Well, I’ve known Tim for years. He attended my workshop when he was training and then when I worked for The New York City Teaching Fellows he was an employee at that time and told me how helpful it was for him. So now, 9 years later he’s an influential player in Ed reform and I went to congratulate him and we spoke a little and then I sent him an email later, and he never got back to me.
So maybe the big plan of laying low until people who like me get into power wasn’t such a great plan after all.
I know I’ll sound paranoid when I say that TFA ‘hates’ me, but I really believe it. By that I don’t mean the individual people at TFA. As people, they all seem to like me. I’ve met with some of the very top people at TFA, and I’m pretty confident that even Wendy Kopp knows me by name. The people at TFA do like me, but TFA ‘the organization’ just doesn’t.
I’m not going to let that stop me from going to the 20 year thing in D.C. I still have a lot of alumni friends, and it should be a very fun time to get together. I even volunteered to make some kind of speech (I have one great line, which I can share here since there’s no way they’re letting me speak — “TFA has come a long way since I trained in 1991. I’m sure that if I were starting TFA now, instead of 19 years ago my first year would have been infinitely better. Mainly because I wouldn’t get in today.” That would have brought the house down, I’m sure.)
I also asked if there could be some smaller panel I could be on, maybe something about people who are still teaching or about alumni who have authored books, and how people could get into that, or anything, but it seems that if you want to hear me speak you’ll have to just come up to me and say ‘hi’